I felt my body suddenly grow weaker, as if drained of all energy. My heart sank, weighed down by a heavy blanket of sorrow. My face remained calm, hiding the despair within. Yet the question kept rising in my mind, “What if?” And all at once I realised with horror the amount of hope I had placed in this, and how reliant I was on this hope to keep me going.
(Hi Eug are you reading this.)
So a week of Project Serve has concluded, and it certainly has been a diverse experience. I think the most salient feature of the week was street evangelism. It is novel, controversial, and scary all at the same time.
Needless to say I had my reservations and fears about it initially. I mean, it is street-e right? If you could brush it off then hats off to you. But to my surprise, and by God’s grace probably, I warmed up to it quickly enough after my first time on Tuesday. It was only the day after did the questions begin arise, the source of which was Nic.
His main point was that such contact work or street evangelism, could be doing more harm than good, considering how Singapore’s culture is really averse to such things (e.g. “Hi, do you have a credit card?”). Thus by employing such a method, while no doubt reaching a few here and there, could be portraying a very negative image of Christianity on the whole, which begs the question: is this a beneficial method? For each we save we could be driving 10 others away. The argument holds weight.
It troubled me greatly, partly because I had accepted it so readily the day before, but more because I saw the truth in the argument. But I have since thought it through and have reached my own stance. Firstly, as James said, I don’t believe many of the people whom we talk to eventually leave with a negative impression. To be honest, I always admire the street evangelists from other religions and beliefs, and any annoyance felt is most certainly because of the falsity of what they are preaching. I believe that as long as we remain sensitive to the person’s disposition, body language, and expressions, and therefore know how far to go, we can remain pleasant enough. One surprise I met is that some people are actually willing to stop and talk, and are actually rather amiable throughout the encounter. As for those who judge us from the side as they walk past us, well as Ee Han said, they don’t know we are Christians and will probably not remember us 4 minutes later.
Secondly, street evangelism is not unbiblical. Jesus, the prophets, the apostles; they all did it in one way or another. They preached everywhere! The gates, the streets, the temple courts, the Mount of Olives, at the well, in a boat. And they didn’t just preach to their friends either. Now a rebuttal could be that the culture then was different – they certainly did not have the credit card men to spoil the market. But fundamentally, the same situation could be seen in many of these biblical cases. The core of the “problem” is that people see what we are doing as something negative. But wasn’t this the case in the Bible as well? We know that Jesus said many radical, counter-cultural things, such as professing to be the source of living water during the Feast of Tabernacles. Elijah proclaimed the sovereignty of God in a Baal-worshipping society. The apostles preached the message of Christ even though the religious leaders opposed them. After all did not the Bible say that for Jesus’ sake we will be hated?
Now of course, one could say that yes that is true and all but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t avoid being a nuisance when we can. And certainly! We are called to watch ourselves lest we stumble others. But then let us look at the results of street evangelism. That is, pure go-up-to-the-person kind. It is undeniable that such a method would reach people that other methods would not. And that might be the first time such people ever hear the gospel, or it might be a trigger that comes once in a lifetime. Other methods which involve attracting attention, or curiosity, or interest, might fall short of reaching some of these people. So we can agree that there is value in this form of evangelism. Throwing away this means that throwing these souls away. And that sounds irresponsible of us who have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. Therefore since we have now readjusted our estimation of the negative effects, looked at biblical antecedents, and appreciated the irreplaceable value of street evangelism, I think it is safe to say that such a method is definitely justified in having a space in our efforts to reach the world for Christ. That said, I fully support other more dynamic and presentable forms of evangelism, such as placards, or magic tricks, and events.
I cannot write and I cannot even read. What a cursed state to be in.
Yawns wider than the long miles
Between me and you.
Will you allow me to write this happy ending?
“Yet behold, it returns. One cannot extinguish that persistent smell. It steals in through some crack in the structure–one’s identity. I am not part of the street–no, I observe the street. One splits off, therefore. For instance, up that back street a girl stands waiting; for whom? A romantic story. On the wall of that shop is fixed a small crane, and for what reason, I ask, was that crane fixed there? and invent a purple lady swelling, circumambient, hauled from a barouche landau by a perspiring husband sometime in the sixties. A grotesque story. That is, I am a natural coiner of words, a blower of bubbles through one thing and another. And, striking off these observations spontaneously, I elaborate myself; differentiate myself and, listening to the voice that says as I stroll past, “Look! Take note of that!” I conceive myself called upon to provide, some winter’s night, a meaning for all my observations–a line that runs from one to another, a summing up that completes. But soliloquies in back streets soon pall. I need an audience. That is my downfall. That always ruffles the edge of the final statement and prevents it from forming. I cannot seat myself in some sordid eating-house and order the same glass day after day and imbue myself entirely in one fluid–this life. I make my phrase and run off with it to some furnished room where it will be lit by dozens of candles. I need eyes on me to draw out these frills and furbelows. To be myself (I note) I need the illumination of other people’s eyes, and therefore cannot be entirely sure what is my self. The authentics, like Louis, like Rhoda, exist most completely in solitude. They resent illumination, reduplication. They toss their pictures once painted face downward on the field. On Louis’ words the ice is packed thick. His words issue pressed, condensed, enduring.”
– Virginia Woolf, The Waves