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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–It’s been eight months now since I left the pastorate and came to be the vice-president for evangelization at the North American Mission Board. I did it because I sensed that God was beginning to do a new thing — that Southern Baptists were ready to move into an evangelistic resurgence that could lead to the next Great Awakening in America and across the world.

For these six months I have traveled across North America listening to our best leaders talk about the future. I have watched carefully to see what God seems to be doing. And I am thrilled to tell you that He is doing a lot! I am more optimistic about the future than I have been in a decade. Every sign says to me that Southern Baptists and the greater evangelical world are ready to move beyond methodological differences and theological non-essentials and engage our culture with the love and joy of Jesus! Evangelism is becoming good news again! Everywhere I go I hear the stories.

Here’s an example — and there are so many of them. Jean White does such a wonderful job working with our evangelism team at NAMB. She shared this story with me. Let it grip your heart.

Randy Bonner is a CCM missionary in Tennessee. During the summer his ministry provides construction work on houses that need repair. First Baptist Church of Gibson, Okla., has come to Tennessee several years in a row to assist Bonner’s ministry, and was scheduled to come again the last week in July.

A man by the name of Lonnie is a member of FBC Gibson and had come to Tennessee before, although he had been injured and lost both legs. Lonnie knew he could not get up on roofs or do construction, and told the pastor he felt like God was telling him to go. Lonnie felt God was telling him there was someone there to whom he needed to minister. But the group couldn’t figure out how Lonnie could be used, since the projects took so much mobility. Lonnie, though, was so convinced that God wanted him there that the group decided to take him.

The two homes that were assigned to the church both had a lot of needs. Living in one home was an older man and wife and their 27-year-old daughter. All of them had major medical disabilities. The father, Charles, had recently had heart surgery and was confined to bed. The family’s air conditioner needed repairs, and it turns out Lonnie had worked on air conditioners for a living before his injury! The men in the group carried Lonnie up the stairs and put him back in his wheelchair. Lonnie went into the man’s bedroom to work on the window unit. The man was not a believer and was very bitter towards God. He blamed all the hardships of his family on God and didn’t even want to talk about God.

While Lonnie was working on the air conditioner, he had the opportunity to tell Charles about his faith and how God had taken care of him during his accident. If there was one person that could share about hardships and how God is there for us even in the most difficult times, it was Lonnie. As Lonnie spent the day in Charles’s room working on the air conditioning, he was able to interact and share his story and his testimony. At the end of their time together, Lonnie was leading Charles in the sinner’s prayer.

The entire team had been praying for the encounter that had been taking place and was waiting in great suspense for Lonnie to be brought downstairs and out of the front door. Everyone was lined up waiting to hear what happened. Lonnie came out and gave a huge shout out for the Lord, which was followed by much jubilation and celebration of how God worked and used this man to make a difference for eternity in the life of one man.

Isn’t that incredible? When is the last time you felt that joy? The uninhibited celebration of your soul that comes when you know you have been God’s tool for eternity? Has it been too long? Then ask God for your own story. He won’t say no to that prayer. And then open your eyes to those around you, open your arms to love and serve, and open your mouth to share His love — simply and humbly. And you will find that people all around you are open. Then tell your story — the mighty deeds of God — to encourage someone else to be His witness, too. And you will help evangelism become good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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  • John Avant