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).
Mitch Miller, Pastor at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church
One key to pastoring in a low-income area is to see yourself not just as the pastor of your church, but the pastor of the entire neighborhood your church is in. This simple shift in thinking changes everything.
When I came on board to pastor Griggs Memorial Baptist Church in the neighborhood of Poe Mill, I looked at my role through this lens. First thing that was affected was my time. Instead of cooping myself up in an office, I started knocking on doors, having conversations, hearing about needs and, when possible, meeting those needs regardless of whether or not the one in need was coming to my church.
Within a pretty short amount of time my phone was ringing off the hook. About a year into the role, I would get a call whenever anyone in the neighborhood was in the hospital, needed a preacher for a family member’s funeral, needed $30 to turn their water back on, had lost their job, or just been through a heart break. Sometimes these calls came within the work day, sometimes late at night. Sometimes the people started visiting the church after I tried to help them. Some of them still haven’t visited.
All of that is ok. The joy comes not from my comfort, but my opportunity to comfort those in pain. It may be that you too are ministering in an area where many are in pain on a daily basis. What do they need? They need a pastor. Don’t make them show up to find one. You show up for them. Here’s how:
One thing we have to recognize is that most people in our neighborhood aren't going to bring their problems to us unless they're big, life-or-death problems. Very few people will be knocking on the door of the church just because they have a car trouble or the flu. That's why we have to check in with them, just to see how they're doing.
This is as simple as a knock on the door, a piece of mail we send out, or a text or Facebook message as we get to know people better. We contact them even if they don't come to our church but say, "I pray for folks here in the neighborhood each week. Is there anything that I can pray for you specifically, big or small?" And don’t forget to actually pray for them.
Sometimes you may get a sense that something isn't right with a neighborhood family. You might see or hear something that prompts you to reach out. Always follow that prompting.
The other day I was talking to one of our members who told me he saw a kid on our church van knock an ice cream out of another kid's hand on purpose. The ice cream was totally ruined, laying on the floor of the van. The child being bullied said he would never come back to our church.
After figuring out who it was, I personally stopped by his house with a gift card for another ice cream. I was able to chat with the little guy and encourage him. The next Sunday he was back in kid's ministry. This was also a chance for me to meet his family, who later came to our church and heard the gospel!
I’ll take a second here to give a shout-out to one of my deacons. There's a homeless man who attends our church. Our deacon saw the obituary of this gentleman's mother one day in the newspaper and called me with the funeral information. At his suggestion, I went to the viewing just to stop by. All I did was quickly shake our homeless friend's hand and tell him I was sorry for his loss. That's it.
Several times now that guy has stopped me in the parking lot and told me how much it meant to him when I showed up. I can tell he means it. It’s not everyday that someone goes out of their way to be there for him, so it's powerful when that happens.
Simply making a shift in how you view yourself will do more for most of the people in your neighborhood than any sermon you ever preach. I'm not saying to give up the latter for the former. We need to preach and to preach well. What I am saying, however, is that there should be more people who consider you their pastor than hear you preach every Sunday. Eventually, by God's grace, both of those numbers will grow for the good of others and the glory of God.
You may find your weekly to-do list a little bit more uncomfortable, but many will be comforted by Christ through you, which is a tremendous joy.
Jonathan Clater, Community Outreach Director at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church
Staying on Mission
The Mission statement of Griggs is simple. It is to make disciples, particularly in the neighborhood of Poe Mill. Staying on mission is very important to us. We believe in the local church and we believe in our mission. We feel the calling from God to minister to the neighborhood that is closest to our church. This means that all of our evangelistic efforts take place in Poe Mill, all of our events are designed to serve those in Poe Mill, and we do everything with the needs of Poe Mill in mind.
Mill Village Mission
Without trying to bore you with an exhaustive history of the mills in South Carolina, let me share a quick history to show why our neighborhood is the way that it is. During the 1950s and 1960s, Greenville was known by many as the textile capital of the world. The Mill named after F. W. Poe was one of the most lucrative in the area. Poe Mill was a successful operation from 1896-1977.
In its hay day, Poe Mill had a prime location sitting very near the main line of the
Southern Railroad and right off the well-traveled Buncombe Road. The houses surrounding the Mill were built for mill-employed families to rent at a reasonable rate. These were simple, well-built homes that provided a convenient location for many of the mill employees. Life in the mill village was determined by the operation of the mill. They woke up with a whistle at the mill, they ate when the mill employees ate, and they slept only when the mill was closed for the night.
After the golden age of textiles in the 60s, several factors led to the demise of textile mills in the South East. One of them is the owners of these mills found it cheaper to outsource labor overseas, leaving thousands of Americans unemployed.
Since then, the mill villages have fallen upon many economic and social hardships. Multiple generations have struggled to find work and now living in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty. This is the story of the West End of Greenville, South Carolina. This is the neighborhood where Griggs ministers.
One year ago God was using many factors in my life to call me into a life of ministry. I immediately started searching for a church where I could quickly get involved. I heard about Griggs from a friend and joined him the next Sunday.
The first Sunday at Griggs I remember hearing how the Pastor was walking around the neighborhood inviting families to the upcoming VBS. I thought that was so awkward (and a little dangerous) that he was walking around the neighborhood talking to people like that! I never imagined that a few months later that would be my job.
A few weeks later, I went to the neighborhood with Pastor Mitch and trust me, it was very uncomfortable for a kid from the mountains of New Hampshire. I had never done anything like that, but God was using even the awkwardness of talking to people who, in my mind, seemed very different from me to show me of glimpse of real service.
Serving Jesus is rarely comfortable. This summer as an intern at Griggs, I have found myself in many uncomfortable situations. I have no shower or stove in my house, my neighbors are definitely selling crack every night, I have run away from more stray Pit Bulls than I can count, I have been robbed at knife-point, and given a large portion of my money to feed homeless men and women that are hungry. (Mom I hope you are not reading this…)
The lessons I have learned about Jesus and service far outweigh the discomfort. The same Jesus who was rejected by His family and hometown, homeless and poor during His ministry, and ultimately nailed to a cross by people who hated Him is the same Jesus who understands my discomfort and has promised to be with me to the end of the age.
Jesus loves the neighborhood just as much as He loves me. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are powerful enough to change any sinner, and He has the grace to restore every life. This is the reason Griggs stays on Mission. We see it as our responsibility to bring this good news to our neighborhood. We are constant beneficiaries of the boundless mercies of God, so it is our passion to share of those mercies to all people.
Jesus said it so perfectly when he answered the Pharisees that were judging Him for eating with sinners, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).
As a church we know from our own lives that Jesus saves sinners, because we were all sinners. We were all sick, in need of the Physician. It is our mission to share the message of the Great Physician to Poe Mill. We love Poe Mill. You cannot separate Griggs from Poe Mill, no matter how uncomfortable ministry may be.
Click here for part one and two.
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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.