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Golden Gate Seminary students take light of Christ into San Francisco

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–On the corner of Columbus and Broadway in downtown San Francisco, women outside the strip joints and pornographic movie houses pass out flyers about their shows to passers-by.
At that same corner, the Golden Gate Evangelistic Society gives tracts and Bibles to those same passers-by and even some of the strippers working the entrances of the clubs.
“The brokenness and despair of the city led us to form this,” said Harry Duncan*, a first-year student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., and founder of the new campus group. “We need to be salt and light to this spiritually dark city.”
Groups as little as two and as many as 350 have traveled to this corner as well as to other sections of the city almost every weekend since last September to witness on the streets, passing out donated Bibles and tracts and getting into spiritual conversations with anyone willing to talk.
“I am constantly humbled by the quality of Christian commitment evidenced in the lives of students who are coming to Golden Gate Seminary for training as Christian leaders,” said William Crews, president of Golden Gate Seminary. “The passion and commitment of men and women who participate in the evangelistic society’s efforts in the city typify the kind of students who will make a significant impact as leaders in the churches of tomorrow. The responsibility these students are taking for making a spiritual impact in such a seemingly overwhelming situation is part of the profound work that God is doing among this next generation of Christian leaders.”
Duncan, originally from Columbia, S.C., and former chief legal counsel for South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, said more than two dozen people have accepted Christ on the streets so far, and “literally thousands” of pieces of Christian literature and Bibles have been distributed.
“Street witnessing to me is like dropping a stone into a pond,” he said. “There are ramifications of going in addition to just going. Just for people to see Christians makes a difference.”
Fred Tiedemann, an officer of the society and a second-year student, said the campus group aims at bringing people passionate about evangelism together. “A lot of the mainstream churches today fall short in this area, and I feel the emphasis of this society is to take the command to be fishers of men more seriously,” he said.
Throughout the history of Golden Gate, seminary students and faculty have had ongoing ministries in San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge eight miles away and affectionately called “The City.” Academic programs such as the Urban Training Event developed by senior professor of missions Francis DuBose and other “missions in action” courses developed by various professors have sought to give students a heart for ministry in urban areas. Regular evangelistic and missions activities associated with churches and ministries in San Francisco also have played a significant part in helping students gain a vision for working in urban areas.
As ministry in the city is traditional to the seminary, street witnessing is definitely nothing new to Duncan. Groups he has led or participated in have witnessed on the streets in New Orleans, Washington, New York and Boston, as well as cities in Canada, Estonia, Mongolia, Cameroon, Belgium and southern France, where his team helped pass out literature and Bibles to North Africans departing by ferry.
“I have a heart for the inner city,” Duncan said. “That’s why I’m here. My wife, Callie*, and I felt that since we were coming to San Francisco, we needed to do the same type of ministry. We started two weeks after we got here.”
The group at first went out on Saturday nights and has since moved to Fridays. They pray at the seminary before they leave, and they even make witnessing opportunities out of the frequent traffic jams at the Golden Gate Bridge.
“We’re known for passing out Bibles and tracts to surrounding cars on the bridge when the traffic is backed up,” Tiedemann said.
Once they arrive in the city, they split up in twos. Some remain at a certain corner, while others walk up and down the streets and talk to people. The society also does prayerwalks around the city.
“We’ve gone to one place that’s known to be a gathering place for devil worshipers and prayed and sung there,” Duncan said. “We try to go to the places where it’s hard ministry.”
First-year student Tom King said there are plenty of opportunities to witness to people from all over the world.
“On Halloween night, over two hours, I met people from the People’s Republic of China, Ethiopia, Mexico and all over Asia,” he said. “In the midst of the city, the world is there. Going overseas is great and necessary, but we can start here now.”
Duncan said they have a goal to give every person they see a Bible or tract, but they do receive some opposition.
“When you talk to people about Christ, you’re going to touch a nerve and sometimes people react,” he said. “But we try to end all conversations on a good note. Even with the pornographic shops, we have a good give-and-take. We talk back and forth and try to minister to the people working in the businesses.”
Master of divinity student Alan Cross said he has found even non-believers thankful for him being there.
“We’ve heard that street evangelism isn’t the best way because we may never see the people we talk to again, but we have people even thanking us,” he said. “They thanked us for the tracts and the message and the prayers. I’m not the most outgoing person either, and I was really shy at first, but God has changed me.”
In such a liberal-thinking, postmodern city like San Francisco, where less than 5 percent of the population is in church on a typical Sunday, Duncan wants to dispel any doubts that street witnessing wouldn’t work there.
“One assumption is that people aren’t receptive in this city,” he said. “But there still must be a lot of prayer and a lot of people going into the city to reach it.”
Crews said ministries like these fulfill the seminary’s goals. “At Golden Gate Seminary we want to transform not only the lives of our students, but also the lives of those they touch as a result of what they are learning in the classroom, in their various ministries and in their relationships with one another,” he said. “The very location of Golden Gate Seminary’s campuses and the growing mission centers of the West provide a living laboratory for ministry in the 21st century.”
Duncan said Christians hesitant to do street witnessing should take up the challenge, even if the experiences aren’t always positive.
“I think the matter of stretching your faith is an important aspect of growing as a Christian,” he said. “Street witnessing can only be done by relying on God. The issue is not what you experience. It’s faithful obedience to bring light to the city. Not only do you have an impact with the lives you touch, you impact your own life, the seminary who is praying for you, others specifically praying for you, and with the ministries existing in San Francisco.”
He encourages even the more introverted to go. “We’re trying to encourage people of all personalities and people who don’t have the gift of evangelism to try this because there are so many ways to serve. The more introverted people are probably more sensitive and more apt to have in-depth conversations.”
Second-year student Beth Walker said she has met a friend she never would have met any other way.
“God helped me form a friendship with one of the girls who lives as a stripper,” she said. “I try to go see her when I go into the city, and the friendship is getting deeper.”
Kristen Santilli, a second-year student, said although she is extroverted, she was reluctant to go street witnessing. “I was so nervous my first night, and I told Harry and he pointed to a girl and said to go talk to her,” Santilli recounted. “So I did. The girl was into witchcraft and wanted revenge on her father. We had a great conversation, and that’s all I do out there — have conversations. You really do meet all sorts out there.”
Miranda Ng, a first-year master of divinity and intercultural studies student who is originally from Hong Kong, said one woman politely refused to receive a tract.
“I gave one to a homeless person and while I was giving him addresses of some ministries that could help him, the lady came back to me and said she changed her mind,” she said.
Resources and funds have literally poured in for the society’s work. “We had a lot of people in South Carolina agree to help us purchase Bibles and tracts,” Duncan said. “Now we have people in the Bay Area agreeing to help financially undergird this ministry.”
And churches are even supplying people to go out with the students, especially First Baptist Church, San Francisco, where Duncan and his family are members. One of the student’s churches in Alabama prays every week for the team.
“What we’re doing is not only evangelizing and praying, but encouraging other groups. We don’t want to be just a presence, but we also want to assist other groups and be available to help their ministries.”
The only way Christians can reach San Francisco is by breaking denominational barriers, Duncan said. The society’s goal is to branch out and street witness in 16 different sections of San Francisco, including Chinatown, the posh Union Square, the predominantly homosexual Castro district, the bohemian Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and touristy Fisherman’s Wharf.
“We’re trying to funnel people we meet into local evangelical churches,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to meet in these 16 districts. There are a number of cult efforts that have missions efforts here, so we’re trying to get the message of Christ out there. To do that, we not only need more prayer warriors, but we need more laborers.”
Second-year intercultural studies student Jill Campbell came across one of these cults in the residential Noe Valley area.
“We stopped at the Ministry, a community center for New Age spirituality,” she said. “It originally was a church. I felt like weeping. This was a Bible-believing church. We went to the top level of the building, and we found Bibles stacked up in a corner. We want this place to be restored.”
Shortly after 350 college students distributed Bibles and tracts around the city during the Beyond Conference at the seminary in February, the society received Chinese Bibles to pass around Chinatown.
“So far, we haven’t gotten much response there yet,” said Andy Anquoe, a second-year student and pastor of San Francisco Chinese Baptist Church in Chinatown. “I am so thankful that now we are getting Bibles in Chinese. Communism started off in China with a little book. People read it and believed it. I’m looking forward to passing these books out and putting them into people’s hands.”
“It’s very obvious that the society is having an impact in San Francisco,” said third-year master of divinity student Laolu Laditan, who is starting the church. “The more people we have out there, the more area we can cover.”
Fred Tiedemann said the gospel is a message many of those in the society can’t just keep inside anymore.
“We want to be like Christ, and I think he was a man of passion who couldn’t contain it,” he said. “We don’t have everything together, but as we continue to obey Christ, we’ll win people to him. And God is working.”
*Names changed for security reasons.

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