Persevering in Evangelism: Reflections on a godly stranger
July 19, 2013 11 Comments
Don’t give up sharing your faith in Jesus, even when it seems like a waste of time
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about Russell. Not Russell from Up! (probably my favourite Russell); not ‘evil Russell’ from Survivor (probably my least favourite Russell); and not the short, freckly kid who thought it would be funny to climb the tallest tree at school and tie my bag up there when I was in Year 9 (probably somewhere in between the other two Russells).
The Russell I’ve been thinking about is a man who changed my life. But I don’t even know his last name, and I met him just once, more than 15 years ago.
I met Russell in the food court at Westfield Miranda – not usually a venue for life-changing encounters. I’d just finished lunch and was heading for the escalator when Russell politely stopped me and asked if we could chat. Russell was a Christian, and he wanted to talk to me about Jesus.
But I wasn’t interested.
I’d grown up in a churchgoing family, heard the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection most weeks at church or youth group, and at one time called myself a Christian. But around the age of 16, I slowly started wandering away from church. By the time I met Russell, any mention of Jesus made me feel slightly awkward – maybe even a bit guilty, or a bit foolish. I’d never decisively rejected the truth of the Bible; in fact, I was intellectually persuaded that it was true. I just decided that other things in life were more important or interesting. So I tried my best to forget what I knew. Hearing about God (especially from someone like Russell, who was clearly excited about his relationship with Jesus) was a challenge I could do without.
Fortunately, in the providence of God, not only was I uninterested in hearing the name of Jesus. I was also too polite to say no to Russell. So I talked to him for what I think was about 15 minutes. It’s a vague memory, but I know he asked me what I thought about Jesus, if I had read the Bible, and why I had stopped going to church. He then explained the gospel to me, and gently encouraged me to reconsider Jesus’ place in my life. For some reason, when he asked for my phone number to continue the conversation, I gave it to him.
A couple of nights later, to my surprise, Russell called. I thought, “Wow, this guy actually cares about me!” But I still didn’t want to talk. Russell invited me to church. He asked me to another Christian meeting on the weekend. He encouraged me to seriously consider what I believed. In each case, I had an excuse. We ended the phone call politely enough, but I’d managed to rebuff all Russell’s kind and patient attempts to point me back to Jesus.
Russell must have ended that phone call feeling totally discouraged. He must have felt like it was all a complete waste of time. I’d rejected Jesus, so maybe he thought I’d rejected him. Maybe he felt like he’d failed.
But he hadn’t failed at all. Not only was Russell faithful with the gospel opportunity that God gave him – which is all any of us can ever do – but in the plans and purposes of God, his genuine efforts to share the gospel with me were a key part of my returning to church and coming to a saving faith in Jesus.
Over the next few months, those conversations with Russell – not to mention his passion for Jesus – stayed with me, like a splinter in my mind. Jesus was back on my agenda. Then one day, a long-time Christian friend invited me to join some friends from his church on a weekend trip to the snow. While there, my old youth minister invited me back to church. The rest, as they say, is history: by the beginning of the next year, God had wonderfully opened my eyes to the truth about Jesus, and for the first time I’d come to a genuine, living faith in him.
I haven’t met Russell again since; I probably never will. Honestly, I probably couldn’t pick him out of the crowd. But though he may never know it, God used Russell at a crucial point in my life. His willingness to share his faith, his passion for Jesus, and his genuine care for me all made a vital impression.
Ever been in Russell’s shoes? Ever put yourself out there for Jesus, only to be rejected? Ever cared about someone but despaired as they show no interest in the greatest story ever told? Ever felt like a gospel opportunity slipped through your fingers and went nowhere?
As Christians seeking to share our faith in Jesus, it often feels fruitless. Sometimes we may have the joy of seeing someone respond warmly and positively. We might even be the person that God uses to bring them to faith. But when that happens, you’re probably standing on the shoulders of the Russells of the world. You’re probably the final link in the chain of people that God has used.
When evangelism seems pointless, when it seems like you’ve failed and been rejected – don’t give up! Remember the big picture. Remember that God is sovereign, and you’re not the only Christian out there. If you’ve faithfully shared the gospel, and shown a genuine care for the person you’re evangelising, you’ve succeeded. And who knows – maybe you’ll be that person’s Russell.
This side of eternity, we might never know the ultimate outcome of our simple, faithful evangelistic endeavours. But God might just use you to awaken someone’s conscience, to plant a splinter in their mind, to lay the foundation for a future response to the gospel. Do your part; entrust the rest to God.
Come to think of it, the kid from Up! is my second favourite Russell…