Allie was a beautiful young woman in her junior year on campus, and she was leading a Bible study. Summer was approaching; her FOCUS missionary was encouraging her to read St. Therese’s autobiography “The Story of a Soul.” Allie began to read and learn about St. Therese’s little way: doing little things for God and offering them to Him that He might do big things from them.
Allie prayed and asked the Lord, “What little thing can I do for you?” She knew one of the gifts the Lord had given her was a beautiful smile — so she offered it to Him: “Lord, I am going to smile for you this summer.” It seemed a small thing, but she awoke the next morning determined to make this offering.
As she walked to noon Mass, she saw her first opportunity: a woman was bringing her trash to the curb. Allie mustered up her courage and smiled the biggest, most joyful smile she could and simply said, “Hello,” as she walked past. The woman looked at her skeptically and replied, “Hi,” as Allie walked on to the church a few blocks away.
Allie thought nothing more of the encounter until the next day. After Mass, a daily Mass regular came up to Allie, placed her hand on Allie’s shoulder and whispered in her ear: “Can I give you a blessing?”
Taken somewhat aback, Allie said, “Uh…sure….”
Taking Allie by the hand, the fellow parishioner led her to the back of the church to the cry room. As Allie walked in, she saw a woman weeping with her face in her hands. Allie was stunned, especially when the woman raised her face: it was the woman who’d been taking out her trash can from the day before.
The woman looked up at Allie with tears streaming down her face and said, “Yesterday I was pretty down about life. When you smiled at me, I immediately wanted the joy you showed me, so I watched you and saw you go into the Catholic Church. I knew at once what was missing. I have been away from the Church for 17 years. Because you smiled at me, I am coming back to Mass and confession.”
Little things can make a huge difference. Many times, it’s only the little things that make any difference. God wants to use you to make a difference in the lives of those He puts in your path.
Let’s get practical. Here are five simple strategies to help you evangelize those around you through the summer:
- Pray intentionally. Pray specifically and systematically for the needs of those whom God is placing in your life and for an outpouring of particular blessings on them. I invite you to write a list of 10 – 15 people with whom you interact on a regular basis and ask God to rock their world this summer! Don’t forget to ask Him to let you be a witness of what He is doing! (An effective approach is the Prayer Depth Chart)
- Connect intentionally. Time is of the essence. Be an organizer and set up things to do: volleyball games, BBQs, etc. (Avoid potentially challenging situations like wild keg parties or long days of drinking.) Most groups are looking for a good model, good ideas to follow and someone to implement them. Show your family and friends that you can live differently, and they will be more inclined to live a different life. If you want to be really bold, start a small group that meets 1 – 2 times per week for Bible study! (More tips can be found under Summer Game Plan Part 4, here)
- Invite consistently. Making friends takes time and practice. No one wants to be a flavor of the week in someone else’s life. Don’t worry if your first connection with someone is a bit unnatural or even awkward. I recommend that, at a minimum, you invite a person to do something at least three times. Show them that you’d like to get to know each other.
- Be a thermostat, not a thermometer. When you are with a group, are you reflective of the environment (thermometer) or do you set the tone (thermostat)? As a Christian, you are called to be salt and light; God gives you the blessing and gifts to truly influence the environment. Don’t be afraid to open your mouth and change the topic of conversation if it’s going downhill or even to walk away from an uncomfortable or potentially sinful situation. I guarantee others want to as well, but they usually don’t want to be singled out or they just lack the courage. Take the first step and allow others to follow your lead. If you are worried about this, please know that fortitude, or courage, is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Pray for courage and step out in faith. The Holy Spirit is a friend who will never lead you astray nor leave you hanging.
- Don’t waste time. In the grand scheme of things, three months doesn’t seem like that much time — but each moment only happens once. God has a plan for how He wants to use your time this summer. Let Him work through you. Just be ready for an adventure! Even though three months can fly by, sometimes the impact in someone else’s life can happen as quickly as it takes to smile!
Your summer game plan needs to direct the opportunities God gives to draw others closer to Him. By doing so, it will change your life as well. As Pope Paul VI tells us, “Finally, the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #24)
So here’s the question: This summer who will you evangelize?