In the previous post, I shared some testimonies about what God did during my senior year of high school in Alliance, Ohio, including a move of His Spirit during a 3-day marching band trip to Indianapolis. In this post, I’d like to share what God did (unbeknownst to me for a while) on one occasion when a couple of friends joined me in sharing the gospel at a shopping mall in Canton, Ohio. It’s my hope that the reader will be encouraged that God can do the unexpected, and that God often perceives situations at a much higher level than we do.
During my last two years of high school, I did something (multiple times) that I don’t really do anymore. Out of my zeal for the Lord and His gospel, I would grab a friend or two and go to one of the local shopping malls to evangelize people that we would randomly approach. Admittedly, we often stumbled over our introductions, though we usually got straight to the point – we were there to talk to people about Jesus. Sometimes we were given the cold shoulder, sometimes we were cursed at, and sometimes we got people to repeat “the sinner’s prayer” after us (another method I don’t use anymore). We had New Testaments and literature for new disciples to give to people who prayed with us, but in almost every case we never saw any of them again. This is the main reason I now take a more (long-term) relational approach to sharing and living out my faith.
The greatest known testimony resulting from this mall evangelism activity, however, came out of an evening in which we didn’t pray with anyone. In fact, when that evening was over I was so shaken and so discouraged I was ready to never do this again.
One Frustrating Night
It was my senior year of high school, and two of my friends, Nick and Nate, had joined me at the Belden Village Mall in Canton, Ohio. After an already frustrating time of engaging people in conversation, we approached three guys who were just sitting around. We introduced ourselves to Steve, Juan, and a third guy whose name I don’t remember. From the very beginning Steve gave us an especially hard time. He mocked us, cursed at us at times, made explicitly sexual remarks about us to females passing by, etc. There were moments, though, when he calmed down and even briefly dialogued (though not agreeably) with us. If it weren’t for those moments, I don’t think we could have stuck around, because overall he was very abusive.
Juan, on the other hand, seemed to have a softer heart. He listened with wide eyes as we shared about Jesus. A tear even trickled down his cheek at one point as he read a passage in John’s gospel with us. Steve felt threatened by that, apparently, and ordered Juan to back down. (We found out later that Steve was a gang leader, and Juan was in his gang.)
Our time with these three guys ended with Steve flying into an obscene rage. The mall was about to close anyway, so we soon left, feeling defeated. As we walked out to the parking lot, I remember saying to myself that if there was anyone so hard-hearted that the Lord couldn’t change them, it was Steve. Juan, though, I believed, was close to giving his life to Christ. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
A Month Later
A month later, Nate came up to me at school on a Thursday morning. “Adam,” he said, “you won’t believe who walked into my youth group last night!” He said it was one of the three guys we talked to at the mall a month before, and so I guessed that it was Juan. “No,” Nate said, “it was Steve!” He went on to relay the story that Steve told him. For about two weeks after our encounter at the mall, Steve could hardly eat or sleep because he was so troubled. The Holy Spirit was convicting His heart. Finally he couldn’t take it anymore, and he fell to his knees and surrendered His life to Christ.
Steve became a regular at Nate’s youth group, and eventually a leader. Down the road he led the youth on a short-term mission trip to India. Meanwhile, he boldly shared the gospel with the tough crowd he used to hang with. Gang members, prostitutes, and others became followers of Christ.
As for Juan? I never did hear that he became a believer. Early on at least, he issued death threats against Steve for leaving the gang.
Concluding Thoughts and Encouragement
God showed me through this situation that He’s a far greater Judge than I am as to whose heart is soft, whose heart is hard, who is close to becoming a follower of His Son, Jesus, and who is not so close. We can proclaim the gospel, but God is the One who changes hearts. That work is in His hands.
It’s a great privilege that Nick, Nate, and I found out about Steve’s transformation. If he hadn’t walked into Nate’s youth group, we probably would have never seen or heard from him again. We would have assumed he was lost and walking in darkness. We may have only found out on the other side of the grave about what God did in his life, and how his transformation impacted others.
If you’ve shared your faith with people around you, but feel disheartened because the results aren’t what you’ve hoped for, take heart that God could be doing far more than you know in their hearts. If you believe that someone you know is hardened and “beyond reach,” take heart from this story that their apparent hardness may be masking a whole lot of fear, and that it’s entirely possible for their resistance to give way to brokenness and then redemption.