Comfort Comes at a Cost: Evangelizing with Teens on the Streets of London
The passerby snatched the pamphlet from my hand, took a few steps away and proceeded to tear it into pieces. She conveyed utter disgust as she tore apart the paper I had just handed to her. I found myself feeling highly uncomfortable, knowing that the same disgust she felt towards the gospel, she felt equally towards me at this moment. As I looked away awkwardly for the next passerby, I felt a lump in my throat as I once again offered, “Would you like a ‘blessing’ to read?”
This summer our youth ministry made a change from our normal summer routine. We decided that rather than going overseas to teach English at a camp in Spain like we had done in the past, our international mission’s trip would be to participate in a week of evangelism. Though the English camp had been a great experience for us over the years, we decided it would be more fruitful for us to do something that would take us even further out of our comfort zones. So this summer, eleven Senior High students and five adult chaperones boarded a plane to London to participate in Serge Mission Organization’s London Evangelism and Prayer Week (LEAP).
As I explained the rationale for the change to parents and church leadership, one of my primary arguments was the fact that it would be uncomfortable. It would be hard. It would reveal our weakness, and in experiencing weakness, it would lead us to a place of needing Jesus to show up to reveal His strength (all the while, I wrestled with the fact that deep down, I too was fearful of the challenges ahead).
The Serge team carefully crafted our experience and had us visit several different religious sites prior to jumping into evangelism. This proved to be quite helpful, as many of the people we would encounter in the days to come held one of these religions as their own. We visited a Hindu Temple, a Sikh Gurdwara, and a Muslim Mosque. At each of these visits, one of the religious leaders spoke to our group about their religion and shared the basic overview of their belief system. We all seemed a bit shaken as we watched people bow to idols while teaching their toddler children to do the same. We wrestled inwardly as these leaders took jabs at Christianity. When the Muslim Imam told us that Allah loves his followers in the same way that he loves all of his slaves, we listened in disbelief.
That afternoon, as the group returned to the church, our little team huddled in a room to debrief our experience. Our students were bursting to process and discuss all that they had heard and seen. One of our adult volunteers sensed God urging him to lead us in worship. I have been working with this youth group for the past four years, and never during this time have I experienced such a powerful time of worship together. Something about having witnessed so many people working really hard to please their false gods, made our worship of the One True God – our loving Savior who has already done all the work – especially powerful and sweet. I will never forget it.
This worship experience propelled us into the following days of evangelism. For two days we went door-to-door conducting surveys seeking opportunities for Gospel conversations. The next two days, we went to markets to pass out Gospel tracts and again, look for more opportunities to share the Gospel. I know that many believers around the world participate in similar evangelistic approaches. However, for this group of students and myself (who had come overseas from a church settled comfortably in the upper/middle class section of the Philadelphia suburbs), this was a very stretching experience. As we listened to the other sixty people who attended the LEAP week with us, we heard very similar experiences.
It was on our last full day of ministry that we stood in a busy shopping plaza, when I felt that I had been stretched beyond my limits. I was tired. It had been a long, exhausting week. Beyond physical exhaustion, I found my spirit was extremely weary. I was tired of being rejected – over and over and over. I was tired of people seeing me with my stack of Gospel tracts and going out of their way to avoid walking past me. I had had enough.
It was in this moment of utter weakness that I heard God speak to me. It was not an audible voice, but it was one of those times when I felt clear that God wanted to communicate something to me.
I stuck another tract out in front of a passerby and waited for the typical awkward rejection. In that moment, God said two things to me. First, He said that He was building His Kingdom through the efforts of the many faithful saints distributing His Word, and that His Word would not return without accomplishing His purpose for It.
The second thing I understood was the most challenging. He said that His primary goal was not for me to feel comfortable. Rather, my experience of rejection as I did His work provided the smallest taste of what His Son Jesus experienced when He was rejected. God wanted to shape me, and our team, to be more like His Son by giving us a shared experience with Him. God was lovingly molding us into the image of Jesus, and He was using this experience – an experience we would not have chosen – to do so.
As our team walked through the doors of Philadelphia International Airport, greeted by the stifling July humidity, we arrived home with a new grid for our lives. When confronted with our tendency to use comfort as our measuring stick for happiness and success, we will be reminded that comfort can come at a cost. When we ferociously pursue the comforts of life as our highest goal, we miss out on deep times of worship and the mighty sound of God’s voice. However, when we stand in front of a stranger who angrily rips up a tract (and our very beliefs) in our face, we will remember in our discomfort, that we have already received the greatest comfort of all through our Savior, Jesus Christ. And His power is surely made perfect in our weakness.