Monday, September 15, 2008

You Had Me at , "Hello."

The one thing that my husband defaults to in church outreach is old fashioned door-to-door evangelism. It's an annoying hold-over from the 70's and 80's that, for him, is still effective. But in the beginning, it was just the two of us; we had started the church by knocking doors on Sunday mornings. One lady opened the door and I smiled and before I could say a word, she yelled, “No!” and slammed the door. It was so dehumanizing that I walked back to the car in a huff and told my hubby, “It’s not for me.”

Then nearly a decade later, after a few years studying as a bible teacher had given me more confidence, I gave it another try. Again, it was a Sunday. My husband had started another outreach where he covered our church sign with a banner announcing we had gone out into the community to serve others.

This time an older woman opened the door and I smiled and she smiled back. I told her that I was a minister’s wife and that a few of us had come to help out in the neighborhood. Behind me, a group of children were busy sweeping leaves off her walk. I handed her a bag of oranges and she was so taken off guard that she let me talk for a bit. I had a Bible in my hand, but mostly I just chatted for a bit, telling her a story of how I had come to know God. My story interested her, so I was feeling relaxed and confident. I asked her what she believed about God. There were so many things she believed that it was difficult to connect the dots. She didn’t know any foundational truths and the longer she talked the more I realized that she had skirted the whole gospel message trading it for a lot of philosophical beliefs. I told her that I was not a know-it-all but that I’d be glad to discuss any questions she had about God or faith. She asked me one question after another. So far so good; I actually knew where to find each answer in the Bible. I was thumbing backward and forward when she stopped me and said, “Excuse me. But if I don’t believe the Bible, what good does it do for you to read from it? You had me when you were telling me your stories.” I laughed, mostly at myself for thinking she'd be impressed with my biblical knowledge. Then I returned to what she had requested. I told her a story that showed how God had been with me even when I thought he had abandoned me. By that time our group was leaving. She seemed sad that I had to leave. But I had enjoyed getting to know a woman who, up until that Sunday, had been a stranger to me.

What I learned that day was that the distance between one person and God is not wrapped up only in what they believe. Yes, the distance between her and God was huge because she couldn’t accept the basic truths of God’s Word. But the distance was swallowed up when I crossed her walk, got some kids sweeping her walk, and handed her a gift of love and friendship.

Last week I said that I would discuss the things that put distance between us and God. In the beginning it’s usually something as small as one person reaching out to another in friendship to help them cross the chasm of disbelief. When that happens, suddenly it doesn’t matter any more what they don’t believe. What matters is that they opened up their heart to ours so that the Holy Spirit could begin the gentle work of wooing that person closer to God’s heart.