It had been a wonderful Sabbath. After church my wife and I had hosted friends for a lunch, and then we all decided to enjoy a nice afternoon walk in the cool shade of a nearby park. Because it was a hot and typically humid summer day in Maryland, we had all changed into more comfortable walking clothes, and finally started on the tree-shaded path.
Many others clearly had the same idea. We passed young families with little ones in their strollers, older couples in deep conversations, larger family groups, and teenagers holding hands.
After 10 minutes of walking, a woman in her 40s strode purposefully toward me and asked me for directions to a specific attraction of the park. I knew the place well and quickly pointed her to her destination. Five minutes later an older gentleman wondered how to get to the hothouse of the park. My wife, Chantal, was able to guide him to the right building. Fifteen minutes later, a family with a friendly dog walked hesitantly toward us and asked us for the way to the nearest dog park. I knew the best way to the dog park and walked with the family to the next turn, directing them to their destination.
By that time our friends looked at us in wonder: “Why do people keep coming to you asking you for directions? Do you know these people?”
BETWEEN DOING AND BEING
Why did people come to us and ask us for directions? Both my wife and I had noticed this phenomenon during earlier walks in our favorite park. Why did people think that we would know the way? we had asked ourselves. We didn’t wear special clothes or badges suggesting that we were park employees. In fact, in our shorts, T-shirts, and walking shoes we looked like most people around us. It was a good question, and it somehow reminded us of evangelism.
Evangelism is an important word in Adventist vocabulary—and rightly so. We have been called to share the good news of the soon coming of Jesus with a hurting world hurtling toward destruction. Sometimes we have interpreted the meaning of this word merely in terms of doing, instead of reflecting as intensely on our being.
Let me illustrate this from the experience of the early Christian church. Following the miraculous work of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2-4) and the conversions of thousands, the Jewish leadership began to take note of this new movement, called “the Way” (Acts 9:2). This focused attention led to increasingly violent persecution (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1, 2), forcing the church to rapidly spread out beyond Judea, Samaria, Syria, and the rest of the Roman Empire. Itinerant preachers such as Paul, Peter, and other apostles and leaders, would occasionally visit larger cities and engage in what we would call “public” evangelism. But the Christian church grew most consistently because of the ministry and service of individual church members meeting in small house churches that were deeply embedded in their local communities. Their compassion, care, and love toward those in need of grace and support attracted people. Their focus on the Jesus who saves and transforms, changed these early Christians, as well as their families and neighbors.
WHY DO THEY ASK FOR DIRECTIONS?
Our park experience has challenged me to think more about the reasons people will reach out to others for guidance, direction, or even help. Here are three possible reasons that can undoubtedly also be applied to the way we engage with people about the gospel.
1. Know the territory. We have lived more than 12 years in our neighborhood, and we really know this park. We walk confidently and purposefully on its paths. Confidence and purpose usually attract those who don’t know their way— on a path or in life. The spiritual application is straightforward: Unless we know our Savior personally, unless we enjoy a vibrant and intimate relationship with Him, we are in no position to guide anyone. Disciples know their Master personally and intimately. They don’t just communicate facts or a list of Bible verses. They have walked with their Lord through valleys and over mountains. They have confidence in their Redeemer, and they enjoy the assurance of salvation.
2. Be approachable. When we walk in our park, we usually don’t carry a cell phone or have earphones glued to our ears. We look at our surroundings; we notice the regulars we keep seeing week after week, and greet each other; we smile at people and are open to making new friends. We don’t just portray grave seriousness but rather joyous interest. Jesus seemed to have had the knack of engaging with all types of people— serious scholars, tired day laborers, wealthy landowners, fidgety children, self-conscious teenagers, worn-out mothers. Communicating openness to other people is not equal to being an extrovert. Jesus uses extroverts and introverts (and anything in between), but what we need to offer is availability and approachability.
3. Grasp opportunities. Chantal and I never took a class explaining all the intricacies and possibilities of our park. We never studied to be park guides, but because we love the park and have walked literally thousands of kilometers (or miles) in it, we can offer help to those who are trying to find their way. We may not have an answer to all questions, but we help as best we can. I wonder what openings to witness to God’s goodness and His plan for our world we miss when we don’t give our testimony because we feel that it isn’t “special” enough? How often do we forgo great opportunities because we don’t grasp the moment of openness and opportunity when someone asks a question?
WALKING ALL THE WAY
Witnessing for Jesus doesn’t begin with words. It begins in a personal encounter with Jesus that transforms our lives. Once we know the Savior personally, we can live confident of His love and ready to share His goodness with those who seek. While we may not know all the answers, we can grasp every opportunity to be of service and communicate some of the blessings we have experienced. And then, sometimes, beyond the directions and answers, we can walk with those seeking answers some portion of the way. Like the disciples on their way to Emmaus, we may just find that walking in community with others and Jesus will prove to be a blessing that works both ways. As we help others, we ourselves find purpose in this seemingly purposeless, confused world.