What’s happening in evangelism in GBU Chile?

The dreaded E-word. ‘Evangelism!’ There – I said it. You’re stuck at home. You’re stressed. You’re anxious. And now you’re going to feel guilty! That’s what you’re thinking, right? Just what we needed, another article about evangelism. Cue feelings of guilt, shame and failure! Friends, if this is your expectation, I hope to disappoint you in this article. My aim here is to encourage you, despite our failed efforts and flawed personal commitments, to speak the truth about Jesus.

You’re at home because of COVID-19, church meetings have been disembodied and relocated to online platforms, and perhaps you’re working from home. You’re feeling overwhelmed. You’ve spent more time investigating online systems to help connect people for work and church life than you have praying or proclaiming. Your prayers have become consumed by the urgent needs all around us and perhaps you’ve left the important stuff for after things settle down a bit. One thing I think this whole pandemic situation has alerted us to is the fact that we can often struggle with the personal side of ministry. Structures like meetings, training, teaching and serving at church within the systems is our happy place. We can have a tendency to immediately think about the system to fix the need to work from home before we think about the person we’re trying to connect with. Well at least I do. But we need to understand that even in this climate of global health scares, God’s mission remains as important as ever. And maybe all that time invested in online ways to connect with people might prove useful for us in our evangelistic efforts.

Without wanting to celebrate or even condone our failures in evangelism, we need at least to acknowledge them. I say this not by way of discouragement, but if we are to improve, do better or more, it’s important that we do that in the reality of our current practice. I’m a missionary, and I’m a failed evangelist. After spending time ministering in two different Sydney Anglican churches, my family and I moved to Chile to be involved in what God is doing here in and through university students and in particular to teach MOCLAM courses.[1] During our final months in Australia we spoke continually in our house about going to Chile to teach people about Jesus. Yet after a few months into our time in Chile, my daughter asked me one day, “Dad, when are you going to start telling people about Jesus?” Now it’s true we needed to learn Spanish in order to do that, as we were doing at that time in a full-time capacity. And it’s true that we were settling into life, culture and customs here. But her question really got to me. Even with my limited language abilities, who was I speaking to about Jesus, and who was I talking to God about in my prayers? I realised that I did have amble opportunities with my language teacher, other parents at school, people at church, and students within GBU.[2]

As I have become involved with university students here from a myriad of different church backgrounds and traditions, I’ve seen many different evangelistic things tried and tested. Things like preaching on a bus or in the streets, or through marriage courses that span a weekend. However, on the whole many people seem really focused on hosting events. And while I like a good evangelistic event just as much as anyone, the fruit from such events was almost universally nada.[3]  Within GBU Chile we are seeking to gather, be, and make disciples of Christ, but how do we do that? Two things spring to mind from our context in Chile.

1. Priority of Prayer

At the end of the day, God is the one who opens blind eyes. We learn that in Mark’s Gospel with the disciples who are slow to understand the identity and mission of Jesus. They kind of get it, but then at times they don’t. In Mark 8 we read of Jesus’ two-stage healing of the blind man, a kind of commentary on the vision of the disciples at the time, and then in Mark 10 we see blind Bartimaeus receive his sight. We could say so much about this, but for our purposes here, I simply want to remind us that seeing Jesus clearly is a process that involves hearing, understanding and responding. The power for this change is not my finely tuned presentations but the message itself wielded by the powerful Spirit of God. We evangelise, as with all things we do, in dependence upon God. For this reason our first base has to be prayer. We regularly pray together for the spread of the gospel, the opening of blind eyes, and the changing of hearts as individuals and also more widely as GBU.

2. Sufficiency of the Scriptures

I have heard many stories within our context here of people simply reading the Bible with their friends. No tricks, tracts or gimmicks. Simply, “Hey I’m reading Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, care to join me?” As I teach New Testament 1 to students, I remind them that the word does the work: Mark’s Gospel presents us with clear answers to both the identity and mission of Jesus. GBU hosts many Mark Drama events during the year as part of the evangelistic effort to make Jesus known. But what I really love seeing is the students sitting down to open the Gospel of Mark with their non-believing friends afterwards. Students sometimes do this using the simple Swedish Method of reading the Bible. I try to remind students that it’s okay if they learn something too as they read the Bible with their unbelieving friends! You don’t have to be the expert about everything in the text. It’s okay to show your unbelieving friend that God’s word still has something to say to you too! We’ve found that putting the gospel itself front and centre not only is more effective, but also a clear demonstration of our theology of the sufficiency of the word of God. Our practice always reveals our underlying theology and it’s no different with evangelism.

Remember that God doesn’t usually work through perfect people; in fact, he has only done this once – through Jesus! Remember that God is at work as we share his word. Remember that evangelism is his idea and not ours. And remember that we live with the sure promise of God, that as we speak to people about him, those who are chosen, washed, redeemed, and bought with the blood of the precious Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, will be saved through his divine power.

¡Ánimo amigos![4]

During these times of social isolation, will you set aside time to pray for the salvation of people – perhaps your sister, colleague, neighbour or even that person you are yet to meet? And as you engage via Zoom or over the fence or phone, will you be ready to speak of the sure situation in Jesus that anchors you during a time like this?

[1] MOCLAM is the Spanish version of Moore Theological College’s PTC course. For more info see moclam.org

[2] GBU is the IFES university ministry within Chilean universities.

[3] I can speak Spanish now 🙂

[4] Be encouraged, friends!