I met Allison way back in Mrs. Holberg’s class. We were similarly smart, quiet and awkward, and perhaps Allison had nobler intentions than I did, but being completely new to Tucson, I hungrily took her as my best friend.
We did all of those things that little girls do, like playing My Little Pony on the playground, attending Glamor Shots birthday parties & sleeping at each others’ houses. Occasionally when I stayed at Allison’s house, I attended church with her & her family; I’d been to church before, but my earliest church memories take place in the back pews of her church where we would sit quietly & color.
There’s something about evangelism that nearly always irks me. It feels like we’re trying to add notches to our spiritual belts… I just won another one for the kingdom, look at me! We come back from short-term mission trips with reports of 50, 60, 100 conversions. Yet, it seems to me that in an unreached people group, it’s more likely to take multiple meetings with multiple Christians for one person to see and understand the gospel they are committing to.
Don’t get me wrong. I recognize the SUPERHUGENESS of God and that He can & does convert bunches of people in no time at all. However, it’s my experience that short-term missionaries who report double or triple digit conversions over a 5-week stint, are doing so to justify their trip to the people around them rather than showing the power of a benevolent God; they’re adding notches to the belt.
I know that evangelism doesn’t all fall into this conquering, self-glorifying, Godless category, but that it is ever those things pierces me. Rather than loving people, evangelists too often employ strategies that rape the soul. We dominate, refuse to listen, degrade, humiliate & shame.
And worst of all, we do it in the name of Jesus Christ.
Other times, evangelists use silly, oversimplifying marketing strategies to fill the seats. We create flashy commercials and light shows with the intent of making God & church entertaining and fun…
and I can’t help but think that we’re completely missing the GOSPEL. How can we give them what we don’t have?
On my own road to discipleship, Allison & her family took me into their home, talked to me, cared about me & lived their lives in front of me; they didn’t try to argue me into Heaven or convince me that all of the cool kids love Jesus.
The first time I noticed a difference between myself and Allison was when she told me that she wasn’t allowed to watch Fern Gully. She explained that it had to do with the family’s faith, but I didn’t get it; I wanted to know more.
That one seed planted unintentionally was more effective than ten conquering heroes of the kingdom would ever have been with me.
After our 4th grade year, Allison & her family moved to Mexico to be missionaries. My best friend was leaving me behind with another gnawing curiosity to endure. Why? I didn’t know what a missionary was. It sounded a lot like a job, but it had something to do with Christianity.
Why would someone move to a whole new country because of religion?
I visited Allison in Mexico once, but returned home without any insight into the purpose of foreign missions. I couldn’t identify any major differences in the way Allison’s family lived after the move. They still went to church & restricted Allison from watching certain types of movies. They ate more Mexican food than they had in Tucson (but that was to be expected). Overall, my visit was one of friendship & culture that is as much representative of the love of Christ as the overtly spiritual trip I took to Mongolia. One of the only memories I still have of my time is Mexico is of a restaurant where there were three ENORMOUS trampolines lined up next to each other making it possible bounce from one to the next, to the next. WAYFUN!
I returned to the states and my best friend and I grew apart. We stopped writing letters on Lisa Frank stationary, and both of us went off to college and bigger, better things. God brought people in and out of my life, and slowly-but-surely watered & tended the tiny seed the McCurdys had planted.
In Jr. high school, a young man named Daniel invited me to his church. On a visit to North Carolina, I looked on as my sister & grandfather argued about religion. Melissa & I went to Midnight Mass as Sophomores in high school. My sister started going to The Cool Church. I met Steve & Lori. I met Pastor Andy. Etc… etc… etc… And I’m sure that there are a million details I’m leaving out. Just think, though, each & every one of the people & events listed above nourished that seed. God grew faith in me over the course of a decade. It took bunches of loving people to reach me.
How then, has the church managed to boil that slow change of heart down to a cookie-cutter conversation between strangers?
“…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come… For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. Prescribe and teach these things. Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you… Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you,” (1 Timothy 4:7-16).
I emphasized the last little bit there because I believe Paul is telling Timothy how to evangelize. The entire list of instructions he gives will rescue Timothy & those who hear him. He says to discipline self, remember why, be an example, read the Bible, exhort, teach, use God-given gifts, be self-aware, persevere… Those are the strategies of evangelism.
And sometimes, I think about the fact that Allison was in Oklahoma, living her life when others reaped the benefits of the seed she planted. She didn’t even see the impact she’d had.
My very first classroom was teeny tiny, but amazing. Unfortunately, the room belonged to a Sped teacher who was being booted from the room into a storage closet because admin. believed I’d need a bigger space than she needed. The Sped teacher being booted was none other than Linda – Allison’s mom. Weird, huh?
Hearing from her mom that I was now teaching at Ironwood Ridge, Allison stopped by one day, and we started hanging out again. The first dinner we had since being all growed up was really fun. It isn’t often that I run into someone who knew me when I used to pee my pants.
Pretty soon after Allison and I reconnected, I visited her church, which I’m now convinced was divine intervention. That day, the church flier mentioned an organization called English Language Institute: China, which was asking for volunteer English teachers to travel to China for five weeks to teach English and share our lives.
I don’t know how to look at Allison’s renewed presence in my life as anything but God’s engineering. There were too many things that had been pieced together to put me in that seat, holding that flier, at that moment to be anything else. So, I signed up for a trip to China that turned into a trip to Mongolia instead and rocked my world.
Had Allison never come back into my life, I would never have gone to Mongolia and I would not have anyone to remind me of my puny, shy, pre-softball existence. I’m SO grateful for her friendship and for her evangelistic techniques. If only more Christians would befriend the lonely, shy and lost children of the world. Who knows – maybe we’d have 50, 60, 100 new believers each day.