As we piled out of the van and on to the sidewalk I was driven on by the shame, guilt and fear that I would end up a goat on Judgment Day if I hesitated for a moment to proclaim the Gospel fearlessly to every passerby.
After a quick prayer from the youth pastor for safety and a harvest of souls (not necessarily in that order) we broke into pairs and headed for the streets. I headed out for the main street with “Kyle”, my Bible and a handful of tracts.
But from the very beginning it was clear that mother nature had placed us at a real disadvantage. The beautiful summer evening made it especially difficult to reap a harvest of souls: it seemed that the soil of the hearts of each passerby had been baked hard by the sultry July evening. To put it bluntly, everyone seemed to be more interested in taking in the gorgeous evening rather than engaging in a conversation about eternal destiny and hellfire.
Needless to say, that was the enemy’s trick: lull people into a sense of complacency with an idyllic setting. That meant that matters were even more urgent. Kyle and I had only a precious few moments in each encounter to stoke the fear of the fires of hell before our target would be lost from our grasp and into the yawning jaws of eternity.
Years later when I first learned of the concept of an elevator speech (be able to explain in thirty seconds or less why you are the person the company should hire ) I realized that is precisely what I had used in street evangelism: explain why you need to join up with Jesus in thirty seconds or less. Before we walked a block I could explain sin, damnation, and Jesus-salvation in rapid-fire succession. I was the best salesman around … except I couldn’t close any sales.
While we had many encounters that evening, most of them have disappeared into the mists of lapsed memory. But for some reason the memory of one encounter has stuck with me. Kyle and I were across from the old theater just a block north of the fire hall, when we began walking beside a young couple. We never learned their names (no time for such pleasantries). Like most unsuspecting marks, they were immediately suspicious when we caught their stride and introduced ourselves. When, mere moments later, we segued abruptly into the topic of damnation, their pace quickened and they broke off eye contact. When we sped up to keep pace the guy looked over his shoulder and snapped hotly, “Leave us alone. We’re not interested.”
Not interested, I thought. Got it. To my mind that was the perfect excuse to make my exit, stage right. I wasn’t ashamed of Jesus. I had proved it, hadn’t I? It wasn’t my fault that the guy didn’t want to hear it. And so my pace immediately slackened and I began to turn around.
But not Kyle.
Apparently he didn’t get the memo.
Or perhaps he was even more concerned about Judgment Day.
For whatever reason, Kyle continued keeping pace with the young couple, pleading with them to repent, begging them to take the tract from his sweaty hand, imploring them to pray the all important sinner’s prayer. Still they weren’t interested. The young couple continued to keep their eyes straight ahead, walking with long and swift strides in what looked increasingly like what psychologists call the “flight response”.
Yet Kyle still didn’t yield. Instead he kept walking and pleading. But he was quickly running out of sidewalk. Increasingly desperate at the prospect that eternity might be ripped from the grasp of this young couple (or himself?) at any moment, he finally cried out desperately, “But you have to believe!” It was like watching a rescuer pleading with a panicking drowning man “But you must take my hand!”
But they didn’t believe.
And I dare say, after that fiasco they were a little less likely to believe.