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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–I enjoy flying. Sometimes I don’t enjoy the fact that it takes me away from home, but I always enjoy the flight. I think of it this way: When I get on the plane, I know it is one of the few places I go where something good is always going to happen (providing the plane doesn’t crash, but even then there is heaven!)

Sometimes I am really tired and I get a nice nap in a reasonably comfortable seat. Sometimes I can have rare, uninterrupted reading time, while a nice person brings me something to drink. And then there are those times when God places me beside someone who wants to talk. Those are my favorite times.

In just the last month I have had three of these God-directed plane encounters. On one flight I sat beside a very friendly woman named Mary. We had a great conversation but she seemed worried. I told her that I had been a pastor and was now involved in missions. I asked her if there was anything I could pray for her about, and she immediately began to cry. She pointed two rows up where her husband was sitting, and told me they were on their way to their childrens’ city where her husband of many years would have surgery to attempt to save his life. I was able to point out to her how much God must love her to put us beside each other on the plane so I could pray for her. She was a wonderful sister in Christ and we turned the plane into a sanctuary and met God together. What a privilege.

On another flight I sat next to a man named Mike who was on his way home from a long overseas trip. As we began to talk he brought up spiritual issues. I soon realized that he was going to witness to me. Now, that hasn’t happened to me very often. We had a blast for the rest of that flight, talking and sharing about our common bond in Christ. Then he turned on his laptop to show me some of the leadership principles he teaches in his business. It was incredible stuff, and much of it was directly applicable to things I was dealing with in my own ministry. I met a new friend who will soon come to our offices at the North American Mission Board to teach his material to others that I work with. Thank-you Lord.

The third flight was the best of all. I sat on the last row of the plane beside a young businessman. As we talked I told him about my ministry. He asked me how I found something in life that I was so passionate about; I was glad he asked. I shared the Gospel, and he asked me if he could really enter a relationship with Christ right there on the plane. I never get over how many people in America have never heard the Gospel. They are around Christians every day, but no one will tell them. Mike became my brother in Christ before we landed. He is already visiting Baptist churches and we are in an “e-mail discipleship” relationship. Praise God.

All of my other flights in the last month have been wonderful –- rest, sleep and good books. But these three flights remind me that every day we step into a world where the secular easily can become the sacred — where an airplane or a restaurant or an office or a classroom or a sports field can become a place of comfort and ministry, of friendship and fellowship, and sometimes of eternal transformation. How much fun is that?

I don’t try to make people feel guilty anymore about not doing evangelism. I just try to help them stop missing all the fun. There is nothing like seeing lives changed. Absolutely nothing compares. And it is really not that hard. Just follow Jesus to people. That’s where He is always going, you know. We talk a lot about “being in the presence of the Lord,” but we usually mean being with other Christians at church. Jesus, though, is leaving the 99 to go after the one. So if you really want the absolute, passionate, joy-filled, Spirit-empowered presence of Christ, go with him into the lives of people, on His rescue mission, and make 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