WOW! How do you describe the most amazing week of your life? Well, I’ll give it a try…
Last June I attended a missions/training seminar hosted by Open Air Campaigners (OAC), a ministry that started in 1892 in Sydney Australia, and which is still preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ today!
There was training in how to share your faith, apologetics (defending your faith), witnessing to children, young people, adults, and more.
For those who don’t have time to read this whole thing, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:
- I learned so much more than I had anticipated.
- I had no idea how much I would be affected by the children’s ministry.
- I shared the gospel with a 7-year-old boy named Derek. Derek and I could not be any more different. He is a poor black kid from a bad neighborhood. I’m a rich white adult from New Hampshire (after that week, I realized how rich I am!). When I finished walking him through the gospel booklet, I gave it to him and said, “Derek, here. I want you to have this booklet. It’s my gift to you.” His face lit up like it was Christmas morning. I kid you not he took the red fireman’s helmet off his head and placed it on my head. He said, “Here, I want you to have this. It’s my gift to you.” And then he gave me a big hug!!! I was so emotional. I said, “Aw, Derek, that’s so sweet, but I don’t want to take your helmet.” Derek, only 7-years-old, said, “I want you to have it.” I told him, “I accept. I’ll treasure it and I’ll never forget you. I’ll be praying for you and I want to see you in Heaven.” I kept the helmet and I do treasure it so much!!!
- I shared the gospel with an 11-year-old boy named Antoine. At first I thought he wasn’t interested because of the way he was looking around and not making eye contact, but as I spent time going through a gospel booklet with him, I realized I was wrong. He was just shy and nervous. He totally got it. He answered the questions remarkably. I asked him what he wanted and he said he wanted to follow Christ. I gave him a kid-club card for his mom to fill out so OAC could stay in touch with him, and he went away to get it filled out. I thought he came back with it filled back but he said, “Can I ask you another question?” I said “Of course.” He said, “What will Heaven be like?” I told him the Bible says it will be a lot like here but with no sin, no sickness, no sadness, no pain. He asked a funny question. He said, “What will we see there?” So I said, “Streets of gold, angels, and the best part, we’ll see God face-to-face. Remember I said we can’t see God but he always sees us? In Heaven we’ll see Him face-to-face.” Then he smiled and said, “I’d really like that. I’m excited about that.” Then he leaned in and hugged me! He also came back in a bit with his card filled out. Yup, my heart was moved again.
- Tanya is a 15-year-old girl I met on the first day. She was sitting on a bench with a friend who was very disrespectful. But they said they wouldn’t mind if I took them through the gospel. After I did, Tanya’s friend got serious and told me her sister believes there’s a demon in her house and they received a potion from a neighbor to fight it off. Apparently they’re into Wicca or Occultism of some kind. Not uncommon. Tanya asked me if the potion will work against a demon. I told her that I can’t be 100% sure if there’s a demon or not in her complex, but this I do know 100% – there is only one person who has power over the living, the dead, the angels, and the demons. His name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He was crucified, fulfilling prophecy, and He is the only person ever to raise Himself from the grave and that means He is God and we can be certain there is life after death. Jesus’ resurrection also means that He has authority, which means we must do what He says, and He says to repent and believe the gospel as the only way to have your sins forgiven. Tanya asked good questions. I could tell she was interested. And despite being a 15-year-old girl from the projects, she looked me in the face and asked me if I was coming back the next day. I told her I couldn’t, but I got her address and OAC will follow-up with her. How my heart breaks for those kids. I remember what I was into when I was 15. I will not forget Tanya.
- Wayne is an adult who heard me preaching in downtown Boston, in the Financial district. As I was talking about Jesus crucified and risen and the only name by which we must be saved, he approached my team member Nicole and told her he had family that claims to be Christians, but he believes they are hypocrites. They live one way on Sunday in front of people, but a different way Monday through Saturday. Wayne told Nicole he wants to know “the God that man is preaching about.” And Nicole had the pleasure of taking him through a thorough gospel booklet and having Wayne react by saying that he wants to be a “real Christian.” Praise God!
That’s the end of the Reader’s Digest version. Here’s some more information about the week!
One of the hallmarks of OAC is their use of a large paint board on an easel to attract a crowd. They have many gospel messages that go along with a painting, and they paint as they preach. Often you can’t tell what they’re painting until they add little bits of paint to bring out the image on the paper, and, most importantly, have the sketch enforce the message.
I used to work in Boston for years and I remember one day walking in “Downtown Crossing,” a famous section in Boston, and seeing a man with a paint board and I was very curious. A large crowd formed. And he began preaching the gospel and painting at the same time and I was sooo impressed. And there were people there to engage the on-lookers in one-on-one evangelistic chats.
Since then I wanted to learn how to do that. About three years ago I learned that OAC has a one-week training seminar every year, but every year it conflicts with a family function, or there is some other reason I can’t make it. But not this year! By God’s grace it fell on a week that I could attend. Shelby and I prayerfully considered it, and we are so thankful our Lord made a way for me to attend! It was so much more impacting that I had imagined!
On Sunday evening I arrived safely at the home of Eric and Diane Briscoe, a missionary couple with OAC. They open their beautiful home a lot for groups! There were eight students attending the training this week, some from very far away. There were a few from New York, one man from Colorado, a mom with her 16-year-old son from Indianapolis, and the President of OAC International flew to be here from New Zealand!
On Monday we went to the OAC office for a morning full of training. GREAT training! Then in the afternoon we headed into the inner city to do kids clubs all afternoon. Apparently OAC has established a very good relationship with the neighborhood and the parents are amazed that their kids sit and listen to the gospel messages, sing the songs, play the games, memorize the Scriptures, etc.
I knew OAC did kids ministry in the inner city, but I had no idea what an effect it would have on me. I didn’t think there would be any way we would generate a crowd, but that’s not the case at all. God taught me a lesson that I don’t know as much as I think I do! I went up to an older woman sitting at a bench and said, “Hi. We’re here to put on a 45-minute free kids club. We have a puzzle, a song, a prize, a Bible story,” and before I could speak any further, she yelled in Spanish into the tenement house and a handful of kids came running out. She said “Go with this man. Go. Go.” And it was that easy. We had about 30-40 kids gathered in under 10 minutes. I was astonished!
And they listened and paid attention so well. I have a bunch of photos below. One heart-breaker was that OAC has a rule (and a smart one) that we’re not allowed to hug the kids. (Of course you can’t help it if the kids initiate and hug you – which happened a few times.) But the no-hugging is smart. There has been abuse of children by those who call themselves religious, and even if we’re not members of the religious organization that was guilty, it casts a shadow on all religious organizations. It was so hard for me because a beautiful 4-year-old girl walked up to me and wanted to sit on my lap. Oh how I wanted to hug her! But instead I patted the ground next to me and invited her to sit next to me. She did gladly. So sweet!
Tuesday was paint day. We spent the day getting messy, learning how to paint our ABC’s, and learning how to paint basic objects. Yes, I’m a Kindergarten graduate!
On Wednesday we had training in the morning. We had only one kids meeting in the afternoon because the second one was rained out. I was disappointed by the low turnout because it was cold and rainy, but I see now that God was teaching me. We had a great group. It was as if God was saying, “Hang in there Mark. I’m going to teach you not to see success in numbers.” This was the meeting where I met Antoine, described above. God is so much better to us than we deserve!
On Thursday we had more training in the morning, and then headed down to Downtown Crossing for adults in the afternoon. I handed out hundreds of tracts, performed a “rope trick” for 10 kids from Montreal who didn’t seem to have an adult with them. One girl was fascinated and was really paying attention to what I was saying. There was a 19-year-old named Xena who attends the “Church of God” where they teach that you are saved by Jesus AND celebrating the Passover and keeping the Sabbath. She said we are saved by grace plus works. She used those words. So what do you do when someone thinks they are saved by works? Show them what true works are – the 10 Commandments. I took her through 10 Commandments and she said she was not guilty of breaking any of them. I showed her 1 John 1:8 (If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us) and Ephesians 2:8-9 (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast), but it didn’t appear to have an affect. Please pray for Xena. Her photo is down below with some more info.
I open-air preached last and there weren’t too many people because it was the end of the lunch time, so I was once again disappointed by the numbers, and once again our patient God taught me a lesson on judging the outside. This is the message where Wayne heard the gospel and said he wanted to commit his life to Christ! There is more info about Wayne above, and a photo down below.
We did two kids meetings in the afternoon. I was the leader at the first one and also did the song. It started with 0 kids, and ended with 18! I wasn’t so good on the song with the hand motions. My team members were in the back trying to help me with the hand motions, but I kept doing the wrong motions at the wrong time in the song. But the kids didn’t care. The OAC staff says that enthusiasm covers mistakes, and apparently they were right, because I was doing the hand signal for “God” when I should have been doing “mountain” and “stars” when I should have been doing “rivers.” The staff and students in the back were cracking up at my inability to get the song right!
At the second kids meeting I did the object lesson. It began raining so we held a large tarp over the kids. Even a couple of the parents came and helped us hold the tarp up. The kids loved it because it was like being under a tent. But boy did it burn my arms holding the tarp up so long. There’s a photo of this below. This was the meeting where I met Derek. I’ll never forget that kid!!!
So Thursday night I chatted with Aaron about “The Cow Message.” When I first ran into OAC on the streets of Boston some 8 years ago or so, I remember someone paiting a message and using a cow as an illustration, and that stuck with me all these years. It went something like “Imagine someone who could make a machine that can turn green grass into white milk. How smart would you have to be to create a machine that turns green grass into white milk?” And the crowd yells out “Very smart.” Then you say “Have we ever created anything like this? We have cars and airplanes and computers, but have we come up with technology so advanced that it turns green grass into white milk?” Then you paint a cow and make the point that God created something that can turn green grass into white milk and it says “moo!”
The point being that we are indeed created by an Intelligent Designer and the creation itself gives proof of that. Then you transition into the gospel message, that we have offended and sinned against our Creator…
But Aaron said I remembered it wrong. He never painted a cow. It was 8 years ago, so I definitely could remember it wrong. So I asked if anyone on staff might use that message and paint a cow, but he said none of them do. And then I thought about it and realized that in order for the effect to work, you’d have to paint the cow REALLY fast and that would be difficult.
So Amos and I stayed up late Thursday to try to figure out a solution. I didn’t just want to say “Cow” or paint the letters C-O-W, but I wanted an actual cow! Then I realized – wax!
One of the effects OAC uses is wax lettering. This is when you write letters on the paper in advance in clear wax so it can’t be seen. But when you paint over it in black, the paint doesn’t stick to the wax so it makes reverse lettering where you have a black area with white letters. Could I draw a cow in wax??? So Amos and I practiced a few times. The first couple didn’t look so good, but then we got it to a point where we made a realistic cow in wax, invisible on the paper from any distance, but when I gave the message and it was time to reveal that there was something created that turns green grass into white milk, I quickly painted a bunch of black on the area where the cow was drawn in wax and viola – a cow! Moo. I was really excited about that! And Amos and I had fun coming up with the cow. I think I’ll name the cow “Amos the Cow.” So make note evangelists… should anyone teach that message and use a wax cow, you have to name him “Amos the Cow.” 🙂
On Friday we had, you guessed it, training in the morning. God is so good! Or as OAC staff-woman Susan would say, “Isn’t God funny?” We weren’t heckled by anyone all week, and on Friday morning, Aaron taught us a great lecture on street apologetics, and tips for answering hecklers, and what do you know – that’s the day that we had hecklers in droves! And they were bringing up the same tired arguments that seem so clever to them, but so easy to refute.
But you know, the point of “apologetics,” or “the defense of the faith” is not to win an argument, but to win souls. Apologetics is also used to shut the mouth.
Let me illustrate. On Friday, at Copley in Boston, an adult named Arthur was heckling Richard as he preached. (And Richard is one of the nicest, gentlest, teddy-bear of a guy you’ll meet.) He was asking what happened to Commandments #11-15 because Mel Brooks says there were 15 commandments. This was a reference to a filthy movie I saw as a kid. So I began chatting with Arthur. The first thing he said was that Christianity is the cause of more evil than anything else in the world. So I asked him if he’d like to take that back. He said no. He meant it. So I took out a photo of my kids and pointed out that my youngest is Chinese. I said, “Arthur, you seem like an intelligent guy, so I just can’t let you insult yourself by saying Christianity is the cause of more evil than anything else. This is my daughter Gabriella. At approximately 5 days old or so she was abandoned at a gas station in China because the great Atheist Government can’t or doesn’t take care of its own people. Many abandoned babies die. But Gabriella was blessed. She was taken care of for 14 months by an orphanage run by an Evangelical Bible-believing Christian organization from England because China couldn’t take care of those kids. Then she was adopted by a Christian family in America.” I told Arthur that the Hindu’s don’t care for the kids on the streets of Calcutta because they believe in Karma, and so they believe and teach that those destitute people deserve their fate because they did something bad in a past life. And they are left to suffer. Then I told Arthur, “In the whole world, the majority of orphanages, hospitals, schools, and other institutions who take care of those who can’t take care of themselves are run by some sort of Christian organization. So Arthur, do you still think Christianity is the cause of more evil than anything else in the world.”
And he said, “Actually, I take that back.”
Then Arthur said, “But you guys are just like the Muslims.”
So I said, “Arthur, once again I must respectfully disagree. If we were Muslims, we wouldn’t come out here and reason with people, but force false conversions with the sword and put black robes over the women and abuse the children.”
Arthur agreed and took that back too.
Then he said that he doesn’t understand why we have to tell people about our religious beliefs. Why can’t we keep them to ourselves? So I asked him what he’d think of a person who had the cure to AIDS but refused to share it with people and watched them die? Arthur agreed that would be beyond cruel. So I said, “In the same way, we believe the whole human race has a disease MUCH WORSE than AIDS. Everyone has sin, and if people are not cured, they will die and go to Hell. We have the only cure. His name is Jesus Christ, and He is the only way to have your disease of sin cured.”
He said he didn’t believe that. I told him, “I know you don’t. But we do, so from our point of view, we’d be cruel NOT to come out here. But we don’t force anyone to listen. People are free to stop and listen or move along.”
Arthur agreed that he sees my point. I don’t know if Arthur got saved that day, but the apologetics I used shut his mouth from the ridiculous things he was saying. Praise God for that! Perhaps Arthur will think about these things and follow the advice I left him with, and that was that he consider his mortality and pick up a Bible and read what God says.
I did have one unusual prayer request for the week. I knew I’d be preaching the gospel in the open air in downtown Boston, so I asked God a few times if He could please send someone I know from my workplace to see me preach so I could chat with them about it. I don’t get the chance very often to share the whole gospel at work because, well, I’m at work, and I don’t want to steal time from my employer. If God were going to answer this prayer, I expected it would be Thursday, since we were at Downtown Crossing, not far from my workplace. But I didn’t see anyone I knew on Thursday. Oh well. God is allowed to say “no” to prayer requests.
So Friday morning, I prayed, “Lord, if possible, I’d really like to have someone from work walk by when I’m preaching, but we’re going to Copley today, so I don’t think that will happen.” I actually said that out loud when praying with my teammates. But then I felt as if God were asking for more faith. So I continued praying, “God, You can do that if you’d like. So I’ll leave it in Your hands.”
Please understand that Copley is not at all close to where I work. Someone would have to get on a subway, take the red or orange train line to the green line, and stay on that for a few stops to get to Copley. But wouldn’t you know that as I was preaching and finishing my opening remarks and starting the gospel message, not only did someone from work walk by, but it was a friend of mine that I grew up with! He lived on the next street over! He was one of my brother’s best friends! I had swam in his pool tons of times. And he’s Jewish! He called out my name while I was preaching. I don’t know what got into me, but I was like an African-American Southern Preacher! I literally called him out by name! I said, “Rick, get over here friend! You of all people need to hear what I have to say!!! I know what you were like as a kid.” He laughed and yelled out that he’d contact me later. And sure enough he did. I got email from him that night. Full disclosure – technically he’s not from my company anymore. I didn’t know it, but he said he left his job with my company a few months back. But what are the chances of that!?!?! As Sue says, “Isn’t God funny?”
Friday afternoon we had our last kids meeting, and I got to teach the gospel message at that one. That’s where I met Christian. His photo with more explanation is below.
And here’s a flash video of the message I taught (with some technical difficulties.):
On Saturday morning we had an exam, and a graduation. What a week!
We woke up early. We stayed up late. We prayed a lot. We cried A LOT. We learned a ton! And I believe every student and even the staff all grew closer to Christ. And we laughed a lot too!!! Don’t underestimate how God uses laughter.
Everyone liked my “kids look like me photo.” I got this idea from Ray Comfort. Here’s how it works… You walk up to a stranger and say, “Excuse me, can you help me? My wife and I are having a terrible fight over whether or not our kids look like me or look like her. Can you please save our marriage my making the deciding vote? Who do you think our kids look like?” And I tell them, “You can be honest. It won’t hurt my feelings.” Then I show them this photo…
Then I say something like, “Don’t I have the most beautiful children?” I have seen people cackle at this photo, and then it is so easy to chat with them about spiritual things or hand them a gospel pamphlet. One tough-looking “I’m not going to smile” teenager in the inner city literally cracked up when I showed it to him.
You know, every missionary uses the Bible verse Luke 10:2, where Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” If you’ve been in church very long, you hear that verse a lot, and I admit it had become a bit cliché for me. But after this week, that verse has new meaning. You see, we reached a lot of kids this week, and a lot of adults. We planted a lot of gospel seeds for the Lord of the Harvest to water. But as we drove through the neighborhoods, and as I walked around in Boston, I was so aware of the millions of people in the Metro-Boston area who weren’t being reached. Yup, more crying.
Another takeaway from this week: I knew there were poor people in China – I’ve seen them. I knew there were poor people in Guatemala. My wife has seen them. I knew there were poor in Ethiopia, and India, and Haiti. But how could I live 37 years, spending half my life in an upper-middleclass neighborhood in Massachusetts, and the other half of my life in an upper-middleclass neighborhood in New Hampshire, and never realize that there are poor and neglected people right HERE! Roxbury isn’t that far away. And they’re in Manchester, NH, and Derry, NH, and probably in the downtown of my safe town too if I opened my eyes.
God used this week to open my eyes, and I cried enough to raise an ark!
As I said, how do you describe the most amazing week of your life???
Please pray for Derek and Tanya and Antoine and Wayne and Rick and Xena and Arthur and the hundreds and hundreds of others who received a gospel seed that week. God knows their names. Perhaps He will see fit to water some of those seeds and have them grow into spiritual trees with strong roots and abundant fruit!
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2).
I want to thank God for the amazing week nd setting all this up. Certainly nothing that comes to pass is outside of His plan. My thanks to my church and my friends for praying for me. My thanks to the OAC staff that put on a seminar with training far beyond what I had expected (and for putting up with all my questions.) My thanks to the Briscoe’s for letting us stay in their beautiful home, which not only helped to foster unity in the team, but helped keep the cost of the week much lower than if we had to pay for hotels. My thanks also to Shelby who took on the extra responsibility of taking care of the kids as she does so well, but shouldering my chores as well. And my thanks to my beautiful children, who I missed sooooo much. I was so obnoxious talking about them all week. I’m thankful that despite missing their daddy, they knew that their daddy was serving Christ this week. And God used this week not only to change their daddy’s life, but their’s as well, and I hope and pray many many people we don’t even know yet.
Here are some photos…
And of course no mission’s trip can be complete without a group photo. So I give you The 2010 Open Air Campaigners Boston Seminar Team:
You know, something isn’t quite right with this photo. Let’s try fixing it up just a tad…
By the way, the 2011 Seminar is already planned! Please pray about going. You don’t need any skills other than a desire to see God work through you, and I can promise you if you go with an oipen heart to Christ and a desire to seek the lost, God will do amazing things!
I can’t recommend this enough. As you can read in my “call to ministry,” God indeed used this week to change my life forever! 🙂