A few weeks ago on a Friday night, I joined some friends from the ChristLife Young Adult community (Steph, Andy, Mo, Mike, Vinny, and Zack) for my first experience of street evangelization down in Baltimore’s Fells Point area. The mission consisted of praying with people, and blessing their lives, with a minimum of three “prayer sessions” before returning home. I partnered with Zack when we split into groups. Zack and I finished with about five prayerful meetings and three additional meaningful conversations. The evening afforded many stories, insights, and blessings, as diverse as the people we encountered, so this reflection will partially highlight the experience.
“The Lord is my strength” (Psalm 118:14)
When you do something the first time, you confront uncertainty, which can be fertile soil for doubt or fear. However, I recognized this mission of sharing Christ’s Love with others quelled any of my potential emotional qualms. As St. John wrote in his epistle, “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), I certainly sensed the Holy Spirit fortifying my courage and amplifying my zeal. Furthermore, that evening had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the perfect Love of Christ as the means and the end to our actions. As we began reaching out to strangers, I quickly discovered my reliance on Christ’s Love which supplanted any judgmental attitude I might bear on my own. Additionally, God’s abundant grace fueled my motivation to meet people since the His radical Love is best gift anyone could give. Saint Peter recognized this fearless attitude in 1 Peter 3:13-14 : “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son…go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good…” (Verses taken from Matt 22:1-14)
The verses from the parable above capture the scene of our outreach and the state of my heart’s magnanimity of love. Maybe the graces from Eucharistic holy hour prior to our departure filled my soul, or maybe the spirit of our mission transformed my temperament. Regardless, my heart was ready to seek anyone and everyone open to the invitation just as the king commanded his servant for the banquet in the parable.
Strength In Numbers
“Two are better than one: They get a good wage for their toil. If the one falls, the other will help the fallen one. But woe to the solitary person! If that one should fall, there is no other to help.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:20)
Throughout the evening, I learned the benefit of walking the streets together with Zack. While it is possible to evangelize alone like Paul of Tarsus preaching on a corner, having a Christian companion present was invaluable. Together, we could collaborate in the Spirit combining our individual gifts, talents, and testimony to connect with more people. Further, if I were walking around by myself, it might tempt people to focus on me, whereas two people sharing Christ deflects the attention off our individuality. The partnership additionally safeguarded my ego from claiming prideful credit for any fruits of the Spirit in our meetings with people. Last and most importantly, pairing up for Christ brought His tangible presence among us as He promised: “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:20). With Christ in our midst, the burden was off our shoulders and in His hands. For all these reasons, I can understand why Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs.
“…The last will be first…” (Matthew 20:16)
When Zack and I returned to our group’s rendezvous spot in Fells Point, we noticed our friends busy in a prayer huddle with a couple of guys. While we aimlessly waited for them to finish nearby, we noticed a distressed looking lady, who was sitting on the bench with a suitcase of belongings next to her. Impelled by Christ’s compassion, we walked up to her and I modestly inquired, “Ma’am, are you alright?” Her eyes darted toward me as she quickly snapped back, “Excuse me?!!” with a defensive glaring look at me, and following a short pause continued, “…who are you?? The po-lice?” My Marian blue sweatshirt hoodie was probably the reason she made that sarcastic comment. The peace of Christ prevented any knee-jerk reaction on my part, and I calmly responded, “No ma’am, while my friend and I were waiting for our friends over there, I happened to notice you looked a little upset. We have been out here tonight looking to share the love of God with others and pray with them as needed, and so we were wondering if we could help or pray for you.” Following my explanation, the lady started describing her situation. Her mother had been admitted to an institution, and she had been frustrated with fighting the red tape and dealing with lawyers in order to have her mother released. As she opened up, her initial anger slowly dissipated into revealing her suffering from the whole situation. By the time she exposed her painful trial, we offered to pray with her. I had the blessing to lead the prayer for her and the whole situation. For the last portion of my prayer, the Spirit led me to speak into her heart the Love of the Father as a daughter of God, and affirm and strengthen her filial love. During this time, Zack noticed a pivotal change in her demeanor as her countenance lifted into more smiles, nodding, and responding to my words with affirming verbal phrases. Following the prayer, I could tell her demeanor was charged with a fresh spiritual luminosity as she spoke with a jovial tone and bright smiles in our concluding conversation. Out of all the people we met that evening, I believe God bore the most visible fruit in her life echoing the sentiment that the last shall be first. If Zack and I did not need to wait for our friends, we would have never met this lady, which proves how God likes to work beyond our expectations.
Sanctification By Street Evanglization
That evening, I received a healing of a dual spiritual ailment—a small heart and my cafeteria Catholicism. Throughout my walk of faith, I have often noticed the interdependence of these two elements. Since the time I committed to pursuing and growing in Christ approximately nine years ago, I have learned the power of this simple and obvious principle: if Christ commands something, it’s probably good for you, and especially your heart. Having undergone many stages in my faith life, I recognize everyone faces Christian challenges differently. For example, serving the poor in soup kitchens may intimidate some while others find it joyful (Matt 25:35). A similar spectrum could describe one’s openness to the exercise or experience of charismatic gifts (1 Cor 12:7-11). My attitude has always been if Christ wills and wants it, then it’s my job pursue and live whether it’s easy or hard, even if I take baby steps.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19)
Sometimes you might hear the expression “cafeteria catholics” in reference to those who pick and choose what they believe. Although I believe all the teachings, my heart daily aspires for Christ’s helping grace to convert my cafeteria practice into the fully practicing abundant life of a disciple that He promised us (John 10:10). The Great Commission by Christ enjoins Christians to preach the Gospel to all nations, yet I have hardly lived out that command associated with my baptismal covenant. Through stepping out in faith to this opportunity, I knew I would be picking up the slack in my relationship with God. Although the mission initially intimidated me, I discovered that He already primed me with baptismal graces for the task, and I simply needed to do my part. To better illustrate my leap of faith in this experience, it was as if I agreed to trim the grass of a large field for a landowner even though I knew I only had access to a pair of scissors. However, trusting in wisdom of the landowner, I stepped out to the field in faith and discovered a riding lawn mower that was there all along to help me do the job effortlessly. The expression “God does not call the equipped, but equips the called” rang true for me.
There is a saying that when you share material gifts, they divide, but if you share spiritual gifts, they multiply. Even though the focus was on others, I feel like I walked away with more from that evening than any one person we met. Living out my calling in this opportunity inflamed and expanded my love, experience, and relationship with God. Indeed, Christ’s statement on generosity encapsulates my evangelization experience:
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)