I continue to learn valuable lessons about evangelism by interviewing recent converts. Hearing what they report as significant in their journey from darkness to light encourages and instructs for further outreach.
Most of the people I’ve talked to tell me they heard the gospel from friends they trust. This reinforces what many people have written about the need to “earn the right to be heard” or “pave the way for preaching.” I recall the oft-quoted admonition, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
One book even insists that people “will not” listen until trust has been established. While I certainly see the need to build trust and express the truth within a context of love, I wonder if some have overstated this case.
And then I heard Nora’s account of her conversion.
In high school, Nora “got into the wrong crowd.” (That’s how she described it). I tried not to let my jaw drop too dramatically as she recounted experiences with alcohol, drugs, and sex. She said she developed a reputation as a harsh blasphemer who loved to embarrass Christians with her foul mouth attacks on their faith. She wore T-shirts with offensive messages about Jesus just to enrage her religious classmates.
When she arrived at college, she chose to maintain the same reputation so that “Christians would know, right away, not to mess with me.” Her expletive-laced attire found a new audience to shock.
Then, one day, as she walked across campus, she was handed a card advertising an event sponsored by a Christian organization on campus. The topic for discussion at the meeting would be, “Who Goes to Heaven?” She almost threw the card on the ground but resisted due to her concern for the environment. But the question on the card nagged at her.
So she went back to the girl who gave her the card and asked her, “Well…can you tell me who goes to heaven? That’s an important topic and I’ve actually been wondering that very question.” The card-distributor chose to set up an appointment to talk later rather than stop her work of publicity. This began a two-month-long, one-on-one Bible study between Nora and the young women who, it turns out, was on the staff of a Christian organization serving on that campus.
As Nora elaborated, she offered this insight. “Even though I was wrestling with the very issues I was mocking, I couldn’t admit it to anyone who knew me. I needed someone anonymous to talk to. It had to be a stranger.”
So….just when we thought we figured out the key ingredient for evangelistic fruitfulness, we are reminded that God can use a variety of means to get his gospel through to unsaved people. Sure, friendships and trust-filled relationships can pave the way for the gospel. But, for some people, anonymous strangers may be what God uses.
Consider that some people may be just like Nora – unable to admit to their friends that, behind their public persona, is someone seeking a different path. Wouldn’t it make sense that anonymity would connect well with Orthodox Jews, devout Muslims, out and proud gays, vocal feminists, unashamed drug users, and wearers of profanity-filled T-shirts!