(This story shared with permission from our friend Colleen.)
Those of us called into the street ministry know it is often filled with loneliness. We spend hours in the public eye fielding questions of uncertainty and fending off attacks (sometimes verbal, sometimes physical) from blind sinners lost without hope. And to pile on that, we face distancing from those we should rely on in the body of our churches, and sometimes even our own families. It truly is a realization of what Christ says when He gives the Great Commission, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Because we are pleading with dead men in a dying world, unless the power of the Holy Spirit comes upon such people, nothing will happen. After all, salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and it was the Lord who opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:14). And while it is a daunting task taking such a scandalous message to the world, we know that God’s word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). Folks will either turn to Christ or reject Him with hardened hearts. There are no other possibilities when the Gospel is preached.
Eric leading off the preaching on a cool, Spring day (April 2018).
That said, from time to time the Lord will be gracious enough to drop a crumb from heaven. Something to encourage us to press on and preach just once more. Such a gift from the Lord was given just over 2 years ago while Eric and I were out preaching the Gospel. The encouragement came in the form of a homeless addict named Colleen.
It was a Friday afternoon in April in 2018 when we ventured downtown Clarksburg, WV to preach at the local bus stop. However, for whatever reason (read “God’s sovereignty”) there was no one there to preach to. We opted to head across town to preach outside the local Mission. Many of the city’s downtrodden gather there outside on the sidewalk. We prayed and after Eric preached a message, he grabbed the cross, I donned my mic and Bible and began preaching.
As I was preaching, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a desperate, lonely looking woman with a garbage bag full of her belongings on her back. I continued preaching and before I knew it, she had come and sat down and was taking notes! With the excitement of this, I lifted my voice even more and pleaded even harder to the crowd, though in my mind I was directing it at her.
When I finished within about 30 seconds a young man, shirtless with tattoos and a cross necklace draped over his torso aggressively approached us. He immediately began questioning why we were there doing this in public rather than in a church. I then asked if he was a Christian to which he even more aggressively responded that he was. But again, admonished us for telling the crowd they were sinners and calling them to repentance. I then asked, “Why a Christian would be opposed to the Gospel of Christ being preached anywhere?” His response, laced with profanities, continued to escalate with foolish gibberish. I reminded him that out of the mouth comes the abundance of the heart (Matthew 12:34). His rage continued to grow. Finally, I asked him, “What is the Gospel?” To which he childishly replied, “I know what it is. You tell me!” “Friend, I’ve been telling everyone what it is for the last 40 minutes” I replied.
Just before he could get any angrier, the young woman who was stopped in her tracts in the middle of the street that stopped to listen and take notes intervened. “I for one am glad they are here!” As I realized it was her, I was stunned to see her makeup that was melted down her face from tears streaming from conviction wrought by the Holy Spirit as a result of the Gospel message. We know that it is the power of the Gospel that saves (Romans 1:16), yet there is always a sense of awe when God allows us to see it before our very eyes.
As we ministered to her and her weeping and brokenness over her sin continued, we didn’t even notice the angry naysayer had left! When we finished and parted ways, Eric and I headed over for a quick bite together. While eating we wondered whether God had saved her and agreed that only He knows and time would tell.
Something I learned a long time ago from brother Paul Washer was that we are never to tell someone they are saved. Preachers are to tell a man how to be saved. No man is omniscient! If someone ever professes faith, rather than affirm what cannot be known to mortal man, I tell them the only truth I can. I tell them that if their conversion is genuine, they will continue for days, years – until the end of their life in repentance and faith unto death as evidence of their salvation (not the cause of). Repentance and faith are gifts from God that He grants once someone is born again (Ezekiel 36:26, 2 Timothy 2:24-26) and are evidence they have become a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Fast-forward to a year later. I am preaching at the bus stop and I hear a voice, “Hey! There you are! I remember you!!” It was a vaguely familiar voice. I turned and saw a woman who kind of looked familiar but I could not place her. But her face was glowing something special. IT WAS HER!! We hugged and she teared up as she recounted how after the day she heard the Gospel that God had saved her. She had been clean from drugs for over a year, was in a church, had a job, and even her own place! PRAISE THE LORD!
Later on, in July of 2019, I received a message on our Facebook page. The message read, “I need prayers this is Colleen I have stage 3 cervical cancer I have to have surgery soon”. Just a year prior, she was walking around headed straight for hell, yet now she could face something as grim as cancer with hope and joy in Christ no matter the outcome. I was able to join her just before surgery and pray for her. She had another surgery later on that year, and I was privileged to be able to join her for prayer before that one as well.
Just about a month ago, I was preaching at the bus stop and was reunited with Colleen again. Full of joy for what the Lord has done in her life she continues to grow in her faith. She has now been clean from addiction for over 2 years, faced stage 3 cancer, and is happily married and in church. But most importantly, as we talk she continues not perfectly, but humbly in continued repentance and faith. What a transformation the Lord has done!
I wanted to share this for several reasons. First, to demonstrate the power of the Gospel of Christ. There was no 12-step program or weeks of “building a friendship” (though one developed), or any other supplementary ideas as promoted (and sometimes forced) by American “evangelicalism” today. Just the simple preaching of the Gospel of Christ. A street corner. A Bible. The Gospel. And a crowd of sinners. That’s it.
Second, as an encouragement to many of the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who are intimidated by big church “ministries” who think that they need lots of money and resources and extravagant things to effectively do evangelism. If one would be obedient to the Lord in the faithful proclamation of the Gospel to bring folks to salvation (Romans 10:17), God does and will honor that for His glory for His good pleasure.
Thirdly, as an encouragement to those who go out day in and day out, sometimes for years without seeing any fruit. God does the saving and He will not fail to do what He as promised.
Lastly, for those of you who support our ministry. We could not do what we do without your prayerful and financial support. Thank you for holding the rope and helping us reach the Colleen’s of the world!
Soli Deo Gloria!