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FIRST-PERSON: Meeting a divine encounter

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–It’s a day I’ll never forget. I began the day the way I seek to begin every day.

I asked God to help me have my eyes open to lost people He will bring my way. But I didn’t ask Him to bring those people my way — I know He will do that. I am just so full of self so often that I will pass them by without His help. I will spend all my time on lesser things and all my relational time with people who already know Him. But He is so patient with me, and this day He had something very special in mind.

I was in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a meeting and was scheduled to be at a dinner, but there was a mix-up with my ride and I found myself with a free evening. So, I made my way to the fitness center for a good workout. It was quite a facility, with racquetball, weights, a spa and pools, so I was surprised that there was no one there. A sign on the reception desk said that even the trainer was on break.

I began to lift weights in a strangely quiet room. But almost immediately, the door opened, and an elderly man slowly hobbled in on a cane. I was amazed to see him inch toward the bench press, hang his cane on the bar, and begin to do push ups on it. We struck up a conversation and I told him how impressed I was. His name was Pete, and he shared with me that although he was 82 years-old, he had always been a power-lifter and a Marine, and did his best to stay in shape.

For the next half hour, Pete opened up and shared his life with me. It struck me that God had allowed this place to be empty because this man was lonely and needed a friend. He lived nearby and had joined the hotel’s health club. Since we were alone, he openly shared very personal experiences, including his role in World War II at Iwo Jima, and the horror of watching so many of his friends killed.

I told him that I worked with our military chaplains and that I was also a law enforcement chaplain. He seemed startled by that and said, “My son is a law enforcement chaplain but hasn’t been able to do much good with me.” I knew at that moment that this man was so loved by our Lord that He had put together every circumstance so I could share the Good News with him. And so very simply, sitting beside him, that’s what I began to do.

When I finished, with deep emotion he said, “I have thought about these things many times but even in the war, I never knew what would happen to me if I died.” I told him that God could change that right now, and give him the life he had always sought. With a very “Marine-like” answer, he said, “Well, let’s get to it!” I knelt beside him and said, “Pete, let’s turn this fitness center into a worship center!” And Pete prayed with me and met Jesus!

As soon as we said “Amen,” the door opened and people began to come in. I was in awe of how God put all this together. We exchanged numbers and Pete said, “I almost didn’t come today, but a little voice told me, ‘Pete, get off your lazy rear and go work out!’” Wonder whose voice that might have been?

As we parted, Pete said, “Well, I may never see you again.” “I will see you forever, Pete,” I said. As our emotions began to flow, he quietly whispered, “I have a call to make. I need to tell my son.” And he slowly hobbled out the door. The next day, two wonderful Arizona Baptists agreed to be Pete’s friend and disciple him.

Southern Baptists, our president, Bobby Welch, has challenged us to baptize a million people. I have to admit that I believe that is impossible without a spiritual awakening. But I think I know how that awakening could happen. Is it really beyond hope that a million Southern Baptists could simply decide to wake up every morning for the next year and pray, “Lord let this be the day that I reach someone for you”? And if we really prayed like that, do you think God would say no? Doesn’t He love the lost more than we do?

What if a million stories like Pete’s began to be told in our churches, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, where we work? That would be spiritual awakening. And that is waiting for us. It is God’s heart for us. Put this column where you can see it. Tell your friends. Challenge everyone you know to join the movement. Come on Southern Baptists! Let’s 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