First time witnessing

crossYesterday evening I went out witnessing on the streets for the first time. It was with a medium sized group of people from different denominations. We were an interesting mix of seasoned evangelists and new witnesses, women and men, young and old. What we all had in common was the desire to share the gospel with our city. We met together for prayer before entering the streets, and briefly studied the parable of the sower, and the purpose of parables. The rest of the newbies and I were given some brief instruction about the methods and resources that we were using.

As I walked outside towards our busy down-town location I began to shake with nervousness. I thought, “this is real, this is really happening. Never mind a few people knowing that I’m a Christian, through casual and quiet conversations, now lots of people will know, and who knows how that will go over. Who knows how the message will go over?”

I was beckoned to watch the white-board gospel presentation to draw an audience. Our reasoning was that if there was already a few people watching, that others would feel more comfortable joining in. A few minutes into each gospel presentation people would stop in their tracks to see what was going on. Some would stay for a few minutes, some would glance over and continue walking, some would heckle us, and some would stay throughout most of the presentation to the end.

At the end of the presentation, we would talk to those around us, and simply ask them what they thought about the message. By the grace of God I was able to have very easy conversations with the first couple people I spoke with. Through interviewing them I was able to determine that they were actually already born-again Christians who just stopped by to listen to the gospel again. One of them, I found out afterwards was a late coming volunteer with our team, but it was hard to track that conversation due to his accent and the amount of noise pollution outside. In hindsight it was funny and embarrassing, accidentally witnessing to my own teammate. Neither of us knew who each other was!

Between these presentations and the conversations that followed, we would strategically place ourselves where most pedestrians walked, to hand out gospel tracts. This part was pretty easy as it reminded me of when I used to have to give out coupons at a department store as part of our customer outreach marketing strategy. It seemed like half of the people declined, though very politely, and the other half accepted, some with reluctance, some cheerfully.

One person returned and criticized the front cover of the tract, without actually reading what it said on the inside. I think his motive was to poke holes in our witnessing strategy, and undermine our message, because his concern seemed feigned. A more experienced witness spoke to him, since it was clear he was looking for a foot-in-the-door to debate.

One conversation that stood out, was when I approached a person around my age who was standing alone beside a building. They were exploring different religions and were genuinely seeking to find the truth. At first they declined the tract and the conversation, because they felt guilty about how they had a few drinks and thought that I would not want to really talk to them. This person didn’t seem to be more than tipsy, and I leveled with them and said that I’ve been there many times. I mentioned Romans 7:15-19 which speaks about how we tend to do what we don’t want to, and the good we want to do, we struggle with doing. They agreed with that, and mentioned how they do regrettable things often. I then mentioned how this struggle show us our sin nature-how we are slaves to it, and how we don’t have to be slaves to it. A light bulb seemed to go off in their head, and they seemed to agree with that truth.

I told them, and I will admit that it wasn’t that articulate,  that with Jesus we can be set free of our bondage to sin, and  that he died for our sins so that we can be forgiven if we repent and believe. I told them a little bit about my past, and the things that I was set free of. A little more conversation occurred, with a little more fumbling, and they actually asked me for the tract, and I gave them two! So this gave me much relief that they would get to hear a more complete gospel message, despite how fumbly I was! They said that they would normally never consider this message, but they liked how I came across and said that they would remember me and this conversation.

The last conversation that I had ended short because their bus was coming, and I blanked out a tad, but at least they kept the literature. It was from these conversations that I realized the importance of studying the bible, and being prepared to give an account of my faith at all times. 1 Peter 3:15 sums it up nicely “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

There was one side effect of doing this that was not so desirable. When I got home, I was battling thoughts that were trying to undermine my work. Here’s what these thoughts looked like: “You have made a fool of yourself in front of all those people. Is that the impression you want to make in your new city? Everyone will think that you are crazy. The tracts and your conversations will have NO effect on ANYONE. Stop this before you damage your reputation as a reasonable person.”  I was up half the night wrestling with these thoughts, and the anxiety that was crippling me. I prayed for the Lord to comfort me, and keep me on track. A verse popped into my head, Joshua 1:9, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

I am having suspicions that I was going through spiritual warfare, but part of me is also rationalizing that this is just ‘negative self talk’ fueled by anxiety. Either way, no matter what the source of this negativity, I will keep on truckin, and will be out on the streets with the team next weekend.