On the last night of Student Life’s Connexions conference two months ago, I made a pledge to complete a 31-day evangelism challenge. I wasn’t the only one who made the silent decision. I know of at least one other. Hannah, from Macquarie University, and I agreed to be each other’s accountability partner. After each day, we would text each other the outcomes of our evangelism episodes, rejoicing and praying with each other.
31-days of explicit focus on evangelism showed me that I live a very selfish existence. I go days at a time without speaking to anyone. And I don’t seem to mind at all. How sad.
I live two hours away from uni, which means I spend roughly 12 hours a week on public transport, sometimes more. If I were more inclined to do so, I could use this time effectively as an agent of evangelism. But I so rarely do. I excuse myself from engaging with them since I’m convinced we would have nothing in common anyway. They are busy, I am busy. Avoid failure, don’t try.
But it’s not just that. I find it difficult to strike conversation with a stranger. Most of the time, I find it difficult to talk to people I’ve known for years. I’m not a people person. I’m not an extrovert. I don’t think I’m unique in this though.
So here’s my tips for the introverted evangelist:
1. Just start by talking.
The best way to start a conversation is just by starting to talk. People love to talk about themselves and they’re waiting for someone to listen. It’s actually quite amazing how much people are willing to open up to a stranger, whose name they don’t even know, just because the stranger was friendly enough to show interest in them. There’s a distinct difference between prying and discussing though. It’s a fine line and it comes with practice, but it cannot be overstated or ignored.
2. Exercise discernment and observation.
I always have notebook with me and I’ll often write down observations I have of people. Their reactions to certain topics of conversation. Their striking facial features and expressions. I started doing this when I was in high school. As the school captain, I was in charge of mentoring about 40 prefects from years ten to twelve. It was an insurmountable task until I started taking detailed notes about each individual leader: they’re strengths, weaknesses and responses to stressful situations. I could then match task to student and arrive at the best possible results for everyone. Now, I’m not in that position of unmediated leadership. But I still find the system works in evangelism. It helps me to pray more effectively for the people I come into contact with. I don’t really have a heart for people and this forces me to be less selfish with my emotions.
I’m no Billy Graham. I’m certainly not blessed with his public evangelical strengths. I’m not like Corrie Ten Boom. I can’t live out of a suitcase as I travel the world proclaiming His goodness. I’d love to, but I’m not wired that way. And that can often make me feel inadequate around other Student Lifers who are more extroverted in their approach to evangelism. I felt very guilty when Hannah would text me with her amazing stories of evangelism from that day. Perhaps guilty is not the right word. Jealous is more accurate. I was jealous of her confidence to speak.
I was jealous of the relationships Hannah was building with people who allowed her to speak freely about her faith. I don’t have a lot of people in my world. I don’t spend much effort on building relationships. But the people in my sphere of influence are there for a reason. A God sent reason. I can connect with them in a way that others cannot.
It’s our obscurity that gives rise to sociability. Let me tell you some obscure little facts about myself you may not have known: I like reading classic authors like Jane Austen, Ernest Hemmingway and Oscar Wilde. I collect poetry anthologies, stamps and socks. I love the fashion of the 50’s. I’ve worn a coloured bow in my hair everyday since I was 15 (some say this is the only distinguishing feature between me and Tina Fey). I can juggle. I’d prefer to receive a handwritten letter than an email. I love typewriters. I have a DSLR Canon camera named Meredith and she’s my best friend.
That’s me. All 5 feet of me. What about you? What makes you tick? What are the flavours of your life that make everyday worth waking up for? Build relationships around them. For me, I build friendships from two places: journalism and photography. I like to ask other photographers why they enjoy taking pictures of stuff. Photography really is just the art of visual observation. I like to capture the beauty in the mundane and forgotten. I like to highlight the hand of the ultimate Creator by mimicking the beauty of His handiwork through the mechanical eye. That’s my in for turning conversations towards God.
At times, it may be hard to see the eternal implications for our everyday actions, but in God’s economy, nothing is insignificant.
Most Christians I talk to agree that evangelism is something that we should be concerned with. Where we often get tangled is understanding who is called to do it. I firmly believe that if you are a follower of Christ, then you should be concerned with what concerned Him. He was all about building relationships and helping people understand the Truth. So should we be.
I’ve only recently come to a place where evangelism excites me. It continues to terrify me sure, but I now see that it is my calling as a Christian. And that revelation I had when I was 1,300 km away from home. As I walked in the steps of St. Paul along the ancient streets of Athens, Delphi and Korinthos, I spoke to locals: Taxi drivers, shopkeepers and café owners. But my favourite people to talk to were the homeless. They had such diverse stories and would share with me the experiences that had led them to be where they were. Most of them had fled some horrific circumstance. Many were refugees. They were willing to talk to me for as long as the language barrier was not too frustrating about anything from the weather to the economy to their dreams and their childhood memories. It was a beautiful opportunity. And it started me on the trajectory I am now following. It ignited my passion for feature journalism and my urgency for evangelism.
Greece taught me this, and my 31-day challenge affirmed its universality: if you are willing to listen to them, there are stories everywhere. One month of observation will fill a lifetime of newspapers.