Toowoomba Team (QLD)
Meets the 3rd Saturday of each month at 11am at the Margaret St McDonalds. The team also meets the 1st Thursday night of each month for prayer.
Contact Doug Espie for more information.
Our last two outreaches have been radically different from one another.
This outreach was discouraging for a number of us. There was a very real, almost tangible spiritual hardness in the CBD and very few people would receive tracts or even less people would engage in conversation. Normally the majority of people take tracts and a small minority want to engage in spiritual discussions. Not today. After almost an hour of persistent rejections, our team was tired. There was however, one conversation that myself (Doug) and Elisa had with two older Indigenous men.
When we offered them a tract, D-- and N—told us they have their own spirituality. When I asked them what they believed, they said they believed in Indigenous spirituality. As the conversation progressed, they explained that they believed that history runs in a cycle (there is no such thing as “progress” in history) and that the Mother Spirit inhabits the Earth. This spirit is personal and is expressed in every created thing. This Mother Spirit has a particular relationship with the original inhabitants of Australia, as they cared for nature and lived in (relative) harmony with it. One day Mother Earth will cast out all non-Indigenous people from Australia and history will once again reset.
It was at this point that things took an unexpected twist. At first, D—and N—claimed that Indigenous people are the first of Mother Earth’s creation and are the “most pure”. Everyone else in the world are “less pure” races that were created afterward. A little while later they changed this somewhat racist claim to instead say that every race is descended from the original inhabitants of Australia. Those races who inhabit land outside of Australia were cast out many millennia ago for violating tribal law.
Throughout this time, Elisa and I did our best to listen respectfully and also to gently probe how they knew these things to be true. D—and N—replied that Indigenous culture is the longest surviving culture in the world, and therefore their beliefs must be true. Before I could point out that this doesn’t necessarily follow (non-sequitur fallacy), both men said that Christianity was false because it was a crutch for the weak and the Bible had been changed many times.
Elisa then powerfully shared how God had been a crutch for her through many difficult seasons and together we explained how every person on Earth uses a crutch to get through life’s difficulties. Whether it’s alcohol, family relationships, an upcoming holiday...you name it, we all use crutches. The real question is whether they will break in our hands when we lean on them heavily enough. I shared that only the infinite God is strong enough to bear the weight of our pain and suffering, because every finite thing and every finite person we use as a crutch will one day fail us.
D—then fell back on the “Bible has been changed many times” objection. This objection requires a small amount of historical knowledge and explanation to defuse*, but unfortunately due to time restrictions Elisa and I needed to go. Overall, this conversation went for over an hour and Elisa and I spent the majority of the time listening, which is in many ways one of the most crucial skills for all Christians to grow in when engaging with others. We hope that this discussion was one that could open doors to future dialogue and all four of us shook hands on good terms and departed.
Once we returned to our team we heard just how hard the day had been for many of us. In hindsight, we all know some months will be harder than others, but the challenge for us to trust God as He refines us and to hold firm to His promises. Jesus is the good King and we are thankful that He sees our difficult days and is powerful enough to mould everything together for our good. Not because we are good...but because He is love (1 John 4:16) .
*For info on how to deal with "The Bible has been changed many times" objection
This month we introduced the OP513 flip-chart into our ministry. This flip-chart has the “Good Person Test” on it and is designed to be set up and used to engage interested groups of people who come over for a chat or through open-air preaching. After the team ran a few practice runs, we split up to either draw interest to the chart or to hand out tracts and begin conversations.
It wasn’t long before two interested teenagers came over to Merv and I to do the “Good Person Test”. A—and H—were friendly young men who engaged the presentation and asked some good questions. After we had shared the Gospel, A—said “This makes sense! I’ve heard about this in Youth Group!” We encouraged both of them to engage a Youth Group and gave them some tracts as they left to consider.
We then switched gears and Merv began to preach, using the chart as a guide. He did an exceptional job and I noticed a number of interested people at the traffic lights with their windows down watching the presentation.
Overall it was a very interesting outreach. We praise God for the privilege of sharing His good news for humanity through words, flip-charts, tracts and the many varied ways that He has allowed us to use this month. Only in eternity will we know the true impact in people’s lives.
In November we were able to have some significant conversations with people in the Toowoomba CBD. The first of these conversations occurred between Merv and a group of teenagers. This group was eager to engage and spent a fair bit of time talking with Merv regarding spiritual things. During the course of the discussion, a number of them claimed that they didn’t believe in Christianity due to evolution.
This is a very, very common objection with younger people and so Merv began to unpack some of the issues surrounding this important topic. As Merv was speaking his wife, Alisa, came over and also began to speak with the teens. One of the teens picked up that Alisa was agreeing with Merv and asked her “Are you with him?”, a statement which delighted our faithful husband and wife team. The conversation eventually wound down and the teens took some tracts and were left with much to think about.
Another one of our team members, Sarah, had a much different conversation. She struck up a conversation with an older bloke who said he was once a Christian but had stopped following Christ. He also intriguingly believed that everyone will be in Heaven one day. It was a difficult dialogue and the bloke didn’t really want to talk. In moments like these, it’s best to respectfully leave the conversation to another day and so Sarah bid the man farewell and continued on.
In all honesty, speaking with people who describe themselves as “ex-Christian” is often the most painful part of following Christ, especially if they are your friends or family. Few experiences are more emotionally agonising, though it shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus predicted that many would follow Him yet eventually choose to turn away from Him. He even included this warning in a number of His parables, such as in the parable of different soils (Matt 13:18-23) and of wheat and weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-42).
Consider Judas, who saw spent three years living side by side with Jesus. Judas travelled with Jesus, healed people with Jesus, saw countless miracles by Jesus and shared numerous meals with Jesus. If Judas could turn away from Christ after following Him into full-time ministry, how much more should we be to prepared for the reality of apostasy* in our own midst? How much more do we be prepared to live together with and love those who have turned away from Christ?
It’s not over till it’s over...and thankfully God has brought many a Prodigal son (and daughter) back to Himself over the years. This is a hope that drives our ministry on the streets whenever we encounter ex-Christians. We have the beautiful hope of a powerful, patient Father whose children can take a million steps away from yet need to take only one step back.
All in all, it was a challenging outreach and we look forward in faith to see what God will do in the coming weeks and months in the lives of the people of Toowoomba.
*Some helpful resources on the topic:
Christmas Lights Outreach
Each year our team has the privilege of handing out Gospel tracts at the Queen’s Park Christmas Lights festival. We met together at 6pm and after a time of prayer we split into pairs to cover the various footpaths around the event. As usual, it was extremely busy and almost everyone we encountered was in a festive mood and were happy to take tracts. We were able to hand out a couple of hundred tracts in a very short period of time.
We had one memorable encounter with a volunteer from the event. She walked over to us and say quite pointedly “What are you fellows handing out?” I responded, “Gospel tracts ma’am”.
Suddenly her entire demeanor changed and with a big smile, she exclaimed “Great stuff! Praise the Lord!” and with a spring in her step, she returned back to her post. Talk about a change of attitude!
At the end of the night, we assembled together again and told stories of how our respective adventures went. God has blessed us with an incredible team and as we look to the future we’re excited to see everything our amazing and faithful God has in store for us in 2019.
It was like a dream. Protestors marched in front of us. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses sat to our left. Two Mormon missionaries stood to our right. It was going to be an exciting morning in the Toowoomba CBD. Our team split into pairs and headed out.
Adrian and I went over to talk to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. D and L were a pleasant, middle-aged couple who were happy to talk. In the course of our conversation I aimed to discuss two questions: “Who is God?” and “What is the Good News?” These two crucial questions divide Christianity from its cultic detractors and the answers lead us to either worship the true Christ or to worship a false Christ who cannot save.
On the question of “Who is God?” D and L denied the Bible’s teaching on the Trinity* and instead they insisted that God created Jesus as the archangel Michael. D also said that Jesus had no power over His own resurrection. I pointed out that in John 2:18-22 Jesus claims that He will raise Himself to life:
“So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?"
Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
“D” countered by saying that in Acts 3:15 it says that God raised Jesus from the dead. I said “I agree with you entirely D...so was Jesus lying when He said He would raise Himself from the dead?” D was unsure of how to answer this question, so I encouraged to him to consider the idea that perhaps God was a Triune Being after all. He then listed a number of Scriptures that he thought disproved the idea of the Trinity, but in reality they only disproved the heresy of Modalism**.
Most JW’s in my experience tend to think Trinitarians are Modalists and when I ask if they actually understand what Christians mean by “God is Trinity” they tend to reply “I don’t know and I don’t care...it’s a false belief anyway”. D&L’s response to my request was no different and so I was stuck trying to explain how John 2:18-22 and indeed all the Scriptures they brought up makes sense in light of the Trinity....a light they expressly claimed to have no interest in learning about***.
It was at this stage I realised I needed to shift the conversation. We then moved onto the topic of “What is the Gospel?” Every JW I’ve met believe that a combination of Christ’s forgiveness and a person’s good deeds will earn them a deserved place in Paradise. D&L agreed with this idea and I endeavored to show them the Good News that because of Christ’s death in our place for our sin we can all be forgiven and are declared righteous completely independently of our good deeds.
Our good deeds are the fruit...not the root... of our salvation. The presence of good deeds in our lives demonstrate that we are saved...they do not contribute in any sense to our salvation from sin. Jesus has paid it all and that is what makes His favour towards people so undeserving as us so incredible.
D&L argued that good deeds do in some way help us to merit our salvation. I asked D to read out Romans 4:3-8 with its special focus on God counting righteousness apart from works:
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered,
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
I also asked him to look at Romans 3:28:
"For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law [e.g. obeying the 10 Commandments]."
Some people might think this means that good deeds are optional in the Christian life, so I made the point to D&L that good deeds are important and necessary and that they demonstrate that we are saved. But they do not help merit our salvation in any way.
D&L grasped this and said they would like to get back to me on this topic. When our time came to a close we thanked each other for the discussion. While we disagreed on critical issues I was immensely grateful for their candor and their respectful discussion.
Meanwhile, the other team members were having some good discussions as well. Johnno and his friends from Goondiwindi travelled up to Toowoomba for the outreach and both he and Callum found themselves speaking with the protestors we’d all seen earlier. It turned out that it wasn’t a protest after all, but rather a public march of solidarity and welcome for Toowoomba’s growing refugee population.
Johnno and Callum had a few conversations with some of the immigrants who attended the march but it was rather challenging with the language barrier between them. They were able to speak with others during the day as well, such as a man on a bike who was willing to talk and also an older woman. Overall it was a good day with a number of tracts handed out and a number of good discussions were had. Please pray for this ministry and keep us in your prayers as we seek to faithfully share the Good News of Jesus with our city.
*** To explain the Trinity, I’m thinking of printing out the ever-helpful Athanasian Shield for outreach and for home use when the JW’s/Mormons come knocking... see
****Note: This is a report of October Outreach. Reports from November and December will follow soon:
Today was our biggest outreach day of the year. The Carnival of Flowers was on in full swing and as the crowds began to gather for the approaching parade we had two questions on our minds:
1. Would we have enough tracts? 2. Would there be enough laborers?
Thankfully God provided both in abundance. We had a record number of laborers volunteer for today. Jonno and Callum generously drove up all the way from Goondiwindi to join us for the big event. We also had another Jonno join us from Gatton, who patiently and determinedly navigated the slow-motion car park that is the Toowoomba Range on Carnival Day.
Keith and Kate also joined us from AFES ( https://www.afes.org.au/ ) and it wasn’t long before most of us headed out to share the message that had changed each one of our lives. Below are some of the conversations that were had:
-Merv had a good conversation about the Gospel with an open-minded young woman. It was only at the end of the discussion that she revealed she was a Satanist. This woman was by far the most polite and interested Satanist we’ve ever met in Toowoomba and was thankful for the conversation.
-“G" was a farmer who is also a former SDA. He was more than willing to chat but unfortunately did not want to go more than deeper than discussing abstract ideas about religion in an impersonal way.
-“A” who was a young French woman who one of our team had a good conversation with.
-“N” and “S” both had Catholic backgrounds but conversation sadly didn’t go very far. “E” was another person with whom conversation was limited.
-“L” was a Christian with whom we had a really good, mutually encouraging discussion.
By the time the Parade came around, we were able to share the Gospel with hundreds of people through the tracts handed out and we were even able to buy a local man lunch who had been sleeping rough recently. He was a recovering alcoholic who didn’t have any family in the area and we were able to share with him the names and locations of places where he could secure food and shelter.
Overall it was a fantastic day and the privilege of being able to share the Gospel with new friends and old made it memorable and enjoyable. Our prayer is that God will continue to move in our hearts and in the hearts of our community. Please join us in praying this prayer.
Well it all started when a bloke started bashing his partner in the carpark across the road. Our team was meeting at the Margaret street McDonalds last Saturday when Elisa came over and said she’d just seen (and confronted) a man who was beating his partner. The man had launched into a tirade against Elisa and so while she rang the police six of our male team members crossed the street to maintain an obvious presence and ensure no further violence would occur.
After waiting around 15 minutes the police still hadn’t arrived. It was decided that four of us would return to McDonalds while Rick and I would continue to keep an eye on the situation. Rick is the Operation 513 Team Leader in Warwick and along with his wife Glenda had decided to join us today. I was especially grateful of Rick’s presence in this moment, because it didn’t take long for the abuser to notice our reduced numbers and to come storming over to Rick and I. He demanded to know what we were doing there, and when I told him we were there because we’d been told he’d been bashing his missus, he exploded in a furious rant about it “being none of our business” and how “we should f---- off” etc.
He then called his partner over, who then proceeded to scream and rant at us as well. Sadly, this is not an unusual situation with domestic violence, however what was unusual was that she was clearly under the influence of something. Her sentences were mostly incoherent though the general meaning was certainly clear. She asked us what we were doing and when Rick mentioned we were praying for their situation (among other things) they both heartily enjoyed mocking us as they walked back to their car.
Things took a strange turn a few minutes later, however, when the bloke asked if we could buy him and his partner coffee (Yes, you read that right). Now in a calmer frame of mind, he introduced himself as J- and his girlfriend as K-. He told us that their car was having mechanical trouble and that they’d both endured a very stressful 24 hours after being busted for drugs.
Whilst we realised that background story to his abuse could never excuse the violence (and the fact that this was clearly a “exploit-the-religious-guys” coffee request), Rick and I chose to buy J- and K- coffee and something extra to show our love for them.
Upon our return J- went back to being rather prickly, however Rick still boldly offered J- a Gospel tract (which was declined) and we hung around a little while to continue chatting with J-. It was a difficult discussion though as J- would swing quite wildly between being rather friendly and then suddenly quite antagonistic towards us in the space of a few sentences. Eventually we chose to wrap up the conversation and we headed out for the main part of our outreach with the others.
The afternoon had much more in store for us as a team. Below are three significant encounters:
1. Merv and Adrian handed a tract to a Sudanese man named D- who instantly wanted to discuss Christianity. D- came to Australia in 2011 and had a Christian background, yet only sporadically went to Church. He possessed quite a bit of Bible knowledge yet had some unorthodox beliefs.
D- believed that Jesus died physically but was only raised spiritually (e.g. Jesus’ bones are still in Israel somewhere). He also believed in an old heresy called Modalism, which claims that God manifests Himself in three ways: Father, Son and Spirit but only is one person. In this view, God could be seen as an actor who puts on three different masks throughout history. One person-three masks. This heresy essentially denies the Trinity, which is the Biblical teaching that God is one being yet eternally exists in three distinct persons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
This all may sound rather abstract, but like all heresies Modalism has numerous knock-on effects that undermine the Christian faith. The denial that Jesus rose physically from the dead also causes tremendous problems. Thankfully, Merv is well-versed in these things and he and D- had a robust yet respectful and loving discussion that went for over an hour. Please pray for D-, that he may get connected to a local Church family and may be nurtured, challenged and loved.
2. Rick and I went down Margaret street and handed out a good number of tracts together. People were quite receptive, though it wasn’t long before a young man told us to “make sure we’re sharing the grace and love of Jesus in all this”. It turned out this young man was a Youth Pastor at a large and well-known Church in Toowoomba. I asked him what he meant, and he said that evangelism should be done in the context of relationship, focussing on the grace and love of Christ. He was adamant on this point and the way he was saying it seemed (to me) to indicate that Christians should *only* share the Gospel with those we have a relationship with and that we should focus primarily upon God’s grace and love.
This sort of thinking tends to be found mostly in Pentecostal circles and at best sees street evangelism as naïve and at worst sinful. It also tends to place a high emphasis on Christ’s love and has a zero-tolerance policy towards those who share about God’s wrath and condemnation. Yet this view is flawed when you realise that the Good News only becomes Good News in light of the Bad News. Amazing Grace is only amazing (and gracious) when one considers God’s righteous anger against sinful humanity. In fact, the Bible makes the case clear that it's not only the kindness of God but also grief over sin that leads to repentance “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." 2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV). Finally, God’s love is magnified (not diminished) when a person sees the level of their separation from a just God and His passionate pursuit of them despite what they’ve done.
The idea that Christian must have a personal relationship with someone before they share their faith with them also has a number of issues. Below are just three such problems which refute this errant idea:
2a) The Ministry of Jesus
Jesus’s ministry was marked by the public proclamation of the Gospel. He often spoke to crowds (Matt 4: 17, 7:28, 9:35, 11:1, John 5:16-43, 6:25-59, 7:14, 37, 8:12-59 to names just a few verses) and to individuals (such as the Samaritan Woman) whom He’d never met before.
2b) The Ministry of the Apostles
Public evangelism that addressed both large crowds and individual people has numerous examples in Acts and is the predominate form of evangelism in the first few decades of the Church (2:14-41, 3:12-26, 4:8-21, 5:21, 42, 6:9-10, 7:2-59, 8:4-8, 26-37, 40 and many, many others).
2c) The Magnitude of Our Task
Born-again Christians are a minority in Australia. Therefore, it is a mathematical reality that there simply isn’t enough born-again Christians to befriend every non-Christian in Toowoomba, let alone Australia. We shouldn’t pursue relationships with non-Christians and then evangelistically ignore those who we are not friends with. Love demands a greater, more public method of evangelism that avoids being unnecessarily offensive yet risks rejection and mockery as it announces Christ’s life, death, resurrection and enthronement even to those we may never see again.
As we follow in the footsteps of Christ and of His Apostles, who are we to say that God won’t change stranger’s life, just as He changed our lives? This is the hope of public evangelism, that as we sow seeds of the Gospel in people’s minds, God may cause it to grow and to transform individuals and communities in a beautiful way.
3. Glenda and Elisa met a young woman named G-. She was from the Philippines and was currently caught up in a cult that teaches that you need to keep the 10 Commandments to be saved. Glenda and Elisa lovingly shared from the Scriptures that salvation is by grace and not of works (Eph 2:8-9) and by the end of their conversation G- was visibly excited about the truth of the Gospel. The ladies left some tracts with G- and it is our prayer and hope that God will continue His powerful work in this young woman.
As our evangelism came to an end, we returned to McDonalds and saw J- walking down the street, holding a car part. As he disappeared from our sight the Police arrived and interviewed Elisa regarding the incident. It certainly had been a memorable day…and we look forward in faith to what God has planned for our next outreach in Toowoomba.
It’s been almost six months since our last outreach report, but God has blessed us with many unique conversations here in Toowoomba.
The first one was with a man named John. Sarah and Elisa met John outside of Bailey’s and he introduced himself as an Atheist with religious background. Together they spoke for almost an hour about the things of God and afterwards exchanged contact details. Since then there have been a few phone calls and Paul (Sarah’s husband) and John met up and decided to climb up Mount Table Top together! It is a real privilege to have been able to get to know John and we hope to continue to grow the no-strings attached friendship between him and some of our team members.
We’ve also had some fantastic discussion with several our local Jehovah’s Witness. They “set up shop” in the CBD on a Saturday morning and since then our team has had two fruitful encounters with this group. Tim is one of our younger members who grew up in a Godly family and has significant Bible knowledge. He was able to speak with the JWs regarding the necessity of Christ being fully God and fully man (and not just a created being, as the JWs teach).
Tim was able to show them John 8:58 in which Jesus says to doubting Jews… “Very truly I tell you….before Abraham was born, I am!
This “I am” statement is a reference to Exodus 3:14, in which God calls Himself “I AM”. Thus, Jesus demonstrates that while He is not the Father (John 1:1, 17:5) He is God the Son and one in being with God the Father. This was one powerful truth that the JWs were unable to answer and it is our hope that God will continue to reveal Himself to them and that they will come to know the True and Living God and not the non-existent god of Watchtower Society.
Merv also had a great discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness who politely took a tract and then came back later to ask Merv some questions. They had a rigorous and respectful discussion and our prayer is that the Good News will not only grow but transform this man’s heart.
Now if you were to look at all our team, Elisa tends to be the one who attracts the most interesting people. Her warm-hearted demeanor and lion-like boldness is a gift to those around her and as such she has a way of connecting with many different types of people on a deep level. You might find her one week speaking with a large group of teenagers regarding the Good News of Jesus… or another week speaking to a young man who is evidently going through a hard time. Both of these situations actually happened in the last six months and it is her consolation of a young man deserves some special mention.
Elisa found this young man crying at McDonalds during one of our outreach days. She sat down with him and spoke with him for some time. When she asked him “Has someone let you down?” he nodded in the affirmative. She then said, “I know someone who will never let you down” and in the ensuring discussion was able to present the One who tenderly invites everyone to come to Him and truly find rest (Matt 11:28). It was a beautiful encounter, not only in its simplicity but also in the privilege of being able to share with the others the rest that Jesus offers. As a Christian we can often take this rest for granted, but there are many millions in our country who haven’t experienced this yet.
Please continue to keep our outreach… but more importantly this city… in your prayers. Please pray that God’s peace (His Shalom Peace) may come upon Toowoomba so that people will be reconciled to God and to each other so that our city will flourish and God will receive the glory that is His due.
Over the last couple of months, we have had some fantastic opportunities in our region.
Our monthly Saturday outreach continued and we were blessed by the presence of Michael, a seasoned evangelist who has returned from Brisbane and is in our neck of the woods for a few months completing his medical training. We also have had Christopher with us, possibly our youngest member of the team (he turns one this year) who tags along with Mum and Dad (Sarah and Paul) as they share the eternal Gospel on the streets of Toowoomba.
Outside of our regular ministry, we prepared for the two biggest evangelistic opportunities of the year- The Carnival of Flowers Parade and the Toowoomba Christmas Wonderland.
The Carnival of Flowers outreach was rather unusual this year. In the lead-up to the parade, there is normally thousands of people on the street in the hours before. Not this time. It was very quiet in comparision to other years. We did, however, encounter a number of national and international tourists and their families and as such, it was a joy to share the Good News with them through tracts and conversation.
The seeds of the Gospel often lay dormant for a time and travel far and wide and so we ask you to join us in praying for the salvation of these families and that they would bring the Gospel to their hometowns.
The Christmas outreach was completely different. Tens of thousands of locals eagerly flock to enjoy a stunning display of local food, culture and Christmas lights display in Queens Park.
Over three nights our team ministered outside the main event and were able to give over one thousand Christmas themed tracts to the many families in attendance. There was little time for conversation or discussion due to the busy nature of the crowd but we were blessed by the encouragement of fellow Christians who were attending the event itself when they saw us sharing the true message of Christmas with others.
In large events like these (and even in more “run of the mill” outreaches), it can be difficult to point to tangible results for God’s Kingdom. As Nik Ripkin has pointed out in his excellent book, The Insanity of God “ God [has] never promised to reward obedient sacrifice with measurable success”.
Nevertheless, our trust is in Him and in His good timing. He is perfectly faithful to us.
We are imperfectly faithful to Him...and we trust not only in His disposition of loving grace towards us day by day but also in His heart for reconciliation towards the many who we will believe in faith will soon to enter His Kingdom in our region.
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.