A Shopping Mall Evangelism Testimony


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.

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Testimonies from My High School Days


Although these testimonies are nearly 17 years old, this is the first time I’m putting them into writing and making them public. These events took place during my senior year of high school in Alliance, Ohio (near Canton), and especially during a three-day period in November 1996. May God receive all the glory and the honor from these stories.

Background

It was at the very end of my 8th grade year that God broke into my self-serving and miserable life, showed me how lost I was without Him, and moved upon my heart to surrender to Him. Changes came quickly. As much as I enjoyed playing baseball or kickball outside with my brothers, I became driven even more by a hunger to study the Scriptures and spend time in prayer.

During my middle school years and early in high school, I was basically terrified to speak in front of an audience. That also changed quickly about the time that my friend, Dave, who led the after-school Bible Club, suddenly decided halfway through my 10th grade year that he could no longer do it. No one else seemed prepared to lead the group, and I was somehow selected. A year before, my close friend’s older brother (a senior) had told me matter-of-factly that this would happen to me. His words literally sent shivers (of fear) down my spine. However, God poured out much grace, and my fears dissolved, just in time for the Bible Club to double in size.

The First Half of My Senior Year

Throughout my senior year I worked as a closer at McDonalds, coming home most nights around 11 pm. It was my habit at that time to spend 30 – 60 minutes in prayer before going to bed, pacing the floor or lying flat on my face on a carpeted section in the basement. Those were precious times, and God burdened my heart for the people around me who didn’t know Him.

God often placed one particular girl, “T.W.,” on my heart more heavily than anyone else. She was a sophomore. I didn’t know why, and it had nothing to do with being attracted to her. She was into the gothic culture. (These were the days when Marilyn Manson – who happens to be from Canton, Ohio – burst onto the scene.) Twice I was compelled to pray fervently against suicide, knowing that this was regarding T.W., and both times I was told a day or two later by one of her friends that she had attempted to kill herself.

We were both in the high school marching band. One Friday evening the band was on the sideline of our football field waiting to begin the halftime show. I received a sudden urge to pray for T.W. and I obeyed. She was roughly 30 people ahead of me, but in a flash she stepped out of line, spun around, and glared at me fiercely. I was startled, to say the least.

Our high school marching band was quite good. Each November we traveled to Indianapolis to participate in a national competition at the former RCA Dome. Several weeks prior to this trip in 1996 I felt that God was saying He wanted to do some great things there. Little did I know what was in store, but this became a main subject of my late-night prayers.

Three Days in November 1996

The day came for us to travel to Indianapolis, about 300 miles away. We boarded three different buses, and after a while we stopped and took a break at a rest stop. I was walking past a sophomore student, David, when I noticed that he was staring at me. He called me over and said (I’m paraphrasing), “I know that I’m not on my way to heaven, but I want to be. I’m a mess! How can I live forever in heaven? You have to tell me!” I was joyfully stunned, but I shared with him the good news of salvation in Jesus and we prayed together.

In Indianapolis we all stayed in a school gymnasium, the boys sleeping on one side and the girls on the other. During our first free time, David’s girlfriend suddenly ran up to me and threw her arms around me, sobbing and shaking. She told me she didn’t know “what I had done to David,” but whatever it was she needed it too. So I shared the gospel with her and we prayed together as well.

During another free time I happened to be near a guy named Jason, and he was listening to music on his CD Walkman. I asked him what he was listening to, and he showed me the CD cover to Marilyn Manson’s “Antichrist Superstar” album. I just looked at it, but didn’t say anything. Jason pulled off his headphones and said (I’m paraphrasing again), “I need to get right with God, and I need to get rid of this CD.” Without anyone being close enough to hear us, he suggested that we go to the far end of the school and smash the CD in the bathroom. So we did exactly that. When we were almost back to the gym, T.W. came around the corner with a couple of her friends and was chanting repeatedly that I needed to be sacrificed on the altar to Satan because we smashed that CD.

During yet another free time, five or six of us gathered for an impromptu Bible study. We couldn’t go as long as we wanted to, so we agreed to gather again during the next free time. When that time came, one of the participants approached me and said that “people were waiting” for me to lead them in a study. I followed that person, opened the door to the large room (off to the side of the gymnasium), and was shocked to see that about 40 people were sitting on the floor! They had been waiting expectantly, but we never really got started, because the band director came in almost right away and told us that he wouldn’t allow it. Still, it was clear that God was really doing something.

The band competition concluded on Saturday evening, and we were scheduled to depart mid-morning on Sunday. Every year, despite the fact that we were a public school, they held a ceremony that somewhat resembled a church service. For example, the previous year the Assistant Band Director had read the Parable of the Talents, and he applied it by telling us we shouldn’t sit on the talents given to us by “a higher power.” This was followed by the song, “Friends Are Friends Forever” by Michael W. Smith. This year (1996) I had asked the band director about two weeks in advance if anyone had already planned to lead this closing ceremony. He said there was no plan, and agreed to let me lead it as long as I didn’t mention Jesus. (I didn’t make any such promise, though.)

The day before the ceremony (Saturday) I had asked several people to be in a skit based (loosely) on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35, and I briefly described what each person would do. We planned to practice it, but never got a chance to do it even once. On Sunday morning, the ceremony was suddenly moved up earlier than scheduled. I asked the performers to go ahead and run the skit, trusting God that it would come together, and it did! It was flawless. There were about 120 band members. For the believers in the room, I followed up on the skit by sharing about the importance of forgiving and showing mercy, even as God has poured out so much mercy on us. For the unbelievers in the room, I shared passionately about what Jesus did on the cross, sacrificing Himself and taking on the debt of sin that He didn’t owe.

A short while later we loaded the buses. We hadn’t yet taken off when someone in the back of the bus called out for me to join them. I went to the back, and students sat on the laps of others as they begged to hear more about the gospel. Seven students prayed and offered up their lives in surrender to Jesus that morning.

The Second Half of My Senior Year

T.W. had a good friend, “P,” who was also in the band. “P” was often targeted for punishment by the band director because he saw her as loud, wild, and rebellious. Unlike T.W., “P” was willing to talk to me. I would even say we were friends. One Monday morning in early spring 2007, “P” ran up to me in the hallway as I was walking toward my homeroom. “I have to tell you what happened to me this weekend!” she said. “P” went on to tell me that she had somehow stumbled into a youth worship event. In the midst of seeing everyone worshipping God, His love was revealed to her and she poured out her eyes and her heart to God, committing to follow Him. As “P” was telling me these things, we happened to pass T.W. in the hallway. Whether naturally or supernaturally, T.W. apparently knew what had taken place, because she glared at both of us with the most intense, bone-chilling look of hatred I had ever seen.

“P” was noticeably different in the following weeks, and T.W. stopped talking to her. I spent some time discipling her in her new faith, and also looked for at least one female believer willing to come alongside her. (This was challenging, as several of them treated her the way the disciples reacted to Paul, not believing he was really a disciple – Acts 9:26-27). Eventually T.W. and “P” began to communicate again, and a month before the school year ended something happened which caused me to never see either one of them again. They were both expelled for the rest of the school year when they were caught possessing marijuana during a school field trip. This left me very disappointed.

Shortly before this happened, though, one more situation occurred between T.W. and I. For a long time I had desired to talk to her, but it never happened. Finally I decided to write her a one-page letter, expressing my heart and sharing God’s love, believing that the Lord was leading me this way. I almost always passed her in the hallway between my lunch period and my History class. So, with the letter in hand, I stepped in her path and, as quickly as possible, handed it to her and asked her to read it. She gave me another piercing glare, but didn’t say a word.

Less than five minutes later there was a fire drill, and everyone gathered outside in our designated areas. When school was out for the day, my cousin approached me and asked if I had given a letter to T.W. I admitted it, and she told me what had happened. T.W., in a loud and mocking voice that didn’t seem to be her own, read the entire letter for everyone around her to hear. According to my cousin, there were about 200 people on that side of the building, and they all grew silent and just stared at T.W. as she did this. It’s not the way I would have chosen for 200 young people to hear about God’s love, but only He knows how T.W.’s audience was impacted that day.

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I hope these testimonies will be an encouragement to any of God’s people who read them. Have faith that God can do, and wants to do, remarkable things through you in different public arenas, whether that would be a school, a workplace, or a neighborhood.

In the next post, I plan to share another testimony from this same time period in my life, this time at a shopping mall.

Our First Wedding Anniversary (August 4, 2013)


Last Sunday, August 4th, my wife, Jasmine, and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. I’m deeply grateful for Jasmine. Life has brought its share of challenges over the last year, including a business/ministry venture that didn’t work out (I plan to share more about that in an upcoming post), massive financial loss, and a great deal of injustice. Yet I praise God that our marriage, and our love for one another, has stood strong. We’re counting other blessings too.

July 2013

July 2013

In this post I’d like to share a number of photos, starting with our wedding day (August 4, 2012) and concluding with pictures taken on our anniversary a week ago. I hope you enjoy them.

Jasmine and I are both originally from Canton, Ohio, and that’s where we first met about 13 years ago. Although we currently live in St. Paul, Minnesota, we decided to get married just outside of Canton at a place (Camp Trinity) where we both served as camp counselors in the past. The weather cooperated well (it was 93 degrees and sunny), and we were able to have a nice outdoor wedding. Jasmine, by the way, made her dress and my outfit by hand!

Outdoor wedding

Outdoor wedding

 

Singing a duet

Singing a duet

 

Reciting Vows

Reciting our vows

 

Kiss the Bride

Kiss the bride

 

Just married

Just married

 

Newly married

Newly married

 

The wedding party was made up, on the guys’ side, of my four younger brothers and two friends, one from elementary school and one from high school. Jasmine’s two sisters, a cousin, and two friends made up the ladies’ side. We kept things low-budget for everyone, as the guys were able to wear any black pants, shoes, and socks that they already had, plus a $12 button-down shirt from Kohl’s (two of them already had it). The ladies bought matching sun dresses for $17 each, with the goal being that they could keep them and wear them for other occasions too.

Full Wedding party

The wedding party

 

The guys

The guys

 

The ladies

The ladies

 

With siblings, parents, grandparents

With siblings, parents, grandparents

 

The Wedding party

The Wedding party

 

Reception hall

Reception hall

 

Gratefully, we were able to keep the reception meal low-budget as well (We held the reception on the same campgrounds in their assembly hall). For $704, our 175 guests enjoyed chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans, macaroni & cheese, cole slaw, and biscuits from KFC. Other facilities we looked at not only would have charged us at least 8-10 times as much as we paid to use the camp facility, but they also would have required us to use their catering services, which were quoted 7-12 times higher than KFC’s costs. We also served sorbet instead of a wedding cake, which was fitting for such a hot day.

Tattoo rings

We got tattoo rings before the wedding.

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On August 21st, less than two weeks from now, Jasmine and I will be moving to Bowling Green, Ohio, about 20 miles south of Toledo. Lord willing, Jasmine will take one year to finish a degree she started at Bowling Green State University. After that, we believe we will be in Columbus, Ohio. Both cities will have us 2.5 hours or less from where our families live, and also feature a lower cost of living and more tolerable winters.

We’ve enjoyed our time living in downtown St. Paul ever since we got married. One of the things we like about downtown is its placement just above the Mississippi River (we live one block away from the river). For our anniversary last week, after enjoying a buffet brunch with live jazz performances (Jasmine’s favorite kind of music), we boarded a 90-minute Padelford boat cruise on the Mississippi River.  Here are some pictures from that experience:

At the brunch buffet

At the brunch buffet

 

At the brunch buffet

At the brunch buffet

 

Boarding the boat

Boarding the boat

 

Top level of boat

Top level of boat

 

View of the River

View of the River

 

View of downtown

View of downtown

 

Straight ahead view

Straight ahead view

 

Smith Avenue High Bridge

Smith Avenue High Bridge

 

Downtown in the background

Downtown in the background