Silence in the Streets
Evangelism Among the Disinterested
As I walked through the busy streets of Frankfurt, I observed the crowds of people filling the wide city streets. I heard a variety of languages and saw a display of different cultures. Businessmen rushed from one meeting to the next with briefcase in hand. The sound of street musicians filled the air. Shoppers and tourists moved in every direction.
Surrounded by all that busyness, my heart hurt like never before. This was not my first time in this massive city, but this time my perspective had changed. This time I wasn’t just out to see the culture and experience the German way of life. God had brought me here for something far more important. With my bag stuffed with gospel tracts, my eyes searched the crowd for someone to talk to, someone to share with.
Grand, Empty Cathedrals
It wasn’t my first time doing evangelism like this, but it was my first attempt in a foreign culture. At home in America, when I would go out, I would get the familiar looks of confusion as I struck up a conversation with a stranger, pretending it was a completely normal thing to do. But here, after hours of effort, I only had a few conversations to show for it, a few tracts graciously accepted.
I expected the rude remarks, or the awkward, condescending looks — but I was not ready for the icy coldness of this culture — the blank faces, the apathy, the scorn for words that, in their opinion, were worth less than nothing — just another religion. Irritation and disgust was often evident on their faces, frustrated at being interrupted or inconvenienced.
Later, I walked through their cathedrals and churches. I could feel the weight of a world where many of these grand and hallowed places had lost their true value. These buildings were packed full of people, worshipers of architecture and aesthetics, not worshipers of God.
My heart grew heavy as I could see and even feel the palpable darkness and spiritual oppression. The masses of people around me were going through the motions of living without knowing what it really means to live — what all of life is truly about. I wondered what had happened to bring them to this point, and what could be done to wake them up.
Is Some Evangelism Pointless?
A few days later, I was slipping tracts into letterboxes in Paris. I prayed and thought, “God, why has this world grown cold towards you?”
It dawned on me that the answer lay deep inside my own heart, and in the hearts of all who claim to be his disciples. As I looked down at the tracts in my hand, I remembered a time when I thought that the very thing I was now doing was a useless waste of precious time and energy.
I remembered saying to myself, “They’ll all end up in the trash, so what’s the use?” That fear and cynicism kept me from distributing this life-giving news. I struggled with the act. Was evangelism hokey? Was it pointless? I’d watch as some would preach in the streets and wonder, “What good can it do if no one wants to listen?”
How Do We Measure Evangelism?
So why am I here in Paris and Frankfurt? I remembered a time when I had been sent out with my classmates to share the gospel. I was scared out of my mind, but pressed on and made some surprising discoveries.
On my second day of going out, I had one conversation. Though the man didn’t give any visible indication that I had changed his mind, I realized that the conversation had changed me. In sharing the gospel with others, my own faith grew stronger in the process. I walked away with a new passion for the truth of God’s word, and with a sense that I had taken someone one step closer to the cross. They might never have even thought about Jesus, and now they had. No matter what that man walked away with, he had been forced to consider eternity.
We fall for the trap of assessing our witnessing with a number. How many souls were won? How many lives converted? If it’s not enough, we’re tempted to quit. But what if we changed our measurement of success? What if it’s more about joyful obedience, and less about the impact that can be seen with a human eye?
What if the fruitfulness was more about what’s happening inside of us than about what’s happening because of us?
Silent No More
Unfortunately some of us have responded to silence in the streets by becoming increasingly silent ourselves. But when we stop sharing the good news, the world around us shrivels up and dies. And when Christians stop talking about Jesus with lost people, their own spiritual life is starved of the joy God intends them to find in sharing.
As I watched some in our group preach in the streets of Frankfurt, I realized that it’s not about giving a good sermon and drawing a crowd, but proclaiming the name of Jesus and making sure the world hears that name loud and clear. We aren’t sent to change hearts. We are sent to speak truth. When we are obedient to the call, God works and hearts begin to change. He brings the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Yes, that particular day sharing the gospel may not have looked like a success. But had I not gone out, those two Muslim girls in Frankfurt might never have been challenged to reconsider the faith they claimed as their own, yet didn’t seem to understand. The girls I met in the streets of London would not have had someone to ask the questions that had been burning in their hearts. “Where did I come from?” “Could there be something more?”
Speaking out about our faith causes us to cross a line in Christian living. Evangelism forces us to care more about the eternal destiny of strangers than we do about our own comforts. It causes us to proclaim along with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). It’s a declaration to the world, “I stand with Jesus, though all the world may mock me.” It breathes fresh life into our spiritual lungs, as we thrive in living out what we know is true.
Don’t fall for the lie that evangelism in an antagonistic family, or neighborhood, or society is all just a waste. Get up, and go out, and speak of the God who saved your life. You may not know the full reward until the day you stand with Christ face to face. But how incredible it will be when we see some of those who were once silent in the streets, standing there singing next to us.