“He comes.” Many of us went to Columbia Mall and Arundel Mills to share the presence of Jesus Christ with people during Advent. Advent comes from the Latin meaning “arrival” or “coming”. It is the Latin translation of the Greek “parousia” meaning “presence”, and as such, it was very appropriate to bring Christ’s presence into the world during Advent.
Below are some stories shared by people who went, bringing Christ to His beloved people.
On December 14, 2013, just days before Christmas, rather than rest contented with taking their free Saturday at Arundel Mills Mall indulging in the decadence of unrestrained commercial and material lust and satiating their hunger for holiday opulence, like so many others in our culture are wont to do (which in many conservative Christian circles is tantamount to spiritual adultery against God Almighty), the Christlife Young Adult Group spent 3 hours of their time heeding Jesus’ call in Matthew 28 to “teach all nations” about himself. Splitting up two by two in quiet homage to the precedent Jesus set when he sent his disciples out to preach to divers towns in Israel, the group of 6 split into three groups, the wind of the Holy Spirit of inspiration at their backs, to spread the Gospel of Jesus’ Love to as many shoppers as God happened to inspire to intersect their paths. Whether conservative Jewish hookah salesman, a fortune teller, elderly couples shopping for their grandkids, random twenty something males, or young mothers shopping with the precious company of their young, the CLYA teams engaged them amicably and asked if they would like prayer and encouragement during their shopping venture. Contrary to popular perception about Christian evangelism, the intent of the group initiative was to uplift patrons rather than to judge or condemn; In fact many encounters were positive and appreciated, though inevitably there were a fair share of rejections to these offerings of Yuletide love. Mostly this experience was enriching, bringing all the CYLA members into a deeper and most profound relationship with all the missionaries and martyrs that preceded them in the Church’s decorated annals of said men and women, many of whom willingly and joyfully risked their lives for the Name and Sake of Jesus’s Glory, in their lives and forever more, however this experience also brought its lot of stress and anxiety as many of the rejections tended to be terse and dismissive, and heaped more angst on CLYA people who were already somewhat tense and nervous about the task at hand. The spectrum of these reactions ranged from “thank you so much for all you are doing” to “I don’t speak English,” from a man who previously spoke lucid English when he was initially approached. All in all street evangelism, whether at malls, bars, or the city streets tends to be a bonding mechanism that helps foster unity, and our outing was no exception to this unspoken precept – All of us felt closer to one another as we took up our spiritual weapons of courage and faith and dared to see if we could tear down cultural strongholds that prevented others from seeing and becoming acquainted with the Lord Jesus. Our goal was not to condemn shopping or the shoppers, but to remind shoppers of the real reason for Christmas – the Love of Christ on the Cross that paves the way for Eternal Life for all men and women – the knowledge of which is subtlety and often times overtly drowned out by America’s excessive and often blaring and sensual commercialism that heralds “Xmas” in lieu of Christmas.
A couple Saturday’s ago, I had the incredible opportunity to join friends from the Christlife Community in going to Columbia Mall and offering people prayer for whatever needs or intentions they may have from 1-4pm. I was really nervous and completely out of my comfort zone. Many times I kept thinking of reasons and excuses to wrap up early. I had only done this once before. Maybe I should ease into it? Maybe this was not the kind of work God would call me to do because He knows I am an anxious person. However, I was encouraged by the calm determination of my brothers and sisters and of course through much help and grace from our Lord and Mary, our Mother, from whom I was constantly asking for help if I could not be excused. There were a few people who did not want to receive prayer, most politely declining. However, there were many more who were actually open to receiving prayer than I expected. The most memorable people who accepted prayer to me was an elderly woman and a German female pastor who currently ran a small parish seated diagonally across from each other at a table outside of some shops. Neither woman had known the other previously, but offering to pray for both of them led to conversation amongst all of us. The elderly woman had prayed for her daughter who really did not belong to any particular faith. She hoped she would go to church, especially for Christmas. The German pastor was able to inform her about an Advent ceremony going on at her little parish . Here two strangers who just met each other may have been laying the beginning foundation for what could be a journey home for the elderly woman’s daughter. It was a blessing for us to also have the pastor pray for us and for our mission at the mall that day. It was a great feeling to have someone return prayer for us. With each person who accepted prayer more and more I realized in a more concrete sense and not just ideologically why what we were doing was so important. We were reaching out to real people with real problems from all different facets of life, and yet with the same ultimate call as us–to be saints. It is true that some people may have thought us to be radicals, not quite right in the head, or stereotypical bold youths impassioned by a cause or idea, but those fears on how our actions would be perceived didn’t matter as much as I saw God making use of even these little actions, these simple prayers for strangers. There is a lot left unknown about the impact those somewhat brief encounters may have had on the individuals who were part of them, but the encouragement of knowing just the opportunity to turn to the Lord even briefly for a prayer was offered to someone, whether or not they pray already, was worth all the stress and anxiety. This mission and opportunity to reach out and pray with others was also a huge blessing to me too. It showed me more clearly where my faith and trust in God’s providence was lacking. At the same time God may be using us to help draw other hearts closer to Him, He was also drawing our own. I am sure I will be nervous again next time the opportunity comes up for mall evangelization, but I am praying already for the courage to go out and do it again. :)
A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity of stepping out of my comfort zone by going mall evangelizing with many people from ChristLife. While walking around Columbia Mall, Mo and I had the privilege of praying over and for several people. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged to see the receptiveness of most people even if they didn’t want to pray with us. My favorite experience was with a girl probably around 16 who was shopping with her parents and her sister. When we asked if anyone wanted prayer for anything, her whole family politely declined except her. She smiled and said, “Sure! I love prayer!” She then asked for prayers for clarity. We asked if we could pray with her, but she told us she trusted that we would pray on our own time. About a half an hour after meeting her, Mo and I were on the other side of the mall praying for someone’s intention when the girl came up behind us and put her arms around both of us at the same time. With a huge grin on her face, she thanked us for what we were doing. Her genuine joy and gratitude for our prayers was incredible and contagious. While I had already been glad I came, it just made the whole experience even better. The Holy Spirit was definitely working in my heart and the hearts of the people we met. God is so good!
This was only the second ever time that I have done public evangelization. The only other time was doing street evangelization in downtown Pittsburgh on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. When I was invited to do mall evangelization as soon as I got back home from school, I knew that God wanted me to take that bold leap of faith and trust Him. It was happening both on Saturday and Sunday. I could not go Saturday, and heard that there was a great turn out and the Lord was doing great things both at the Arundel Mills and Columbia malls. I was hoping they were still going to have mall evangelization Sunday because I really felt that Jesus was calling me to this beautiful mission. Sure enough, I receive a text from Zack saying that only three guys were going, and that they needed a fourth to make two pairs of EP’s (Evangelization Partners). I definitely knew at this point the Lord really wanted me to go. I knew this would be an excellent opportunity to grow in the virtue of humility and at the same time grow in my spiritual life. Zack and Jonathan, and Mike and I broke out in twos after we prayed, and started our patrol of multiple laps through the Arundel Mills mall. Mike and I talked to about 15 different groups of people, and were successful with about 6. We approached people and asked if they wanted/had any prayer intentions since it was the Christmas season. It was very difficult seeing numerous amounts of people reject prayer because “they had been to church already,” or because “they didn’t need prayers for anything.” However, the Lord really blessed my first mall evangelization experience when Mike and I approached an older man with a cane standing outside a shoe store in the mall. His name was Lance Johnson, and his openness to the Holy Spirit was absolutely beautiful. He vented to us about his life story. After hearing the various hardships he is going through enabled me to put things in perspective, realizing that I have nothing to complain about. He also wanted us to pray for his son, Joshua, and his daughter, Faith. To close, I am going to leave you with the final thing that Lance said to us before we left, “I walked around the entire mall, and was hoping that someone would come up and talk to me.”
Also pray for Lance’s wife, that she may have a heart of love and forgiveness. Christ is present in each one of us and uses us, when we allow Him, in varied ways. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. ” (1 Cor 12:4-7) This example here will be an odd one that I look at and laugh at when I’m tempted to think that God can’t use me or some other person. So Toni and I run across this guy and his friends. They don’t make a very good impression, being rather coarse and vulgar, but we ask them if they want prayer anyway and get the response “That’s ——–“. His friend giggles. Not the most heartening situation. By the grace of God (I honestly don’t know how) Toni manages to keep this guy talking for a good 5-10 min until we find out he and his friends are Jews from Israel. The li’l linguist in me perks up, and I start to reach into my backpack. The guy says something to the effect of “Don’t even bother. I don’t want it.” Then I proudly show him (with no intention of giving it to him) my Hebrew Old Testament. His entire demeanor changes, and he starts to ask questions like “Do you need help with any of the words?” and he starts acting really kind. At that point his friend reminds him (and informs me) that their custom is to consider it bad to carry the Scriptures on the Sabbath, and I put it away. When we left, the same guy who started by saying “That’s ——–” ended by saying “You guys are doing a good thing.” and his friend gave us a hug. Weird. Definitely God. That’s pretty close to the only time I ever left home with my Hebrew Bible, too. Christ will definitely come and make Himself present through you if you let Him.
“Go, therefore,and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)