Jackson Lawson, Senior Biblical Studies Major
I have been going to a juvenile detention center since my freshmen year, three years ago, along with other students from BJU as an evangelistic outreach opportunity. I’ve gone a few times on other outreach ministries, but I’ve made the detention center my regular outreach all along because I have found it to be such a unique opportunity, an opportunity to invest in teens who not only have been through a lot, but who need the gospel and need believers to come alongside them with the word of God that provides the answers to our deepest questions and the power to meet our greatest spiritual needs.
I am regularly reminded of the huge opportunities there are among those in difficult situations in life, especially when they find themselves hitting rock bottom. So many of the teens are already living a life full of challenges (whether they are poor, are surrounded by ungodly friends, don’t have a father in their life, have made little progress in school, are around substance abuse, etc.). This outreach has proven to be a huge opportunity as I have talked to many teens who have hit rock bottom and are seriously considering how they are going to respond, move forward, and think about God in relation to their situation. There are so many prisons alone that provide this type of unique opportunities for believers to share the gospel (not to mention homeless shelters, addiction recovery centers, and other Miracle Hill like programs).
Now, some might think that a detention center ministry is one that sees little fruit, ministers to a tough crowd, and isn’t all that fun. At times this has been the case, but week after week we plant the seeds of the gospel, water already planted seeds, and have seen professions of faith periodically as God has given the increase in His harvest field as we labor. My increasing desire is that other students will come to experience the joy of ministering to this type of crowd as they learn how they can better minister the gospel to individuals who are at cross-roads in their life. Some of these teens appear to be hardened toward God and spiritually misled or confused, but some are readily open to hearing the gospel (often for the first time!). I don’t think there has been an outreach week that has gone by without being spiritually challenged or encouraged by a conversation I had with one of the teens.
In many cases it appears that God is using their difficult situations to bring them to remember what they’ve learned about Him in the past, to be open to what we are teaching them from the Word, and even to reevaluate their own former profession of faith. Some have made a profession of faith (praise the Lord!), and one of our leaders has made follow-up visits with multiple teens and members of their families over the years after they have gotten out. I have been reminded and grown to trust more in God’s constant working in other’s lives through my involvement in juvenile detention center ministry. I have definitly experienced the joy of seeing and being a part of His work. Some weeks are rough with little interest or engagement with what we teach and talk about from God’s word, which are discouraging at times. But the longer I go, the more encouraged I am on those weeks that we see little effect.
My group teaches a Bible memory verse and a song, gives a message from the Word, and (my personal favorite) has a small group discussion following the message. During the small group, we ask them their thoughts about the message and what questions they have. We get to know them and share the gospel with them. The number of teens fluctuates from week to week, as well as the number of familiar faces we see over a longer period of time. One thing I’d like to see happen for the teens who have, or make, a profession of faith is for them to be able to go to the Scriptures for themselves to know what it teaches about salvation. So many of them only know what they’ve been told, what they’ve heard preached, or are only familiar with John 3:16. We can provide them Bibles to read, suggest where to start reading, and follow up with them if we see them the next week; but for them to be able to go to a couple verses in the Bible to know what they believe about salvation (which they can then share with others) is something I’d like to see more and more.
Going into a detention center to minister the gospel to teens is definitely a reminder to be dependent on the Lord through prayer. Seeing Him work in them to be open and receptive to the truths of His Word is an encouragement in and of itself because we are all without hope apart from His intervention in our lives. For those who come to faith in Christ in a ministry like this, it may look more challenging and a lot different for them to live out their faith than what we are typically exposed to, but it is only by His grace that any of us have come to know Him, and it will only be by His grace that anyone faces the challenges in this life in a way that brings Him glory. It is comforting to know that His grace is sufficient not only to save us, but also to use us in saving others, and to make us all more and more like Christ.
Benn Silveira, Junior Biblical Studies Major
I was born again on November 3rd, 2013. I remember the date, the time, the place, the song my youth pastor played to me… I even remember kneeling to pray as I asked Jesus to come into my heart. It’s easy for me to remember all those details because I was radically changed on that day. It was as if God lit a flame in my heart, and the flame has only grown brighter and stronger since Christ invaded my heart. This flame burns constantly for two things: to know God and to make Him known to everyone I encounter. Since November 3rd, 2013, I can see how God has used me to build His church through evangelism.
My Beginning Days of Evangelism
The very lady who led me to the Lord that Sunday night is the same lady God used to inspire me to pursue evangelism. The lady, Jean, is so passionate and bold for Jesus that she has spent most of her Christian life on the streets of major cities around the world asking men and woman this very question: “if you were to die tonight, where would you go?” A few months after I got saved, Jean took me street witnessing. I do not remember the exact conversations I had that night, but I do remember how excited I was to tell others about the risen Christ and how expensive salvation costed Jesus, yet so free for us! I give a lot of credit to Jean and Paul Steifvater for exposing me to urban evangelism. They planted a seed, but God watered it and continues to do so.
Needless to say, when I arrived at BJU in the fall of 2018 and discovered that the school has an outreach dedicated to urban evangelism, I immediately signed up. I actually thought of starting my own group if BJU did not already have one. I credit Luke Davis, who was a junior leading the outreach at the time, for formally introducing me to the outreach. I remember the night he came into my room to discuss my interests in the outreach after he heard through one of my friends I was interested in evangelism. I was so excited and amazed at how God orchestrated everything. The existence of the urban evangelism outreach was a confirmation from God that BJU is where God wants me.
My Three Desires: Salvation, Sanctification, and Exhortation
From the first Friday night I went out until today, I can honestly say I have gone out every chance I’ve had. There is an eternal reason for why I spend my Friday nights telling others about Jesus: we are not promised a tomorrow. It breaks my heart to know that people are dying and going to hell every day! The imminent fact of death is what makes urban evangelism necessary and all evangelism for that matter. When I am out on the street, there is a double-edged sword within me. On one side I am excited to see everyone having a good time; on the other side, I am extremely worried they do not understand the weight of their sin and the amount of love God has for them. These are the thoughts I think should accompany every person when they evangelize—whether on the street, at a coffee shop, at home, school, or even church.
I not only go out for the sake of other souls, but also for the sake of my own soul. Steve Pettit once said in chapel, “evangelism is a vital part of personal sanctification.” Too often I have been stumped with genuine questions that people have on the street regarding the gospel, and instead of getting discouraged, I return home and search for an answer to their question. My pursuit of truth has cemented my understanding of what I believe about God and why. My reasoning is this: if you can’t share your faith, how can you grow in your faith?
Beside my burden for lost souls and personal sanctification, I also have a burden for the spiritual growth of my brothers and sisters in Christ. As I tell others about Jesus, I also have the chance to exhort my fellow believers who are on the street that night (Hebrews 10:24). Although my time is brief when I do encounter a brother or sister in Christ, my time with them is always profitable because I have a chance to encourage them. Often I am the one who ends up being encouraged! It is not ideal to have evangelism separate from discipleship. It is a great blessing to know that after evangelizing I was able to both share Christ with a lost person and encourage someone in the household of faith all in one night.
My Burden for BJU Students
In addition to my desire for evangelism and discipleship, I also have a burden for those who want to share Christ with others but do not know how to or where to start. A part of me wishes there existed a three-step process for how to better evangelize. There are many good books and articles on the topic of improving your evangelism; however, in my personal experience of evangelism, I have found how we view people affects our evangelism. If we don’t see people the way God sees them, then we won’t love them the way we ought to. The greatest way we can love others is to tell them about Jesus Christ. So, what stops us from spreading the Good News? Unfortunately, Satan knows and exploits our weaknesses of fear and ignorance. For those who struggle with fearing what man will do or say to you, the first and main step is to grasp the weight of the gospel. The gospel concerns life and death; therefore, we are to take the good news of Christ and tell others out of love. Letting the fear of a few awkward moments stop us from sharing Christ is at its core unloving. It is selfish to allow the thought that sharing Christ with someone will result in an awkward conversation, make you feel weird, or even make you feel like a stereotypical Christian. When we neglect to tell someone about the risen Christ out of a fear of man, we are essentially “protecting our pride at the cost of their souls” (Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism). When you realize that the message of the gospel is more important than man’s reaction to you, nothing or no one will stop you. For those who want to share the gospel but feel inadequate, please understand that God qualifies you for the ministry just the way you are. By focusing on your inadequacies, you’re limiting God. God’s primary concern is not how much or how little you know the scriptures, although that is important; He is concerned with your willingness to trust Him as you evangelize. Take courage in knowing that Christ will not only minister to you but through you. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
My Advice for Taking The First Step Toward Evangelism
The key ingredient that I have found for effective evangelism is prayer. If you’re wondering where to start, pray for an opportunity to share Christ. Trust me, that is one prayer request that God rarely denies. Since evangelism is a lifestyle, it is imperative to always have an attitude of prayer. Let me be the first to say it is never easy the first time you share Christ with someone. Take heart and remember: “You are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Rosie Zakes, Seminary Student
This year, I met some of my family whom I’d never known before.
I met my brothers and sisters in Christ who have been persecuted out of their own country in the Southeast Asia and have settled in Bangkok, Thailand. I think we all know that persecution exists. We’ve all heard of Christians whose homes have been burned to the ground or whose family members have been killed because of what they believe and told others about Jesus who saves.
But this summer I got to know them personally. Their stories changed me. I met a family of five who live in a one-room apartment that’s smaller than my own bedroom. They fled their own country in fear for their lives and arrived in Bangkok trying to get refugee status, but never actually attained it. Their visas and passports have now expired, and they earn next to nothing. Getting out of Thailand and into a country that will accept them as refugees has become extremely difficult.
These brothers and sisters asked my hosts and I to visit one of their friends who did the same thing as them. Robert (name changed) and his family went to Thailand trying to get help and ended up overstaying their visas, too. Robert got caught for being in Bangkok illegally, and now he lives in an immigrant detention center (read, prison). He’s separated from his family, doesn’t get enough food in the detention center, and lives in a cell so crowded that the detainees must take turns sleeping. I went to visit him there, and I think it will be a long time before I forget what he told me.
"Thank you for coming. You’re obeying Jesus’ command to visit those who are sick and in prison…Your assignment from God is to be in Thailand, mine is to be in prison here… God has big plans for you, so keep serving him and doing what He wants… Give him your life."
When I asked Robert how I could pray for him, I expected him to request prayer that the UN would resettle him soon, or that he would be reunited with his family, or that God would provide for his family’s material needs. Instead, he said something that shook me.
"Pray for me to be able to share the Gospel. Pray for my people to understand the Gospel and turn to Christ."
God has allowed people to take away nearly everything Robert has ever owned because of his commitment to the Gospel, but he is one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met (Actually he and another man who’d been imprisoned as a Christian in the Middle East are the two at the top of my list). His commitment to Christ and his passion for telling people about Jesus regardless of his circumstances is overwhelming.
This summer, I came away from my time with my newfound family members with a renewed sense of the urgency of the Gospel. The Gospel is so important to these refugees I met that they are willing to give up everything to be able to share it. The Gospel is worth it.
1 Peter 1:14-18 says, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct … Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”
Christians live in exile. None of us get to live in our home country of heaven yet, but some Christians are reminded of their exile in a much more tangible way than others. Robert is one of them. But God has called all of us to renounce “passions of our former ignorance” and the “futile ways inherited from our forefathers” while we live in exile. We’re supposed to renounce sin. This summer I learned from my brothers and sisters in exile that the Gospel is worth renouncing sin for. The Gospel is worth giving everything for.
*If RSS feed is not working for you, please add it to your app or software manually by adding this url:
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.