FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again
I was speaking at the South Carolina Baptist Convention's Pastor’s Conference and was in a room beside the worship center getting a bottle of water and getting ready to preach. The door opened and a man that I had not seen in a long time walked in -– a man I will call Chan that I first met on the other side of the world.
Several years ago I was in a country where believers are persecuted. My mission was to disciple a pastor/church planter who was one of the most wanted men in the country. He had angered the government by successfully planting many churches. He had little training and I was thrilled for the chance to be with him. I knew I would learn far more from him than he would from me. When I landed in the country after more than 24 hours of travel, I was met by some of our missionaries who were there “undercover.” They broke the news to me that the pastor was being watched too closely and was not going to be able to come. Being the spiritual man that I am, I immediately was ticked off with God! Why would He bring me across the world for this? I could be back home with my family. A lot of self-pity and lack of faith, and other similar emotions, engulfed me.
We arrived at our hotel and as I checked in with my surly attitude, the man behind the counter asked me quietly if John was a “Bible name.” Now that struck me as strange. I asked the missionaries about this guy and they said, “We have heard rumors about him. He is either a Christian or a government spy. Maybe your job here is to figure out which one!” Well, at least I had purpose. I struck up a couple of conversations with him and finally he sat with me in his office and told me that he needed to take a risk and ask for my help. He shared with me that he was the coordinator for the training of all the underground pastors in the northern half of the country and wanted to know if I could help him find an American pastor to help him. He almost fainted when I told him who I was and I almost fainted when he told me that he had pastors staying in the hotel that very day to meet for training.
I had come to work with one pastor and God had provided an unlimited number. As I met with these incredible brothers, I found that they had never been baptized. They did not know who could baptize them. I had never imagined baptizing in a hotel bathtub, but I can tell you it is a wonderful experience. Too many incredible miracles to describe happened on that trip. I went back again the next year. God is constantly trying to teach me just to trust Him.
In the years since then, the man I met in that hotel was able to come to Bible school in America through another miracle of God. Chan is that man. I had not seen him in years when I went to preach in South Carolina. He heard I would be there and wanted to surprise me. I couldn’t believe he was there. I adjusted my message and told his story. I told about how just before I left his country, he asked me and a few others to “whisper-sing” his favorite song -– a song he had found in an American hymnbook that had been smuggled into the country –- "Shine Jesus Shine." We sang in a whisper those words I had sung so many times before, but they had never meant so much as that day on the other side of the world. After telling this story in South Carolina, I shocked everyone by asking if they would like to meet Chan, and calling him up on the stage. No one could believe he was there. We "whisper-sang" the song together in front of everyone. It was a holy moment that none of us there ever will forget.
I am so amazed at the way God shows Himself –- His love for us, His power and His presence. And I am so thankful for friends like Chan, the bravest people I know, who will risk it all for the sake of the Gospel. We don’t have to whisper-sing, you know. We are free to share openly the good news of our Lord. No one is stopping us -– but us. We have a song to sing and a story to tell. Let’s do it.
Shine Jesus Shine. Fill this land with the Father’s glory.
Blaze Spirit blaze. Set our hearts on fire.
Flow river flow. Flood this nation with grace and mercy.
Send forth your Word, Lord and let there be light.
Let that be our open prayer. Our clear message. Our unashamed song. Let’s join the Chans of this world and make evangelism good news again.
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.