After I had preached on Sunday morning a man swaggered up to me. He looked mid forties, stocky and like his nose had been broken more times than he could remember. I was talking to a member of the church and he joined our conversation.
“So, does anybody do any witnessin aroun here?” he asked.
It felt like a loaded question. I don’t think either of us knew quite what to say…
“I guess it depends on what you mean by that” I said. I sensed that he meant standing on street corners and preaching, or stopping people in the mall.
“Well I mean going out in the street and talking to people about Jesus. There’s a whole world out there of needy people who aren’t gonna come in here and without Jesus they’re goin to hell.”
He was clearly edgy and wasn’t feeling like we were receiving his question real well. The fact that I had lampooned the wacko street preacher during my message may not have helped either.
He talked for a little bit and told us his story. He had been sent to prison several years ago for violent crime. He had lived a violent life and was a street fighter. But during a stint in solitary confinement he had met God in a ‘damascus road’ type of way.
He then started sharing his faith in prison and just before he got out he was leading a Bible study of over 200 men in the prison. His approach to evangelism was much like his approach to other things in life – no holds barred and no prisoners – pardon the pun.
After a short conversation where my friend spoke of the church’s craft group, and kids ministries I could see him glaze over and zone out. This wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
He had come looking for a church that would support him in his own evangelistic work, post prison and that would also be a church that would welcome his new converts. He hadn’t found one anywhere.
He drifted off from the conversation clearly frustrated. I was frustrated too.
Partly because I had encountered someone with raw passion and it had exposed me as having gone soft in some ways. I was frustrated because I knew what he was on about – there simply aren’t too many churches where people like him are welcome and where he would be understood and encouraged and where his friends would be accepted. He is a strong character with lots of opinions and he would be a handful. His friends would change the tone of the average middle class church.
As he drifted off I sensed God saying ‘go and have lunch with him’. I think it was partly so I could learn more about evangelism from someone who was naturally gifted and partly so I could encourage him not to give up on the church. In his zeal he was convinced that anyone who wasn’t doing evangelism like him was not serious about God and he had little room for those with any fear.
I have shared this frustration over the years and at times have been guilty of projecting my own passions and gifting onto others. Maybe I could help him see the value in sticking with others and helping them develop.
I caught him as he was walking down the street to his beaten up white ford meteor. I invited him out and he took me up on it.
We had a great time together and I found myself driving home inspired by this left field Jimmy Swaggart fan who wept over people who didn’t know Jesus and who went from half way house to half way house until someone would listen. He had clearly had such a life changing encounter with God that nothing was going to stop him or slow him.
I was rebuked for my lampooning of the street preacher and reminded that the kingdom of God is very very diverse. As he treads the streets of Fremantle he will connect with people who would never give me the time of day.
I pray he finds a community of people who will welcome him and his friends and who will support him in his passion for helping the broken and messed up follow Jesus.
I pray the evangelist won’t get tamed.up in smoke free