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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–I believe that one of the most important qualifications for an evangelist is to love to eat. And in that sense, I am highly qualified.

Now, I’m not referring to my friends and comrades, the vocational evangelists. They have a vital calling. But I believe all of us are called to be evangelists –- and eating is one of our best tools. Remember my definition of evangelism that I have shared in a previous article: Evangelism is sharing good news with friends. And there’s nothing better than a great meal with a friend to open up spiritual conversations.

Recently, I ate with my friend Ed. That meal reminded me of why I believe that there is nothing more exciting, fulfilling and just plain fun than evangelism. Ed is 81 years old. He is a wonderful man but had never accepted Christ and had not been in a church in decades. Ed’s son is a friend of mine and introduced me to his dad.

Ed and I built a friendship based on great lunches and a lot of talk about politics and World War II. Every conversation was fascinating to me. But I longed to share with Ed the most wonderful part of my life -– the good news of Jesus. Ed would never have come to hear me preach. And Ed wasn’t interested in Jesus until it was clear that I was interested in Ed. But real friends can talk about important things.

And so in between bites of a big salad, I was able to share Jesus with Ed one day. He thought about that a lot and a few months later, at that same restaurant, I almost spit out my mouthful of Diet Coke when Ed said, “So, what do I have to do to be saved?” And after lunch, sitting in his car, Ed accepted Christ!

Do you know what it is like to call a friend and tell him that his father had just become his brother? I’ll never forget it. They now read the Bible together every morning.

Soon after Ed was saved, we got together and talked about spiritual growth. It just doesn’t get much better than that. And while I enjoyed the food at the Village Cafe in Fayetteville, Ga., I thought about all the friends that I had met here, all the wonderful people who worked there who I had the privilege of knowing and praying for over the years.

As we rose to leave, I saw a friend who works there that I had not talked to in a long time. He’s not sure he believes in God, but he knows I care about him. So we agreed to meet again soon to talk about Jesus -– and eat of course! And then I stopped at two tables where dear friends were sitting -– friends who have also poured their lives into the joy of loving those Jesus loves. As I finally walked out, I felt that I was leaving church. It felt that wonderful.

And isn’t that what the word “church” means anyway -– “called out” and not “called in”? So why not answer God’s call “out” today? Take someone out to eat. Someone different from you. Someone who needs a friend. Maybe you will find that you needed a friend too. And that friendship might change someone’s life –- and eternity. And then they might want the fellowship of the church you love so much. And then you might watch through tear-filled eyes as they follow the Lord in baptism one day.

How would it change your day tomorrow if you knew that a simple meal might do all that? You could live your day in the same wonder as a little boy who watched Jesus take his food and multiply it to feed thousands. Sound good? Then eat on Southern Baptists! Let’s make evangelism good news again.
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John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.