In my early twenties, I took part in two short-term outreaches within a couple of months of each other. The first outreach was to a remote area of Canada, about 9 hours northwest of where I was living at the time. I am deliberately vague as to the exact location to protect the identities of the young and naïve members that made up my team. I was just as young and naïve as the rest of my travelling companions.
We held movie nights in churches and community halls in small villages and towns. The production quality of the films we presented was questionable, but they did the best they could do with the limited funds they had.
These movies were crude in their message. “Come to Jesus because the Rapture is about to happen. It’s your last chance to get on God’s good side. If you don’t run to Jesus now, you’ll be left behind to face horrors beyond measure.” Our leader gave an altar call at the end of each night to drive the point home, letting people know that the only way to escape God’s wrath was by running forward to the altar – toward this angry God. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, and it still doesn’t.
To cut our leader some slack, I knew him to be a loving, gracious, passionate young man who had a deep love and respect for the people he was hoping to reach. However, at that point in his life, he had not yet encountered the touch of the Father’s heart. He knew the Lord as Lord, but he had a limited heart understanding of God’s gracious love. He was only following the prescribed methodology of evangelism taught in the Bible school he attended. Since then, he has embraced his sonship, and he continues to demonstrate the love of God wherever he goes. That love left a lasting impact in the impoverished neighbourhood where he ministered for decades.
This was back in the day before satellite TV, Netflix, or the internet and so not many in town passed up the offer of a free movie.
Every night, the altar would be full of visibly shaking people. Every night, the same people would rush to the altar to dutifully repeat the Sinner’s Prayer. Every night, I would do my best to comfort small children who were terrified.
I tried to help those at the altar see that they hadn’t missed the boat. I tried to explain that God wouldn’t abandon them. But it was hard to grasp the concept of God’s love when you just watched someone being beheaded on the movie screen.
I wondered how many of the people who responded to the altar call did so only to obtain an insurance policy against the possibility of being ‘left behind’. How many of those fearful ones encountered God’s heart? I continue to pray for those souls who may have been scarred by our one night stays in these remote areas. As far as I know, there were little to no discipleship opportunities available after we left.
Later that summer, I joined hundreds of young people from across the world as we reached out to thousands of sports fans and athletes attending the Commonwealth Games. Small teams scattered across the host city, presenting the love of God and the need for salvation through quirky pantomimes, creative dance, and music. We engaged in one-on-one conversations with people in local parks and shopping malls.
I was blessed to pray with several people as they surrendered their lives to Jesus. I saw the transformation in their faces as they did so. They encountered the God of love who forgave their sins. That love ushered them into a personal relationship with Christ. Several of those we prayed with spontaneously confessed secrets that had kept them bound in chains for years. As they confessed their sins and opened their hearts, heaven burst in, and they felt clean and forgiven.
We rarely brought up hell in our conversations with people we encountered. Yes, we knew where they were headed without Christ. But we pointed them to the love of God, the God who lifted heavy burdens of sin that weighed heavily on their hearts. We worked with local churches, making sure these new converts received follow-up visits.
I was a very young Christian, yet I easily saw the difference in our approaches and the fruits bore in each of those outreaches.
Fear repels someone from opening their hearts to the object of their fear. You would wonder about the sanity of an individual who would rush toward someone screaming angrily at them. Several of the moviegoers up north surrendered their lives to the Lordship of Jesus. However, an unhealthy fear of God was palatable after every meeting. It was hard to minister God’s grace to them in the short time we had with them and fear builds walls.
Love, forgiveness and hope broke down walls on the streets of the Commonwealth outreach. Displays of God’s goodness and mercy led individuals to experience deep repentance and heart encounters with the Saviour.
Perhaps you are thinking, “Hold on there! They can’t repent if they don’t know just how terrible they are in the eyes of God.”
I remind you of Romans 2:1-4 (NIV) “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
©2022 Katherine Walden