I used to teach high school students at a charter school for teenagers that had committed crimes and were on probation. In homeroom they were restless, sleepy and uninterested in starting their day with current events. Many of the students straddled in, slouched over on their chairs and went to sleep while others spent most of the period asking for breakfast from their classmates.
I would offer a greeting as I went through the roster checking to see who was in class, absent, or tardy. This went on for weeks with other teachers assuring me that this was the norm for first period. With each passing day I grew more and more frustrated, thinking that my students either had little respect for me, their teacher, or simply did not care about their education. I called parents and guardians, kept students for detention for being disruptive, and made them stay after school for being tardy for my class.
One of my students yelled at me as I was writing him up for detention for having missed half of my class.
“I went to see my Mom!” He screamed as I handed him the slip.
During detention I asked him about his Mom and why he had to go see her before my class. I assumed he was living with his father and that they had separated over the years. The more I spoke to my student the more I realized I had stopped listening to my students. That they had offered me signs of the frustrations they were dealing with at home.
My student was often late to my class on Wednesdays because he would visit his Mom as she stood on the corner of a busy street selling drugs. That it was an ongoing appointment, where he knew where he could find her every week. I wondered about how broken that family was, but more importantly how much he loved his mother even in the midst of her struggles.
I stopped writing detention slips for him, instead adding him to my prayer list. I would ask about his mother, about her treatment for drug abuse. I gave him a list of resources for her just in case she was ready to leave the streets. I allowed my students to have fifteen minutes to eat during homeroom. I offered them food when I could. I realized that I had forgotten the power of empathy.
This is the power if evangelism. I recently began to speak to a homeless man about Christ and all he could mutter was, “Do you have anything to eat?”.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Mark 16:15
Like my students, he had immediate needs that clouded his ability to even listen to my message. As Christians it is easy to focus on God’s commandment to evangelize but we often forget to meet people at their point of need. We often forget to do the work of teaching one to fish, instead treating evangelism like a sales pitch.
When I think of Jesus and how he walked among sinners, I am reminded of how he met their needs- feeding five thousand, healing the sick.
We Want to Know:
How are you sharing the word of God to others?
How do you overcome obstacles while evangelizing?