Written in 2006
By Amy Sondova Today the Christian book man came into my mom’s store to replenish their inspirational literature stand. He and I have a little ritual that takes place each month. He looks at me oddly when I request some of my favorite authors like C.S. Lewis and Philip Yancey. They’ve done demographic studies, he says each time, and they know what sells. Maybe it’s futile to try, but today I did it again. I told him that we’ve had requests for some quasi-Christian books—ones that Christians can give to their unsaved friends to offer them hope. He didn’t look at me oddly this time; he looked at me with disgust. They didn’t have books that hid the message of the gospel, he curtly replied. I half-expected him to ask me how I could suggest such a thing. But he didn’t. He simply went about his work. For months, the rack has been housing books such as Amish Home Remedies and Good Clean Jokes to Drive Your Parents Crazy. Not exactly offering moral inspiration to the masses, is it? Yet my request showed fruits of a benign faith to this man.
Sometimes I wonder if I really am hiding my faith under a bushel. I mean, I have a Rock for Life bumper sticker and a Christian fish symbol on the back of my SUV. I try to be Jesus to the people I see (at least most of the time.) I’ve just never been one to walk up to a stranger and ask, “Excuse me, do you know where you’re going when you die?” I did it on a mission trip to Philadelphia once when I was in high school. I hated doing it. There just seemed something wrong with harassing people on the street with the gospel.
Yet these people so desperately need to know who Jesus is and what He did for them. They’re crying out for God’s love and they don’t even know it. Sometimes my burden for the others is so strong, I want to run up to someone, grab them by the shoulders, and shake them while screaming, “Jesus loves you! Do you understand that? He died on the cross for you and you act like it never happened. Please love Him back!” Tears of sincerity would be pouring down the contours of my cheeks, yet I’m fairly certain a simple assault charge would be my reward for this type of “witnessing”.
Street evangelism can be effective. I’ve seen people sob right there on the sidewalk and give their lives to Christ. Children, who came from the poorest of households, prayed for the first time in their lives. These are sacred moments. It feels as though we should take off our shoes in reverence because it is at these times that we trod on holy ground. Still I can’t help but wondering what happens to these individuals once we go home and return to our normal lives.
Personally, I like relational and servant evangelism. Both types of evangelism offer more than the “Here’s-a-tract-and-call-me-in-the-morning” witnessing approach. Relational evangelism was the crux of my relationships with marginal kids in the senior high youth group. Since our church is huge, it was easy for a few kids to slip away from youth group. Fortunately, I knew every nook and cranny of the church (probably because I used to sneak away from youth group, too!) Other adult leaders forced these escapees to return to the youth room. I, however, had a different approach. I just sat there with them and talked about music, weaponry, art, and whatever was on their minds. Sometimes the conversation would take a surprising turn towards God or Christianity, and they shared their hearts. They stayed in the youth room when I did talks, and then eventually stayed every week. It wasn’t because of me though; it was God in me and even then it was God.
Our youth pastor was a big proponent of servant evangelism. One sizzling summer afternoon we gathered the middle and high school students together for a project. A group of over 70 students and leaders trekked to the super Wal-Mart conveniently located next to our church. We were armed with Windex, paper towels, and garbage bags. Our mission was to wash the windshields of the cars in the parking lot. The only indication of our presence was a streaky windshield and a little card telling the car owner that we wanted to show him or her God’s love in a practical way. My mission was to be the keeper of the trash bag in which the kids deposited used paper towels.
As soon as they hit the parking lot, groups of boys ran to the hot rods while the girls began a systematic sweep of the area. The middle schoolers ran from car to car trying to bless as many people as possible (or trying to see who could wash the most windshields). Oh, well, I thought, at least they’re learning about how to serve. They really seemed to be having fun as they started to belt out, “I love Jesus; yes, I do. I love Jesus; how ‘bout you?” Customers were pleasantly surprised to see our teens serving God. I was, too.
An elderly couple and their two grandchildren exited their beat-up station wagon and were immediately approached by a couple of kids. “Can we wash your windows?” one boy enthusiastically asked.
The old man looked down and softly replied, “No, thank you, not today.” The kids ran off to the next car. A couple of girls and I were nearby picking up paper towels some of the boys forgot to throw away. While his wife and children walked away, the old man lingered behind watching us. Then he turned to us and asked, “Well, how much does it cost?” I looked at the girls indicating I wanted them to respond, but they remained tight-lipped.
“It doesn’t cost anything. We’re washing your windows to show you God’s love in a real, tangible way,” I said with a smile. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
The old man’s eyes filled with tears. “No one has ever showed me God’s love like this,” he choked. He was moved beyond words.
“Can we wash your car windows, sir?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes,” he said, “Please do.” Excitedly, the girls raced over to his car and got to work. He thanked the girls for their service and joined his family at the entrance to the store. The girls and I then prayed for that old man, his wife, and grandchildren. And somehow that sticky blacktop became holy ground.
A little while later some students decided that washing car windows wasn’t enough, so they began washing Wal-Mart’s windows. A few decided to return carts abandoned by careless shoppers in the parking lot. A couple of Wal-Mart employees stood at the entrance and laughed at the teens. The employees then blessed us with a whole role of smiley face stickers and thanked the students for their work. One of the kids replied, “No problem. We just did it because God loves you.” Then he put a smiley face sticker in the middle of his forehead. He was Jesus in the flesh. They all were. Smiley faces stickers and all.
Thinking about it, Jesus talked a lot and followed up His words with actions. He spent time with people, talked to them, and He served them. In fact, He was the ultimate Servant Evangelist dying on a cross for our sins. So here I sit in the shop writing this article while Five Iron Frenzy blasts from my laptop. I’m not wearing my faith on my sleeve, nor do I take issue with those who do. There’s a place for all of us at the Great Banquet. I can only hope my seat is near the saints with the smiley face stickers firmly attached to their faces.