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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–I have always loved the early chapters of the book of Acts. The picture we see there of the newborn church is so powerful.

In spite of persecution, scattering and deep loss, the church thrived. They lived in authentic community. They shared their possessions. They suffered together, prayed together, ate together and loved together. They shared the Good News with great joy in the midst of impossible odds. And the power of God moved among them. The world around them saw all this and were drawn to it like a magnet.

The Bible says that the early Christ-followers were “praising God and had favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) Isn’t that what we need again? Isn’t that really everything we need? I wonder if most Christians really long for that anymore. It often seems very distant from the way the church functions today. But it is worth longing for. And if God is still God, there is hope for the church to become this Good News movement again.

In fact, I saw a taste of the New Testament church in action myself recently. Some friends, Preston and Diane Nix, their daughters Rachel and Rebecca, and my new buddy Oscar the dog all moved in with us. Preston had just left the pastorate after many years of faithful ministry and had moved to his new position as a seminary professor –- at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Two weeks after uprooting their family and moving to a new home, Hurricane Katrina hit and the Nixes lost virtually everything they owned. Since the seminary’s offices are relocated to Atlanta for now, we invited the Nixes to live with us until we could find them a place of their own.

When they arrived, the New Testament church went into action. Friends from New Hope Baptist Church in Georgia where I served as pastor for eight years prepared welcome gifts for the family. Dogwood Church, our new church home, jumped at the chance to help financially. First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., provided furniture and even a car. Arlington Christian School opened their arms to Rachel and Rebecca. At every turn, God’s people poured out love.

Our two families became one for our time together. We shared meals together, laughed together, shopped together, got kids ready for school together and prayed together. Their children became like our own. When I came home at the end of the day, Rachel and Rebecca ran to give me a hug. Oscar the dog sat in my lap. And Preston and I had long talks and precious moments of seeking God together. Their grief was real. Their loss was beyond imagination. But their faith is amazing! Southern Baptists and New Orleans Seminary are in great shape with a leader like Preston.

Our short time living together came to an end when the wonderful people of Rhema Baptist Church in Palmetto, Ga., provided a house free of charge for the Nixes. These Christ-followers transformed the girls’ rooms into palaces for princesses! What beautiful people they are.

During our time together I noticed that everyone who heard about all this was drawn to it, even those who did not know Christ. They wanted to help. They were attracted to the love they saw from so many of God’s people. Maybe we could be closer to the New Testament church than we have thought! One day, I came home from my office at the North American Mission Board and as I turned into my driveway I saw Preston talking to two young men on the street. They were selling newspaper subscriptions and Preston took the time to get to know them -– and to tell them about Jesus! How does someone who has lost everything take the time to share Christ with strangers? Because the good news of the Gospel is still good news when everything else is bad news!

Thanks Preston, Diane, Rachel and Rebecca, and all those who are being the body of Christ to them and to so many other sufferers. You are making evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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  • John Avant