In the last e-word, I shared that there are two kinds of good news: the news that Jesus brings to us, and the news about Jesus the Christ. But what do you do with that good news? How do you even begin to share it with the world?
You may have noticed that West End has a new ministry called “Water at the Well.” It is an eclectic mix of events designed to help us experience God in new ways, but it comes with a commission as well: to take those experiences and share them with others. I was able to participate in the “prayer for the city” event on July 2, and in the spirit of those experiences and in the spirit of this column, I want to share with you my experience.
As a few of us sat in the Church Street Park downtown, I have to admit that I felt awkward. We had come into the heart of the city to pray for whatever we saw and experienced, and yet, in such a public place, it was also a very overt form of witness. I kept asking myself, do I have good news for these people? And how do I share it with them?
Interestingly, the park we sat in was filled with beautiful foliage, green grass, a flowing fountain; and yet the only people who took the time to stop and rest inside this space were the homeless of downtown (and the occasional dog walker). Everyone else rushed by on their lunch breaks on the hot pavement just outside the park. Which group needed the good news?
I felt incredibly voyeuristic and out of place. Who was I to bring good news to these people? Who was I to assume that they didn’t have a bit of good news already? Who is to say that they didn’t have good news to share with me!
Sensing we all felt that way, our little group simply sat on the bench in the park for about 15 minutes soaking it all in. One of us led a simple prayer – praying that we might experience God in the city during our time in that place. Almost immediately, people around us began to interact with us. We had been present for long enough that we became safe and approachable. We had been present long enough to not be a strange element in this community’s midst.
All of the recent stuff I have been reading about evangelism talks about building relationships and in the process sharing good news. We really need to get to know someone, know where they are at, and be honest about where we are as well, in order to share our stories. And we need to be a real presence in someone’s life. That is not to say that there isn’t a time and a place for random encounters with people, and that’s not to say that we can’t share the good news of God with complete strangers. But to really know what to say, you need names, you need stories and you need to be vulnerable yourself.
So what did we share with this group of people? We stopped for long enough to hear their stories and to share a bit about ourselves. We listened for long enough to hear that the good news that Christ brings to the world is needed in this community: there is addiction and mental illness and broken relationships that need healing. Yet we also listened for long enough to hear that the good news of God was present in their midst. They were a community that loved and cared for one another, and in the spirit of water at the well, they shared what they had received with one another and were able to tell another hungry beggar where to find food.
And that is precisely how Daniel Niles describes evangelism: “Evangelism is witness. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food. The Christian does not offer out of his bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply guest at his Master’s table and, as evangelist, he calls others too.” The good news that I gained from being present in this community was realizing that the good news God gives us to share is a gift. It does not come from our abundance or knowledge or higher moral standing. It comes in spite of us and it is meant for everyone, including ourselves. We are all hungry, and when we find a morsel of food, we should share it with others.