Many years ago, I used to volunteer for a community telephone line, called “Contact Tidewater” in Virginia. It was funded by many Christian churches in the area and ran by a minister. You had to go through 30 hours of intense training and psychological scrutiny to qualify for the program. Though many of us referred to it as “the suicide lines”, it was mainly a community resource for information and a place that anyone could find a friendly voice — even in the middle of the night. It was manned 24/7, and I worked a monthly overnight shift from 9 pm to 6 am, staying at the non-disclosed location.
One summer morning after emerging from my overnight duty, I decided to visit the beach before driving home. I was on the Boardwalk off Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach, sitting with my arms on the railing and my legs dangling over the side. While I was soaking up the sun and watching the early risers on the beach, I noticed a guy who appeared to be giving instructions to a group of young people. Afterward, they dispersed into groups of two and proceeded to stop people on the Boardwalk and the beach. Eventually, a young man and woman, probably both in their late teens or very early 20s, approached me. He stood while she sat down beside me.
She asked if I belonged to a church, and I said I was Catholic. That seemed to be the cue for the two of them to tell me what was wrong with my faith and why I should follow theirs. I politely listened, probably because I had been up most of the night and too tired to care. When they ran out of words, I told them that, since I gave them the courtesy of not interrupting them, that I expected the same in kind.
I proceeded to tell them what I had spent my night doing, while they slept soundly in their beds. I told them my desire to help those people, when I would rather be sleeping and at home with my children, came from my faith that they had just trashed. Then I explained, “true evangelism isn’t hijacking people on the beach, hoping you have a better argument than them. True evangelism is lived every moment of every day. It’s getting out there as an example of what Christianity and Christ is really all about — putting action into your faith!”
I continued to explain that Contact Tidewater doesn’t allow you to put your faith or values into your work. “But I found that doesn’t matter. People know anyway. Last night, I was on the phone for 20 minutes with a very lonely widow. She was upset and couldn’t sleep, because it was Saturday and she went grocery shopping. You see, it was an anniversary date for her — one that she has to endure every week. She lost her husband a few years ago. They always went grocery shopping together every Saturday. She just needed someone to listen and understand.
“Before she hung up, she asked me what my faith was. I told her I wasn’t allowed to say. You know what her response was?” I asked the two. With no answer to my question, I continued, “She said, ‘That’s okay, dear. I know you’re a Christian.’ Then, she thanked me and hung up, knowing she was able to then sleep peacefully. All I did was listen to her grief and love for her husband, and gave her understanding and empathy.”
I finished by telling the young people that was true evangelism — not knocking someone else’s faith and beliefs. They quietly thanked me for my time and left. As I was leaving the Boardwalk, they seemed to be having a very heartfelt discussion with their leader — and they seemed to be winning the argument.
You see, you don’t have to be St Paul in the town square to be an evangelist. You only have to live your life as a true Christian, and you’ll lead others to Christ by your example. You are evangelizing every moment of every day — to your family and friends, to coworkers, and people you don’t know. You are evangelizing through the words you use, the tone of your voice, your body language and actions.
If you cheat on your taxes, fudge on the truth, make promises you don’t keep, show little patience and caring for others, and other such actions, you will tell people either you aren’t a Christian or you’re representing Christianity as many non-Christians expect. If you always have a smile on your face, however, are pleasant, patient and caring, show honesty and integrity, always try to do what’s right (even when it’s not popular, such as telling people you don’t gossip and walking away from it), and other such Christian actions, then you’ll be telling people that this is Christianity and it’s for them — without preaching one word!
Take a good look at your life — are you walking the walk and talking the talk at home and at work, not just at church? True evangelism is being a good example of what a good Christian is. Remember that every moment of every day …
YOU are evangelizing for CHRIST
whether you wish to or not!
by Patricia Hawke
Copyright 2008, Patricia Hawke