FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--There is a lot of talk about young leaders among Southern Baptists these days.

Thank God for that, since we have no future without them. This young generation is starving for authentic passion and the life of adventure that following Christ is meant to be. And they need to see that lived out in their parents’ generation.

Many years ago, my wife and I decided that whatever the cost, we would attempt to model a life of New Testament adventure for our children. I wish we had done a better job at this, but God has been gracious with our flawed efforts, and to this point, we are thrilled at the courses our children have chosen.

My 14-year-old son, Trey, loves God and actually believes that there is nothing more exciting than following Him. My 18-year-old daughter, Amy, left recently for five weeks of radical mission work in the Middle East. And my 21 year-old daughter, Christi, is an aspiring Broadway actress and ministers in a SBC church plant aimed at the arts community of New York City.

One of the most important decisions we made was to take each of our children on a mission trip to a Third World country before they were teens. They were able to meet people who had nothing but Jesus and lived with overflowing joy –- the picture of the New Testament church so rarely seen in comfortable America.

When Christi was 11, we brought her to Belarus. One day I was preaching in an open market. Hundreds left their lines and came to listen. When I gave the invitation, almost everyone wanted to be saved -– even when I asked them if they were willing to die for Him. Then we told them that we had Bibles for those who had accepted Christ. Big mistake. A near riot broke out as people fought and clawed for the precious book.

Soon we ran out and in tears, Christi begged me to get more Bibles. But there were no more to be given. I had watched one elderly woman who was too feeble to get in the fray. She had been shouting and waving and begging for a Bible. Now she was weeping with her face in her hands. I had one Bible left in my coat pocket. Giving that Bible to her was one of the great moments of my life. She was one of the few people in that crowd who had grown up a believer.

She told us that the last time she had held a Bible was the day Stalin’s soldiers came and took her father away, along with their family Bible. She never saw either again. She had hoped to read it once more before she died. As she held God’s Word to her heart, she began to cry out with joy. She kissed me, gave me flowers, and walked away shouting, “Praise God!” My daughter witnessed all this. She has never gotten over it.

Now Christi has this crazy idea that the most exciting, fulfilling, contagious thing in life is evangelism –- loving, serving and sharing the Good News with friends. Wherever she is. Every day. But to do this she has to go outside the church walls. She has to love people, not oppose them. I could tell you more about it but I’ll let her do it herself. Her column is next to mine today. Listen to Christi. She represents the best of this young generation of leaders. Of course, I’m prejudiced –- and proud! I love you Christi –- and thanks for helping Southern Baptists make evangelism good news again.


John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the North American Mission Board.

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