Congratulations on your decision to take a short-term mission trip. This will be one of the most memorable times of your life. Opportunities like this stretch us to reach out in faith and go beyond our comfort zone. Likely you have been thinking and praying about this for some time. In his miraculous way, God has brought the desire and has given you the financial means and circumstances to be able to serve him in this way. I am sure that you are approaching this with great anticipation of what he is going to teach you through this experience.
Evangelism is the ultimate goal of all ministry. Even if your trip is for the purpose of providing support for others on the field and you do not expect direct contact with people where you might share your faith, the goal is reaching others for Christ. The purpose of this article is to help you with some basics in how you might participate in this wonderful arena of evangelism.
Did you realize that some of the best witnessing opportunities you will ever encounter will occur before and after your trip? People are drawn to stories of risk and adventure. Also, as you travel, you will likely encounter other travelers who are curious about your enthusiastic group and interested in knowing your story. The key to making the most of these times is to understand how God works in these opportunities and prepare to be involved.
God’s Process of Evangelism
First, let’s consider how God’s process of evangelism works and then we will discuss our role and what we need to do to prepare. From Scripture we know that God is actively involved in the process of bringing people to himself. Also, we know that God uses the Holy Spirit to bring conviction of sin in the lives of people, and, upon hearing the gospel, enlighten them of the truth that they can gain forgiveness by exercising faith in Christ’s sacrificial atonement as payment for their sins. Having said this invites the questions: “How does the Holy Spirit perform this work?” and “Is there any way I can identify a prospect in which he may be working?” The answer to the first question is “needs.” The Holy Spirit uses needs. The spectrum of needs used by the Spirit may range from something like deep introspection about the meaning and purpose of life to, on the other extreme, something catastrophic (health, jobs, finances, marriage, etc.) In answer to the second question, those needs will stir the unbeliever to begin looking for help and, with regard to your trip, it may take the form of their showing an interest and inquiring about your plans. They see someone excited about and committed to a cause that has lasting value and they want to know about it. More than the details, they want to know how you got that sense of joy and purpose.
Given that we may encounter some God-ordained prospects before, during, and after our venture, how can we best behave so as to identify them and draw them to the Savior? Colossians 4:5-6 offers some insight. “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.” This verse is rich with ideas about how we can relate to unbelievers. We are to spend time with unbelievers and, when with them, wisely redeem the time for eternal purposes. Following the example of Christ we are to “salt” our conversation with things that will generate curiosity and desire. The result will be that we will be given clues to help us in knowing if there is interest and how we are to respond.
Examples of “Salting” Your Conversation
How about an example? Suppose you are having lunch with one of your unbelieving co-workers and the subject of your pending trip comes up. How can you “salt” the conversation? You will be asked about where you are going and what you will be doing. Consider the following two responses and see if you can determine how they have been “… with salt”:
- Response 1. “We are going to help some missionaries in northern India who are trying to reach a tribe of nomadic people who have not yet heard the good news of how God has provided a way for them to have eternal life.” You never know, if the Holy Spirit is working in the life of your friend, he may be thinking to himself, “I am an American who has not learned how God has provided a way that I can be sure of eternal life. Maybe I should go hide out in northern India and some missionary will come tell me!”
- Response 2. “We are going to Ghana and will travel from village to village showing a film about the life of Christ and the Bible message about how God loves them, wants to have a personal relationship with them and, most important, how they can be sure of having eternal life and know they will go to heaven when they die.”
Time and space does not permit further elaboration but you probably have the idea. In the two responses we have salted the conversation by indicating that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God and that you can be sure of eternal life. Neither of these responses was offensive. They did not share the gospel. They did not contain a testimony. They merely served to toss out the bait. They left your friend with the impression that you know God personally and are sure of your eternal relationship with him. If he is seeking that information, he may surprise you with “What church do you go to?” “That is interesting, when you get back, I would like to know how things went,” “What do you mean by a personal relationship with God?” or “I did not know you could be sure of eternal life.” These are the kinds of responses that indicate openness and that, perhaps, the person is seeking. On the other hand, if the person shows no response, disinterest or changes the subject, you can assume that either this person is not at the point on his time line toward becoming a believer where he is ready for more information or, possibly, he may have rejected Christianity altogether. In either case, the believer who has made this effort should feel that he has pleased God just as much as the person who has discovered the convicted heart ready to trust Christ.
Suppose you do get one of the responses that indicate an interest. How do you lead the conversation to the point of sharing the gospel? A short article like this cannot deal with every kind of response. But for simplicity, assume the person responded, “I did not know you could be sure of eternal life. How can you know that?”; the following is a way you can respond and share the wonderful good news of the gospel:
Start by saying something like: “Well, to explain how one can be sure of eternal life I like to share and explain four verses from the Bible.” (In preparation for this event it is suggested that you either memorize the following four verses of Scripture or mark them for quick reference in your Bible or a small New Testament that you can carry with you: Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and John 3:16. Then it is suggested that you learn to explain these verses in your own words. Simply recite or, in your testament, point to the verse and then go word by word and explain what it means.) The following illustrates what you might say:
- “The first verse says ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. ( In your own words start through the verse and explain what it means to you)…. ‘All have sinned’ means that everyone (all) is guilty of sin (doing things that are contrary to God’s will). ‘and fall short of’ means that they do not measure up to and do not deserve … ‘the glory of God’ means the splendor and attributes of God. In summary this verse means that we are all sinners and that because of our sin we do not deserve to be in the presence of God.”
- “The second verse says ‘For the wages of sin is death…’. What that verse is saying is that the result of our sin is going to be death, not only physical death but, also, spiritual death, spiritual separation from God. That is bad news. However, after saying that the verse turns around and offers some good news. It says, ‘For the wages of sin is death, but, the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus, our Lord’ and what that is saying is that somehow, through something done by Jesus, we can have eternal life as a free gift.”
- “The third verse explains what Jesus did. It says, ‘But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ What it says is that, because of God’s love for us, he sent Jesus to die on the cross for us as payment for our sins. It was because of this that we are able to have eternal life as a free gift.”
- “The fourth verse summarizes the first three and explains what we are to do. It says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his own begotten son, that, whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ Here again we see that, because of his love for us, God sent Jesus to die for our sins. The verse explains that all God wants of us is to believe, to have faith, to trust in Jesus’ atonement for our sins and his resurrection, and the result is that God will give us eternal life.”
Determining Readiness to Trust Christ
Assuming that you have been able to explain the gospel using a simple method as suggested above, you are now at the point of determining the prospect’s readiness to trust Christ. Probably the most profound and helpful diagnostic question for use in situations like this was penned by the Presbyterian minister James Kennedy. He came up with the question, “Does that make sense to you?” At this point in your discussion with your friend, use this question. Can you imagine how you will feel if he responds, “Yes, it does.” It means that he has understood and it gives you a good idea that, as the truth has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, he has exercised the faith to trust Christ. Evangelicals rightly like to invite the person to insure this relationship with a prayer where the seeker confesses his sin and acknowledges his acceptance of Christ as payment for his sin. It is a relational act and the Christian life is a relationship with God. You can explain this to the prospect. To be sure of his commitment, you can say something like this, “You know, when I heard this, it made sense to me, too, and I decided that was what I wanted. I wonder, would you like to receive this free gift of eternal life right now?” Assuming that the person responds, “Yes,” you can go on to explain that this is the beginning of his relationship with God and that he can begin that relationship with a simple prayer (conversation) with God in which he acknowledges that he is a sinner, that he understands that Christ came and died as an atonement for his sins, that he accepts that payment for his sins, and now has faith that his eternal life is secure. The prospect can either do this in the privacy of his own heart or verbalize it in your presence. The important thing is that the relationship has begun and this person is now your brother or sister in Christ.
As stated at the beginning of this article, space would only permit some basics. If you understand the concepts of Col. 4:5-6 and would like to build on the techniques associated with “salting” your conversation as a means of drawing out God’s prospects, it is recommended that you read How to Give Away Your Faith, by Paul Little. Also, there are seminars and classes in personal evangelism offered by a number of organizations such as Evangelism Explosion, EvanTell and Cru.
In conclusion, pray for and expect special opportunities to share with others because of your mission trip. Peter said, “Be prepared to give an account for the hope that is in you.” It is my firm belief that, if you will prepare, God’s prospects will ask you to give that account. Godspeed you on your trip.