Why force your beliefs on others? Aren’t people happy the way they are? What makes you think you’re right and everybody else is wrong? Don’t we all believe in a “higher power”? What is evangelism, anyway? Isn’t it akin to proselytizing?
If you have walked outside the doors of the church with your ears open, you’ve heard the criticisms.
Instead of evangelizing, some people ask, why don’t you just “live the life” and let people make up their own minds? Lots of people buy into the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi who said something like “preach the Gospel and, when necessary, use words”. The assumption is that our actions speak so much louder than our words that words aren’t usually necessary.
It’s an important issue for the supporters of BEM.
BEM is the Bethesda Evangelical Mission. Evangelical is our middle name. But the work of evangelism gets mixed reviews by those who are not Evangelical Christians themselves.
Most recently, BEM has become known for its earthquake relief. While we work mostly in the southern city of Les Cayes where little damage was done, there are many wounded and needy people. They have come from the Port-au-Prince area, fleeing for their lives. They have come without a place to live, with no money for food and need clean water to drink. They are wounded, sick and in pain. They have many needs. So, money collected for BEM has gone to buy rice and beans and clean water. BEM has purchased medicines to be used at the local hospital. We have taken tents to the soccer field where a ‘tent city’ has been set up for refugees. We have taken seriously the call of Jesus to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc.
In the process of caring for the needy, we have found people open to the gospel. Recently, while giving medical attention to hurting people, two of those needy souls, prayed and asked Jesus Christ to come into their lives.
But why do we do that?
Pastor Lubin and I have worked among the Haitian sugarcane cutters in the Dominican Republic as well as in Haiti. While part of our team, made up of nurses, doctors, and medical support staff, see patients with physical needs, we go into the village and share the gospel. Over the past 8 or 10 years, more than 2,000 people have prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives. They clap their hands, and rejoice in their newly-found faith. They shake our hands, give us hugs and accept our New Testament portions of the Bible and thank us for coming. We have seen amazing things take place such as the conversion of voodoo priests and remarkable instantaneous healings.
Yet we have been asked by others as to why we evangelize?
- Isn’t it something like selling encyclopedias to people who can barely read;
- Isn’t it like pushing pasta onto those who prefer rice;
- Isn’t evangelism like pushing a government-run health care program onto those who prefer private insurance?
- Or isn’t evangelizing Haitians like pushing a religious belief onto those who truly don’t get it, but who want to please the nice people who have come to help?
- Why do we do that?
Let me try to answer those nagging questions. There are spiritual answers, biblical answers, and practical answers. Let me start with the practical answers. If you are not a believer, the practical answers will make the most sense.
I. Practical Motivation to evangelize
Practically speaking, what are the options? We could leave them where they are spiritually, or we can help them understand there is something better. If you understand voodoo (the most commonly held religious belief in Haiti) and if you understand what Christianity has to offer, you cannot help but understand that Christianity is far better.
Voodoo is a belief system based on superstition, fear, darkness, and hatred. I know that Voodoo has been romanticized in our culture as a mysterious and curious belief held by innocent people who simply haven’t been educated and enlightened by the scientific age. But it is more!
When I first went to Haiti, nearly 20 years ago, I spent some time in the home of Dr. Stephen James, a medical missionary. He told us a story of when he first came to Haiti and asked a Haitian national what the primary cause of death was in Haiti. He expected answers like heart disease, or malnutrition, or cancer. Instead, the answer he got was “murder”. The informer meant spiritual murder through voodoo. In the Haitian mindset, no one dies of natural causes. A person dies because a voodoo curse has been put upon him. One can only guess who did it, but that “murder” causes feelings of intense anger which then turns into hatred toward the imagined perpetrator. The superstitions surrounding death via voodoo cause intense suspicion and hatred between people. It is a dark and frightening way to live.
The Christian message is that there is a greater power than Voodoo. Our message is that God loves you so much that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus to die for you. He defeated the devil through the power of His love on a cross. Voodoo practice is powerless before an Almighty God. Jesus can free you from the darkness and superstition of Voodoo. When I think about the desperate poverty of many Haitians, and when I think of their not knowing the redeeming love of Christ, it brings me to tears. It’s terrible to live in such misery and on top of it all, not know of the great love of God in Christ. Even though we help, we cannot change their physical situation, but if I can help people spiritually, I will do so without apology. Practically speaking, one can scarcely deny that knowing the love of God is far better than living in superstition, darkness and fear.
II. Spiritual Motivation to Evangelize
Now let me address the spiritual motivation to do evangelism. Knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you are given a new start (which is what being ‘born again’ means), is the most amazing thing in the world. It is freeing, liberating, and energizing. Without apology, I want that for everyone.
When we evangelize, we are offering people a way out. We do not use force nor manipulation. We simply and joyously tell people what God has done for them in Jesus Christ and that they can be spiritually changed by the Lord as they put their faith and trust in Him. And oh, what change we have seen!
A voodoo priest who repented of his sins and embraced Jesus Christ as His Lord and savior prayed, “Thank you Lord for delivering me from my misery.” Another reported at an evangelistic service that we held the day after he gave his heart to the Lord, “For the first time in a very, very long time, I had a good night’s sleep”. Others gave their liquor bottle and the cigarettes to Pastor Lubin after he led them to Jesus. They said, “Here Pastor, I won’t be needing these anymore.”
One day, as we were leaving a village after a long day of fruitful evangelism in which dozens of young men and several women prayed to accept Christ as their personal savior, one of the patriarchs of the village came to us, shook our hands and embraced us saying, “Thank you for changing our village”. When we do evangelism, people’s lives are changed forever. They have new joy and purpose for living. We change lives. We change villages.
Pastor John Beaucejour tells stories of how his area of Les Cayes, Haiti was filled with gambling, cock-fighting, prostitution, and witchcraft. Now, more than 20 years later, those things have disappeared. The spiritual power of the Gospel has changed Les Cayes.
III. Biblical Motivation to Evangelize
Finally, let me talk about our biblical motivation for doing evangelism. Those of us who take the Bible seriously simply have no choice but to tell the message of God’s redeeming love. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, teaching them to observe everything I have taught you.” Throughout the New Testament we are told to share the Good News.
IV. One more thing
Oh yes, there is one more motivation for evangelizing. It’s an eternal one! You see, when people die in Jesus, they go to heaven! Those who don’t shouldn’t bet on it! Sorry! That’s the witness of Scripture and of the Church for over 2000 years.
For those who trust in Christ and have chosen to live for Him, all of the pain and sorrow of this earth will simply melt away. The joys of eternal life with Christ are so great, that compared to heaven, the agony of this life will seem like a drop in the bucket, or like a blip on your computer screen. Earth’s temporary sorrows won’t even be worth mentioning!
For all who may not understand why we do evangelism, let me simply invite you to give your own heart to Jesus, ask Him to forgive you of your sins and let Him change you into the person God wants you to be. Then you’ll understand!
Oh my - will you ever!
Pastor Bill Huegel