Today’s outreach began somewhere a little different. We assembled together at the Gospel Cafe, a labor of love on Margaret Street which was opened by a young married couple a few years ago and is presently staffed by a number of dedicated volunteers.
We were met by Gavin, a long-time volunteer whose extreme past is only matched by his extreme love for God and others today, having met Christ much later in his life. He introduced us warmly to the other volunteers and spoke on the swags, Bibles, coffees and listening ears that he and his team generously provide to people who walk through the doors of the Gospel Cafe.
After praying with Gavin our team split up and headed out, Gospel tracts in hand. We had two newcomers with our team, Steph and Alex and so we paired them with experienced evangelists.During the outreach, we had a fairly quiet time. There was one “God bless you!” from a Christian as they saw our work though people in general seemed to be rather ambivalent to the Gospel.
Looking back a significant number took tracts from us and while we may not see the visible fruit of our labor we know that the invisible work of God in people’s lives often occurs at home, in traffic or even 100 meters up the footpath from us as people read about Jesus and God engages their lives in a profound way.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon as Sarah, Kylie, Adro, Karl and I arrived to share the Gospel in the Toowoomba’s CBD. After meeting together and praying we decided to split into three teams and head out. Adrian and I took one side of Margaret street whilst Sarah and Kylie took the other.
Karl travelled by himself for a while down Ruthven street and was eventually joined by Paul who came after work to help with the work. The two of them continued handing out tracts and were even able to connect with some people who were sitting under a bridge. The Gospel is for people from all walks of life and thus sometimes you can find yourself in places you don’t normally expect to be. I always admire Karl and Paul’s quiet strength and this situation was just another example of where they stepped out for the sake of others. Looking back on their conversation we pray that those people under that bridge will personally encounter the God who loves them.
Meanwhile Sarah and Kylie were able to engage a number of people. One of those was a woman sitting under a bus shelter. When they offered her a tract the woman gruffly asked “Is it about Jesus?” Sarah gently responded “Yes it is ” to which the woman’s face suddenly lit up and she exclaimed “Praise the Lord!” Turns out this woman was a local Christian and she was thrilled to see the work of evangelism going on in her city. Which goes to show… you can never judge a person by appearances.
Buoyed by this experience, Sarah and Kylie continued their adventure down the street. Off in the distance they saw a large group of tattooed people and they thought “Let’s go share the Gospel with them”. Now reader you must understand: Large groups of tattooed people are unusual in Toowoomba. Generally speaking we don’t have large tattooed groups of humanity walking around as you see in larger cities…so groups of such people around here tend to evoke all sorts of disconcerting old-school stereotypes. Kylie and Sarah though walked up to them and offered them tracts that explained the Good news of Christ. The members of the group took the tracts and minus a few snickering remarks were willing to read them. This was the second time today God sought fit to explode stereotypes and show our hearts once again that appearance is not as important as we might think in exhibiting the heart underneath.
Adrian and I however were travelling down Margaret street during this time when we suddenly met an older man who was evidently quite drunk. As he began to speak to us you could tell that he was both friendly and earnest in what he was saying. He told us how he was a bloke who has made some mistakes with his life but that he would always be there for his family if they needed him. He also said he had respect for religion and knew of some of the ministries that serve the homeless in Toowoomba.
At the end of our rather lengthy conversation he said he would read the tract we gave him and thanked us for the conversation. We directed him towards some of those ministries who provide dedicated support for the homeless in Toowoomba and I genuinely hope we get to see him again someday. Jesus has often freed people from the grip of alcoholism and has reconciled families and we pray that this may be the life-story of this man as well.
After bidding farewell to our new friend* we had only walked a few meters before we met a completely different type of person. After rather bluntly refusing a tract, this man walked a little further on before spinning around and saying “Actually, I will take one of those!” He then came over, quickly grabbed a tract out of my outstretched hand and said rather triumphantly “This is going on FaceBook!” His tone left no doubt regarding what he thought of the Gospel tract.
Before I could get a word out he turned around and stormed off. To be honest I find this sort of behaviour really frustrating. We are currently living in a society that is more fractured than ever. It seems like everyone is talking and no one is listening. Never before have it been so easy for us to live an “echo chamber” of our own group’s thoughts and opinions and therefore genuine, truly respectful dialogue between opposing sides on *any* important topic is in short supply.
If we as a society are going to live together I believe we need to learn to listen to each other (this includes Christians learning to listen to others as well). We also need to learn how to “fight well”…where we can passionately debate and critique other’s views and then shake hands afterwards and share a drink. And when you think about it there is a no more profoundly important topic which holds such wide-reaching ramifications as that of religion. All religions…and all non-religious philosophies… need to learn to speak beyond the memes and the triumphalist talk and actually have a face-to-face discussion with “the other”.
So I suppose that is part of my frustration. But as is the case with street evangelism, things tend to change quickly and it wasn’t long before Adrian and I met a tradie who was happy to dialogue.
This tradie (Nathan) had come up to work on the new Grand Central development and was presently waiting for a door to open so he could grab some tools he’d left on the job site. The three of us chatted for a while and Nathan told us that he was an Anglican who went to Church with his aging mum. We went over his understanding of the Gospel and helped point out that God saves people not because of how good they are/have been but because of the fact that Jesus is good and has made a way back to God for all who would trust in Him and leave their life of rebellion against Him.
Overall we had a great chat together and I encouraged Nathan to become involved in a Small Group at his church. As I look back over the events of the day I think I can speak for the whole Toowoomba team when I say it was fantastic day and we pray that God will receive all the credit for what He has done and will do in Toowoomba.
*name withheld to protect privacy.
Ominous skies and a prediction of rain foreshadowed my return trip to Toowoomba today.
Driving back from Brisbane the little coward in me was quietly hoping that a storm would cancel tonight’s event while another part of me prayed that God would let the outreach go ahead.
I arrived in the Toowoomba CBD a little later and I saw that God had allowed the storm to skirt around the city. We were thankfully good to go.
Out of our 5 regular team members only Paul was available tonight and so the two of us meet at the Margaret Street McDonalds and prayed together. Paul is an amazing man of God and our team is blessed to have this quiet, knowledgeable and genuinely passionate bloke regularly join us.
We spent time in prayer together, which in 12 years of Street Outreach never fails to be an experience best described as that “electric yet calm” experience of being in the presence of God. We prayed that the Holy Spirit would do big things in the CBD tonight and that God’s would save and transform many, just as He graciously did for us whilst we were in the midst of our sin and indifference to Him.
We began the outreach by walking up and down one of the main streets of the CBD in Toowoomba (Margaret st) and gave tracts to people we encountered. Thursday nights tend to bring out a certain kind of person and whilst families are rare you’ll find groups of teenagers and groups of adults of various ages all milling about looking for things to do. You’ll also find a number of people sitting by themselves which can provide opportunities for conversation should the person in question wish to talk.
Our first conversation was with two younger women who were waiting on the side of the road. I offered one a “Good Person” Comic and was immediately met with the wary reply “Is it about Jesus?” When I said yes, she replied that she was not interested and upon further discussion told me that she had an “Italian Catholic” background. I asked her if she had considered her Catholic background now as an adult, to which she replied “Yes and I’m definitely not interested” with a fair degree of anger in her voice.
It is times like this when you can choose to pursue the conversation or not. There are no hard and fast rules..it’s rather how the situation “feels” and the person’s tone and body language. In this case we chose to pursue the conversation a little further and then wish these two women a good night.
I constantly second guess myself over these situations, yet the general approach we take is to risk “under-engagement” as compared to “over-engagement” which can leave the person with negative memories of pushy, Bible-bashing Christians. Instead, we want to leave hardened and overtly hostile people with a generally good memory of their brief encounter with us. It may become the only good memory of Christians they have and we pray that next time they may be more open to discussing weighty issues with Christians (either on the street or ones they know in their day to day lives).
Our next encounter on the streets played out very differently. Paul and I met a group of three middle-aged men who were standing around and talking. We came up to them and asked them “Have you gotten one of these tonight?” and handed each of them a tract. One of the asked “What is this all about?” and Paul replied it was about Jesus. This answer instantly sent all three men to reading our tracts with an intense interest. One of them mentioned “Oh wow! I go to the Church just up the street.” as he pointed to St Luke’s Anglican. He then eagerly went back to reading the tract. It was really heartening to see such a response from such an unlikely source and we pray that these men will have a genuine and undeniable encounter with God if they haven’t already.
The rest of the night passed rather quickly. It was blessing to be able to engage in this work and to met so many different people from different walks of life and share the awesome news of who God is and what He has done/is doing and will do for men and women even today.
We entrust the night’s efforts to God, knowing that not one encounter or one tract was wasted. He cares more about this city and about its people more then we ever could and we look forward to the ripple effect of tonight’s work into eternity as He sovereignly moves for His glory and our joy.