Elliott Martin, BJU Alumnus
This summer hasn’t been the easiest summer for our outreach efforts at my church in Detroit. We were in the middle of trying a new evangelistic Bible study when everything started getting cancelled in March. Pastors and professors wrote the studies. Ladies at the church volunteered to bring food. Church members invited lost friends. A surprising amount of new faces showed up. Then, they couldn’t come back because our church stopped gathering together.
After that, we thought we could engage the community by bringing sanitation kits to each house in our neighborhood. That way we could make contact with the lost in our community, demonstrate love for neighbor, and seek opportunities to share the gospel. We calculated the cost, drafted a proposal, found the supplies, started writing a tract to include in each kit. Then we got hit with a stay-at-home order.
Eventually, for our Sunday morning service, our church started meeting in our parking lot and inside with limited, social-distanced seating. But the question remained—how could we be well-known in our community as a place that takes God and His Word seriously and is marked by Christ-like love while communicating the gospel to the lost correctly, clearly, and consistently?
In May, our outreach pastor wrote some articles entitled “Pandemic Evangelism” to try to equip others during “these unprecedented times.” Some people in our church made their best efforts to call lost friends to check in on how they were doing. Some found that people were more willing to talk because of being shaken up by everything going on. Others found that some of their friends had dropped off the face of the earth. Last month, we tried door-to-door evangelism with our Spread the Word interns. Some of them were met with coronavirus-related resistance, but, for the most part, it was profitable.
This month, we were supposed to have Fall Fest, one of our biggest church-wide outreaches of the year. Last year, hundreds of people came. We had a straw maze, corn pit, hayride, cider, and donuts. Many church members connected with people from the community. Many lost people heard the gospel or were invited to Christianity Explored. This year--cancelled.
But despite the discouragement of things getting cancelled, the annoyance of wearing a mask, and the uncertainty of whether someone will act like a normal pre-2020 human being or spray you with hand sanitizer and run away accusing you of not caring about people’s health when you approach them, there really have been good opportunities for evangelism this year.
My favorite is one-to-one Bible reading. This is how I’ve seen redemptive relationships most regularly built. Before Covid, I met with individuals throughout the week to read the Bible together at restaurants, coffeeshops, or my house. After Covid, I meet with people outside, at parks, or on Zoom. The location may change, but coronavirus can’t stop this outreach.
It’s pretty simple but very effective (and fun). When I meet a lost person, I ask them if they have ever read the Bible? If they say no, I ask how they come up with informed opinions about God, life, or truth without reading the Bible, which is the #1 bestseller in the world that claims to be written by God, and invite them to read it with me. If they say they’ve read parts of the Bible, I ask how they come up with informed opinions about God, life, or truth without reading the whole Bible and invite them to read it with me. If they say they have read the whole Bible, I say, “We should read the Bible together then! I love reading the Bible with people! You will have insights that help me understand things I didn’t understand, and I will have insights that help you understand things you didn’t understand.”
One example began the beginning of February. A man named Nick visited Inter-City. I introduced myself, got his phone number, and invited him to study the Bible with me. Three weeks later, he accepted the invitation, and we met at a library. He had recently started reading the Bible himself for the first time, so we read the next chapter he was going to read together. It was 2 Kings 20. Soon, I recommended we read Mark. We would read a passage, ask each other questions, and I’d try to explain concepts like Jesus coming for those who know they are sick, not those who think they are healthy. Over the next 8 weeks, we read through a portion of Mark each week. After reading Mark, we went through 1 John. We are reading Ephesians now. It has been amazing to see Nick’s eyes open as God gave him understanding. Nick went from believing that he wasn’t a bad sinner and not knowing clearly who Jesus was, to saying he wants to follow Jesus because obviously he is the only one who can save!
Coronavirus can’t stop this. God’s Word will powerfully accomplish his purpose whether it’s heard in a church auditorium or over a Zoom call. That’s why regular exposure to the Bible is so important for evangelism. Who could you invite to read the Bible with you? If this kind of redemptive relationship building seems too difficult for you, check out David Helm’s book One-to-One Bible Reading: A Simple Guide for Every Christian, or try reading the Bible with a believing friend first and commit to praying for each other when you try reading the Bible with a lost person. You could also use a booklet that helps you walk through texts of Scripture like Christianity Explored (which now has a free online version for those who can’t meet in person), Uncovering the Life of Jesus by Rebecca Manley Pippert, The God Who Saves by Mark Gilbert, or You, Me, and the Bible by Tony Payne. Anyone can do this. And it can be done any time, even in a pandemic.
MLK service projects are a wonderful opportunity for students and community organizations alike. First, the students. There is a certain joy that Christians experience from obeying the commands of Christ. MLK service projects provide the opportunity to love our neighbors in a very practical, hands-on way. There is also excitement about serving with fellow students. Finally, students connect with organizations and find ways to partner in the future.
Second, our partnering organizations. Each year, we hear from many of the organizations how thankful they are for our students. All across the community we are able to spend a couple hours here and a few hours there to have a big impact and let these organizations know that we appreciate them and support their efforts to reach Greenville. MLK service projects are loved and enjoyed by everyone involved. Thank you to all the students, faculty, staff, and alumni that invested their day in serving!
We worked with Greer Relief, an organization serving people experiencing poverty in downtown Greer and in several other communities. We moved piles of furniture, clothes, school supplies, and even some TVs and mattresses out of their storage facility. It was great to hear from their director about the various avenues of help they offer to the community. Serving the community does not have to be complicated. It can be fun! (Hannah Lovegrove, Senior)
I had the opportunity to serve with Meals on Wheels for MLK Day. I got to interact with several people when I dropped off their meal for the day. Each person was so gracious and thankful that we took time out of our day to serve them. God taught me to appreciate what He has given me including the comfort of not having to worry about where my next meal will come from. He also helped me realize that there are people who are hungry and hurting even in Greenville, and being able to minister to them is an incredible opportunity! (Jessica Teruel, Junior)
I helped lead a ministry at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church. Our students repainted their fellowship hall and finished painting a classroom. We were thankful for the opportunity to bless one of our local Greenville churches, and we pray that lives will be changed as a result of our humble efforts. (Ben Peeler, Grad.)
I had the privilege of serving the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center in Greenville. Upon arrival, my group was instructed to branch out into the surrounding neighborhoods. We were to greet residents on behalf of the school and the center and have them complete a survey pertaining to the activities conducted in the area. Feedbacks from the first set of houses were consistently insightful, but one interaction I had truly impacted my experience. A lady on the last stretch of houses we visited described the murder, prostitution, and drug trade that occurred right before her eyes. This attracted me to the solution she stated next. She suggested, in lieu of continuing down the same path, there to be a mentoring program for the youth of the community. A positive influence in the lives of young people could redirect the footsteps of the minds of the future. If one would just take the time to positively pour into souls whose worldview is still being molded, I believe there will be a decrease in activities similar to what she said. As mentioned, this conversation impacted the way I now view the importance of mentorship. (Noah Jackson, Freshman)
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.
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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.