After several years as a missionary with numerous mission outreach and evangelism efforts, I’m accustomed to serving in unexpected and uncomfortable places. I’m also accustomed to seeing God move in beautiful and life-changing ways. I’m not accustomed to a radical upheaval in my way of thinking, my outlook on evangelism or my way of ministry but a recent trip to England did all of that and more. As we soon learned, stepping outside our comfort zone can be the first step to freedom. 

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Our English Partner

We partnered with a sister church in England to pray for the community, do door-to-door evangelism in council-house neighborhoods, participate in a cultural exchange with local elementary schools, and assist with a community-wide barbecue.

Days were long from the start. The hospitality was incredible. We had porridge almost every morning and lots of tea as well as more gluten-free desserts than I could eat, plus classic English dishes. It was all wonderful. English in England was not the same as English in America so I began a list of new vocabulary words and added to it daily. Before we left, I had four pages of new words in my little notebook.

The first day

Our first day was spent with the local church. I was touched by the way people poured out their hearts and, sometimes, their hurts. I prayed big prayers with many people and received an incredible number of wonderful hugs.

One woman introduced me to a family friend who didn’t speak English. “He’s not a Christian,” she whispered.

“Let’s pray for him right now,” I suggested and did what I always do – prayed the biggest prayer I could.

After the amen, she looked at me with surprise. “That’s like being in the first-century church!” she told me.

Door-to-door Evangelism and Outreach

On Monday, I was assigned a university student on holiday as my local evangelism partner. To be honest, after decades of discipleship and ministry, I expected to be the expert in our little team. It didn’t take but one visit to learn how wrong I was.

My job was to greet and make acquaintance with the people who answered our knock. His job was to go deep with questions about faith and belief. Such questions! I couldn’t imagine asking someone about whether they thought they deserved hell or not but he had no such qualms. I was equally surprised that those with whom we spoke had no hesitation about answering those difficult questions.

Before our first day was over, I learned a few hard truths about the community. The level of Biblical illiteracy was heartbreaking. Many people had cobbled together a bit from here and there to turn a variety of faiths into one jumble that had nothing to do with the truth of Jesus. Quite a few people had never considered “religion” or faith in God at all.

The Visit Through the Window

One of our early visits was to the home of a young woman. She didn’t open the door to us. Instead, she opened the window and we hollered back and forth. There’s probably a British term for this, but I can’t remember it. She was feeding her 14-month old daughter. I propped on the window sill as she fed her baby and we had a nice chat. She told me she chose to accept Christ a few years ago and I was so happy for her. She went on to say she’d had some hard experiences at church because of her lifestyle choices and was no longer part of a local congregation. I told her we’d love for her to visit our church anyway and invited her to a barbecue planned for later in the week. 

She was pretty surprised to have an invite despite her marital situation so she asked if we’d like to come in and visit some more. Of course, we did and soon went to work with hard questions. Almost immediately it became clear she didn’t have a clue about sin or Jesus or judgment. She only believed in love. After a long and quite lovely visit, she decided to come to the barbecue on Thursday and go through the Christianity explored class. Her partner didn’t join in our visit but we suggested she come on Thursday, too. We prayed for grace to abound for this lost but very sweet young lady. 

The Massive Bloke

That evening, we were able to chat with (as my partner said) “a massive bloke.” His family, he told us, wasn’t religious. He didn’t know about sin or Jesus but thought He had something to do with Easter. He wasn’t sure about the state of the world but thought we needed more community.

There was a pause in the conversation when he realized I had an American accent, then he asked if America is as beautiful as on TV. Since I haven’t actually watched TV in more than a decade, I wasn’t sure so I told him about the first thing that popped in my head: my little snake-in-the-laundry-room adventure. I told him about “calling the police” to help me and he looked so surprised. “Did they come?” he asked. “Oh yes,” I told him. “And other people, too. Tons of people asked me about it afterward.” He didn’t like snakes at all, so the story made an instant connection.

I went on to tell him about my hand-surgery adventure and how so many people from church helped take care of me. Thanks to a friend at work (whose good words reached literally around the world and touched the heart of this big ole bloke) I told him the sense of community we have is because we’ve become a family. His entire demeanor changed and he knew he wanted what we have. I also told him about how gracious the local church was about my gluten-free situation. He was aware of the inherent difficulties in preparing gluten-free food, so he was impressed. More family. More connection. 

The Cat Connection

The man’s cat was seated on a perch outside the front door when we walked up. It watched us with narrowed, suspicious eyes. When we reached out to ring the door, the cat emitted a low rumble that sounded threatening. I’m more familiar with cat bites than cat snuggles, so I kept my distance until the owner came to the door. He introduced us to his cat and told us that cat loved him and he loved her. I reached out to stroke the cat, unsure whether or not she would bite me. The man smiled. From them on, when he seemed a little uncertain with our conversation for a short moment, I stroked his cat for a bit. It seemed to soothe both cat and man.

My young partner asked if he’d go through a few questions with us and the man agreed. He remembered Jesus was resurrected so we had a bit of a head start there, but he was shocked to learn he’d sinned and might stand at the judgment in danger of hell. It was clear he didn’t want that at all so he decided to come to the barbecue and read the gospel of Mark, a book on difficult questions, and go through Christianity Explored.

He had a lovely terraced garden so I got some useful gardening tips before we left, too. We had a nice chat up at the end and invited him to check out the landscaping at the church. It was a wonderful visit.

The Elder

Later in the week, we spoke with a Mormon elder who talked at length with us. He’d attended a variety of churches in the past and held to much of the Christian faith but admitted he did quite a few things that are frowned on in the Mormon religion. We invited him to the barbecue and he seemed inclined to consider it but maybe he was just being polite.

The Hater

On the last visit of the last day, we had a real surprise. The man who opened the door hated anyone who goes door to door. He especially hated Christians and had a variety of unkind things to say, in addition to calling us “no better than ISIS.” Since we’ve never killed anyone, we wanted to disagree but it wouldn’t have helped. We stayed to listen to the tirade. As we left, we decided to retaliate in the best way possible. We prayed for the biggest blessings we could imagine, including that he would see Jesus in a new way and choose to follow Him.

The School Visits

The school visits were sweet beyond words. We visited four schools and spoke to around 100 students at each school. The facilities were beautiful and well-maintained. The children were in uniform and respectful beyond words. When we asked the children questions about faith and the empty tomb, though, their answers reflected the same Biblical illiteracy we’d seen in the community. “What did Mary see at the tomb that early Easter morning?” we asked. The answers ranged from bunny to basket to a fairy. Still, a few students knew there was an angel, a cloth, and an empty tomb.

God gave us the right words as we shared the answers to five questions every Christian needs to consider.  In our last session, we included a brief skit. I was asked to play the part of Sin pulling Man away from God. I’m sorry to say I knew so much about the pull of sin before Jesus saved me that I was able to play this past pretty well. Praise be to God, He redeemed me from the pit and I am not the same mean woman I once was. I hope the children saw they could be freed and changed, too.

Spiritual Warfare

The warfare was intense and included everything from poorly healing wounds to threats from armed thugs in the night to a crazed man stripping off clothes in the church parking lot to a lockdown at the school because of a police emergency – all within one 24-hour period. We doubled up on efforts to recruit prayer and saw an immediate change. Peace prevailed throughout and the chaos and confusion ceased. (If you’re among the hundreds of people praying for us on the trip, please accept our thanks and know that you made an enormous difference! Thank you!)

Lessons Learned evangelism

I discovered that English people are much nicer than I am and possibly more than Americans in general when it comes to door-to-door evangelism. People were far more gracious and open than I imagined possible. I expected some level of reserved aloofness but there was none at all. People were gracious, warm, kind, and friendly.

Before, after, and during the outreaches, the church members bathed every event in prayer. They prayed with expectation but also with hearts breaking over the lost condition of their community. “We have the best news in the world. How dare we keep it to ourselves? It’s not right to refuse to share what we know.”

Evangelism is the job of every believer, whether they have the gift of evangelism or not.  

Their commitment to the souls of the people in their community put me to shame. My fervor for loving my neighbor is not the same as those good people. I don’t share Christ with the same tenacity nor reach out to those in need with the same relentlessness. I’m not as welcoming to those who are different nor as inclusive of those who view life differently. Although I have served Jesus for decades, I was ashamed of my inadequacy in the face of a twenty-something on holiday who could go deeper with a stranger than I do with someone I’ve known for years.

With all that said, I left with a few important lessons that I expect to change my life, deepen my faith, and expand my ministry.   

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Seven Evangelism Truths Every Christian Needs to Know:

  1. “Go into all the world” includes the part of the world outside my door.
  2. If I believe I have the Good News of Jesus that can save us from hell and damnation (and I do) I am remiss if I fail to share that news with those in need of His love, whether I have the gift of evangelism or not.
  3. Every difficult outreach effort must be bathed in prayer but “difficult” is not an excuse for failure to try.
  4. People respond to the love they see in me.
  5. God can and does make the impossible possible – no matter how unlikely.
  6. If God can save and change me (and He did) He can save and change anyone.
  7. If people in our town go to hell without knowing the truth about Jesus, or because of Biblical illiteracy, it’s not the fault of the lost people. It’s the fault of the body of Christ. We can do more and we must.

Our Responsibility for Change

Friends, we saw a paucity of Biblical truth that shocked me to my core. People cannot believe what they do not know. They cannot know what they have not heard. The telling, the sharing, and the teaching are the responsibility of God’s people and, judging by my experience in England, we’re doing a poor job of it. The heartbreaking truth is Biblical illiteracy is just as common here as across the Atlantic.

If we want to change the world, we must start with our own homes and expand first to our own neighborhoods – those directly outside the doors of our churches. I don’t like door-to-door evangelism a bit better than I did when I boarded the plane to England but I see the necessity in a whole new way. Combined with the love of Christ and the acceptance that says “I’m a sinner, too, so come along with me,” we can change the world. And we must.

“Some men want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” C.T. Studd

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 NIV

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Want to read more? Here are links to a few other posts:

Promises of God Fulfilled

When the God of the Universe Knows Your Name

How to Trust God in Hard Times

Repentance and the Benefits Package

Will We Make Room for God in Our Lives?

Contentment Regardless of Circumstances

How to Memorize Scripture

Repentance: It’s Not Optional

On Being Beloved

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