The boarding announcement blared over the speaker system informing me that my flight to Calgary, Canada, would now begin. No sooner was I settled than I was asked if I would be willing to change seats so that a husband could sit with his wife.
I was given a seat in the very last row of the plane, but at least I would be by myself. Just seconds before the plane’s door closed, one lone passenger entered.
There were empty rows before mine, but he came all the way to the back, looked at his ticket, and then crashed into the seat next to mine. The smell of sweat and alcohol invaded my space.
This was going to be a long trip! Before the plane became airborne, my new seatmate had fallen asleep and was soon leaning out into the aisle — fortunately, away from me. In a matter of seconds, he began to drool, and everyone within sight of this newest passenger groaned and, I believe, had one thought in common —
As I looked at my shabbily dressed seatmate, I could see a youthful face behind the beard and long, matted hair. A strong impression came over me, reminding me of my prayer earlier in the day expressing my willingness to God to be used by Him.
I chuckled to myself, “Well, it won’t happen with this guy! He is dead drunk.” And then I said, “But, Lord, I am willing.”
No sooner had I uttered those silent words, weak in commitment, than the one who had taken my extra legroom from me sat straight up, turned, and faced me, and then with lungs filled with the horrific odor of stale alcohol and tobacco said, “Hi!” I nearly fainted.
What happened in the next hour or so proved, however, to be as rewarding as any agenda I had planned for my trip.
When we parted, he volunteered that this meeting was no happenstance. My new friend was convinced that God had brought us together. In an hour’s time, I had witnessed a miracle. This was no “cheap grace” encounter.
The expression on his face, the excitement in his voice, his determined plans for the future — they had all been revealed in his prayer. His change was immediate and cannot be attributed to any persuasiveness on my part.
The Holy Spirit had already been at work. I couldn’t see it because I was looking for the wrong signs. Once I expressed my willingness, as half-hearted as it was, I became a partner with the greatest Evangelist on the earth today — the Holy Spirit.
I’ve been asked to convey to you what I have found helpful in sharing Christ. Actually, it’s quite simple, and it certainly isn’t the last word on the subject. But God has blessed my approach over and over again, and it doesn’t seem to matter what country, culture or tribe I’ve interacted with.
My Partner in evangelism seems to know best when it comes to the who, when and with what words. Please allow me to explain.
Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote in her book “Out of the Salt Shaker and into the World” that “evangelism involves taking people seriously, getting across to their island of concerns and needs, and then sharing Christ as Lord in the context of our natural living situations.”
Early on in my conversation with my seatmate, I asked sincere questions, questions for the purpose of understanding, not for prying. Soon I learned his story of years of rejection.
The very smells and sights that turned me off had turned those closest to him away.
He felt alone. He was making one last trip — one last attempt to find some kind of acceptance from a family member. He was afraid of rejection, and he had a drastic plan if this failed.
It was a plan that would end any feeling of rejection in the future.
I knew that I had changed seats (and even flights) to be an ambassador of hope. His very life depended upon it.
The foundation for sharing is summed up in Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8).
Every situation is different, but somehow I try to find a way of demonstrating my personal interest in the people I am with. It has to be genuine. Otherwise, forget it! I build a conversation around their hopes, dreams, and frustrations.
If a spiritual interest seems to be awakened, I have found the following statement from Ellen White in “The Desire of Ages” very insightful and helpful. “Our confession of His (Christ’s) faithfulness is heaven’s chosen agency for revealing Christ to the world. … That which is most effectual is the testimony of our own experience.”
Our testimony won’t be effective if we turn it into a sermon. Our shared experience is not to be used as leverage to tell someone what they ought to do but rather as a demonstration of how understanding we have found Jesus to be and how this has brought hope and encouragement to us.
Depending on the interest and need, I have found the following outline to be helpful for sharing the gospel. I normally don’t refer to all the texts, but I share them here as biblical support.
- Grace. Eternal life is a gift. We neither earn nor deserve it. (Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5)
- Man. We are sinners and cannot save ourselves. (Rom 3:23; 3:10)
- God is merciful and just. Sin’s consequence is death. (Rom 6:23; 5:6-10)
- Christ is the infinite God-Man and has born the consequence of sin for us (John 3:16; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 John 1:9)
- Faith trusts in Christ alone and is distinguished from a mere intellectual faith. (John 20:28-29)
- Acceptance is receiving the gift of eternal life and entering into an agreement with God. (John 1:12; Rev 3:20)
Remember, this isn’t a Bible class but a sharing experience. The outline needs to be followed with the assurance that the first step towards a new life has just begun — one that you’ve experienced yourself (John 1:12; 1 John 5:13).
Often, we seal this bonding experience with prayer. Sometimes I’ll ask them to pray phrases after me as a means of sealing their commitment.
The miracle of God’s grace in our lives speaks volumes to those who struggle to find any glimmer of hope. Ellen White, in “Mind, Character and Personality” reminds us, “Respect shown to the struggling human soul is the sure means through Christ Jesus of the restoration of the self-respect the man has lost. Our advancing ideas of what he may become are a help we cannot ourselves fully appreciate.”
It took a miracle for me to see past my friend’s exterior, and it took a miracle for my friend to rediscover hope. Both of us experienced a miracle, and both of us are indebted to the same Holy Spirit.
By Larry R. Evans
Note: At the time when Larry Evans wrote this article, he was Undersecretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.