We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Public Apologetics-Evangelism Ministry

In this post I am going to tell you about a ministry my wife and I have.

Our ministry is in the pedestrian mall (streets closed off to make a park lined with stores, restaurants, bars) in Iowa City. From spring to late fall, as weather permits, we are there Friday evenings with a book table giving away Christian books. A sign on our table says, “Free Christian Books.” Our books are many explaining and defending the Christian faith, a sampling being Case for Christ, Case for Faith, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist, Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, Christian Faith 101, Bibles, More Than A Carpenter, and numerous booklets from Answers in Genesis.
Being one of the most liberal university towns in America, you can imagine the people who cruise the “ped mall” - students of every variety from all over the world (often in very immodest attire), liberal professors, atheists, skeptics, and even families of every size. The seedier side of society also cruises there - homosexuals, homeless, street-walkers, drunks, and pan-handlers. Many come over with genuine interest and engage us in much conversation, while others come over to harass us. We have a lot of Mormon missionaries, because of the Mormon history of the area, and we‘ve engaged them often about their false belief system (they don‘t know what to do with me as I come equipped with my own “Triple Combination” and other material). There are other tables or blankets laid out selling new age books, giving tarot readings, selling socialist papers, and activists for every liberal cause. The Mormons tried copying us for a while with their own table. Part of the draw to the ped mall are the Friday evening free concerts which range from rock to folk to country. Families are there also for the local theatre with stage productions.

We have done this ministry since 2003. When people ask about churches we send them to local churches we know are solid doctrinally (not many!). We don’t know if many people have come to know the Lord because of our table, but we did have one young man who returned months later to tell us that he came to the Lord after reading I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and invited us to his baptism.

One of the more interesting aspects is that the unbelieving regulars of the ped mall come to see us as a fixture they miss when we aren’t there. We have had unbelievers even come to our defense when some of the ruder, more threatening people come over. Being the presence representing light in such a spiritually dark place has given us many opportunities to help people with material needs as well.

Another type of people who come to our table are Christians. Many come over just to give us encouragement, but we also get many who are looking for ways to learn more about their faith, or for information to help lead friends to Christ. Many times we have had young people come over for counsel. In several situations we have suggested other books which would be helpful, and have sent them in the mail later.

Some evenings we will have so many “customers” that we can’t keep up with them, while other times we may sit all night with only one or two people stopping. We have been blessed this past year with a couple who also think this is a viable ministry and, although they live an hour away (compared to our 20 minutes), they come as often as possible.

I can definitely say that it is a great ministry in which to practice apologetics. We have also been thankful that we have attended conferences for Biblical Counselors, which has provided us much insight and ideas for working with these people.

Perhaps you can take encouragement from hearing of our ministry and try it out yourself at a local college town - or any other open-to-the-public venue.

2 comments:

4simpsons said...

What a phenomenal ministry! Blessings to you both for your work for the kingdom and your witness to the rest of us.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

This ministry wasn't our idea. A retired pastor friend, who used to be the pastor of our church before we even moved to Iowa, is supported in his prison ministry by our church. He lives two miles from us. In the late fall of 2002 he came to church and asked for volunteers for his book table which he set up in the Ped mall in good weather and in the Student Union in inclimate weather and winter. We figured since we lived in the area we could give it a try and began in Jan 2003 when my schedule at work allowed it. That was the last year for the Student Union - they decided we were too controversial (you know, being Christian).

At first we worked with Ed at his table, since his reason for asking for volunteers was that he got too many "customers." There were weeks when he couldn't be there and he would ask us to stop by and get the table and books. After a couple of those times we thought the Logistics was were difficult so we bought our own table and books and then we had two tables when we were all there. He'd set up on the E/W walk and we'd set up on the N/S walk about 20-30 feet south of him. (both at the north entrance to the mall) We caught a lot more traffic that way. One time he had a long discussion with a young man (about an hour) and ended up praying with him as he accepted the Lord.

In 2008 Ed decided he wanted to split us up, which I said defeated the purpose of the extra bodies, but he felt the need to be at another entrance to the mall (the mall is two blocks N-S and joins as a T to a 2-block E/W portion). He now usually sits at the West end, but sometimes at the East end (where the public library is).

Since his move we keep in contact by cell phone if one of us runs out of books; me being the one with a partner, I do the running. Ed is 77 and not in the best health so this past summer he hasn't been down as much. We keep asking for volunteer at church and have had people come down for one visit, but the couple who started with us 18 months ago who come down semi-regularly really are committed to the ministry.

We have added many titles over the years. People always think it's some sort of a gimmick when you give them for free and want to know how we pay for them. Well, Ed pays for them out of his support from church and we pay for them out of the money the Lord has provided by my job. Sometimes people want to pay, but Ed always says it will mess up our "books"! Ed used to have deals to get Strobel's books for a dollar each through Campus Crusade, but he lost that connection. Most connections are now through me as I have made deals with publishers to get books at 40% & 50% discounts.

It is really an exciting and challenging ministry. You never know what the night will bring!