At this time last week, a group from my church hit the streets of New Orleans to share the only message that can eternally save a person. We spent the first part of the week prying multiple layers of plywood from each other in numerous homes. I am most definitely not a skilled laborer, but I now consider myself to be an expert in crowbarring.
As mentioned in my previous post, the most striking part of the trip for me was the unending destruction – street after street, block after block after block. The capricious flood waters rose over the poor and rich, churches and adult bookstores, righteous and unrighteous. We saw firsthand how tragedy knows no bounds.
But we didn’t live through it.
As overwhelmed as our group was, we experienced only an infinitesimal sliver of what has become everyday life for so many.
So we decided to take a few Swords (Daggers to be more precise – they were New Testaments) and intentionally seek opportunities to talk to people about their experiences. We prayed that God would allow us the great honor of sharing His Truth with the locals in the French Quarter.
One group passed out water bottles and shared with passers-by. Another group decided to talk with people in a voodoo shop. And the third group made their way to the tarot card readers. Being the shepherd of the group, I wandered aimlessly praying for God to send someone to me.
Then I took a breather, propped myself against a wall, and turned to my right. Big Man was cursing vehemently at me. His name was an appropriate and descriptive moniker.
When he took a sip of his daiquiri I decided to speak – I asked him if he was a local and what he did for a living. He told me he was currently on the clock. And his job was to keep people away from the entryway of the exclusive high rise where I was standing. He was more bouncer than doorman, but I decided to keep that thought to myself.
I apologized for my loitering, and I mentioned what I was doing in New Orleans, helping to rebuild the lower ninth ward with Operation Noah Rebuild. He decided to be friendly, told me his name (maybe Big Man really was given birth name), and then he crushed all five of my digits in what was more hand-compactor and less handshake.
He shared with me his story…26 years in the pen, 6 out. A life of alcohol abuse. A brain tumor. A wrecked family. An incredible Katrina survival story. And deep, prolonged depression.
Then Big Man began to weep.
I didn’t know how to react. We were sitting on the front steps. So I slowly pushed one of my New Testaments toward him with my fingertips. I didn’t know how he would react.
A God-given thought crossed between my ears – the gospel Truth always speaks for itself.
He picked up the Bible, mentioned that he didn’t own one, and he let me walk him through the Romans Road. Halfway down the Romans Road, he stopped me and said that he needed to sober up before going any further. Through tears, he promised me that he would read the marked passages that night. He showed me “how they mark a book in prison.”
We talked a little longer and then parted ways. I don’t know whether Big Man surrendered his life to Jesus that night. But I do know the Holy Spirit was working in a dark place. I do know that an unworthy vessel was able to plant a seed. I do know that a cry for help was heard and prayed over.
Street evangelism can be painful. Categorical denials and rejections proliferate on the streets. When receptivity exists, it can be tough, if not impossible, to follow-up. Even if a genuine conversion occurs, connecting that person to a local church can prove difficult.
Obedience trumps these perceived hurdles.
I was an inadequate messenger, fumbling at times to connect on a cultural level. Being stretched spiritually would be an understatement. God, however, will use whomever. God can break down barriers. The Holy Spirit is the instigator of salvation. God will draw unto Himself his own. We must simply surrender to obedience in sharing the One Great Hope with a world that is crying for help.