When I first tell students about starting a conversation with a new person in order to talk about Jesus, it’s interesting to say the least. If I had a dollar for every disbelieving laugh, terrified look, or flat out “I can’t do athat,” well, I probably wouldn’t have to fundraise my salary. Even as a missionary who has done it dozens of times before, I still get a little nervous when I’m about to ask a question like, “Why do you think people don’t take Christianity seriously?” or “What is truth?”
Barehanded evangelization, as we refer to it in FOCUS, can be a daunting, fear-inducing concept. But I am here to tell you that despite what we learn as children, it is OK and even necessary to talk to strangers (you probably still shouldn’t take candy from them, but that’s a different post for another blog). It doesn’t have to be scary, and you are certainly not alone. And like many intimidating things, understanding it is the most important part to overcome.
What is barehanded evangelization?
Simply, it is engaging someone in conversation in hopes of an opportunity to share the Gospel. “Barehanded” because you go with nothing (no Catechism, no magic apologetic cheat sheet, maybe your phone to get their contact info). Sometimes the conversation happens intentionally, with a question like I wrote above, and sometimes it’s completely spontaneous. Always, it is done with complete confidence, trust, and abandonment to the Holy Spirit.
Why should we do it?
I think we can look to our friend St. Paul for an answer to this one. He says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (see 1 Corinthians 9:16). Woe, as in great sorrow or distress, to US if WE do not preach the Gospel. I used to think it was sufficient to just share the Gospel with my friends, Bible study participants, and other Catholics. While those people still need to hear the Gospel, so does everyone else. And if I don’t share and invite, who will? In Matthew 22, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a wedding feast to which “many are invited, but few are chosen.” Are we responding like the king’s servants did, by going out and inviting to the feast? My fear is that we aren’t serving like we should, and no one likes being left out of a wedding.
But HOW do we do it?
I have to admit, as a Catholic missionary, starting a conversation about God is almost too easy. Even in simple conversation on a plane, at a coffee shop, or at the supermarket, the question, “So, what do you do?” almost always comes up. But you don’t have to be a full-time missionary to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit. And like any instrument, there are ways to “tune up” and improve your skills.
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
A lot of people tell me it’s the “striking up conversation” part that is most intimidating to them. To which I reply, “Practice.” Smile more at people as you walk by them on campus. Talk to the store clerk, custodian or anyone with whom you wouldn’t naturally have a conversation. Take your headphones out and look up from your smart phone for a little while each day to be present in the moment, becoming more aware of the opportunities God is giving you. If you look for them, you will find them.
2. Go with a buddy.
Jesus sent out His apostles two by two, so there’s no reason to take on a task like this alone. Find a friend, or a missionary, to go out on campus with you. It will make better friends, and you’ll have a witness for that awesome “I just went up to this guy and two hours later he accepted Jesus into his life” story.
A lot. Prayer is at the heart of evangelization and with it, we become better channels for the Holy Spirit. In my experience, if you aren’t spending time with Jesus in prayer, you probably shouldn’t be talking to strangers about Him. You will be more timid, you will more easily give into discouragement, and you will probably get really offended and flustered if anyone insults the Church…or you. You will lose your peace. And a hot and bothered Christian proselytizing on campus is exactly what we don’t need. So, pray! Pray for opportunities, for boldness and to be deeper in love. Because when you’re love with someone, you can’t help but tell people about it.
Now, I’m not saying that this is easy. In fact, it is really hard. But that’s the beauty of a relationship with our Lord. He is always calling us to something greater, harder, better, more uncomfortable, and sometimes more radical. He invites us to follow Him, without reserve and without fear. So, step out and start a conversation. You won’t be sorry.
How is He asking you to step out with Him today?