A team happened to be going to a city where I had spent my early childhood so I quickly signed up with them, excited at the prospect of sharing Christ in the area where I spent my early years.
On arrival, our eight-member team was greeted by chilly weather; the temperature was in the low 20s all week. Some in our group trekked up and down neighborhood sidewalks in three and four layers of clothing. Periodically, we hopped in the van to warm up during our ten-hour workdays. We gave our spiel at the doors of thousands of homes while snowflakes cascaded from the sky and white puffs of air came from our mouths.
But God blessed, as He always does with young people who sacrifice to share the gospel with others. Each person in my group experienced record highs in sales, and the dozens of boxes we brought with us soon emptied. We had to call our school for more to be shipped to us midweek.
Because of my size—six feet, four inches tall, and 240 pounds—and my outgoing and bold personality, the group leader had a habit of placing me in the roughest areas to sell books. In fact, I don’t remember ever being assigned to canvass a suburban neighborhood; I was always in urban spots. The city we were canvassing was then among the top 25 most dangerous cities in America, but because of my youth and a belief in God’s protection, I was oblivious to any sort of danger around me.
Toward the end of the spring break, I was dropped in a housing project infamous for violent crime. I filled my bag with Steps to Christ, a devotional on how to know Jesus, and The Desire of Ages, a Christian classic on the life of Christ. This wasn’t a cookbook type area. I maintained a rapid pace through the vast project, meeting with some success and a lot of rejection. I took it in stride, though, remaining positive.
By the afternoon I had probably knocked on several hundred doors. I came to a warren of row houses on the north side that looked particularly war-torn. I plowed on through the cold, my knuckles so red from knocking that I began to rap with the sides of my fists. I had worked halfway down a block when I knocked, or maybe lightly pounded, on a door.
“Who is it?” a rough voice called.
“Benjamin,” I said.
“What you want?” The voice was impatient.
Then I said something I probably shouldn’t have said, or at least should have worded a little differently. As literature evangelists, we are taught that if we unveil our purpose for visiting before the door is opened, then the people on the other end will probably think we are mere solicitors and say they don’t want to buy anything. So we don’t say we are selling anything, but sort of keep our presence mysterious. That wasn’t the way to go in this situation.
“I want to show you something,” I called. I really didn’t want to be outside shouting back and forth with this person anymore. He was going to open the door, or he wasn’t. I had to keep moving. The cold will give you that attitude.
The next thing I knew, the door flew open, and I was staring down at a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun. I admit, I really didn’t notice who was behind it for a couple of tense seconds; the menacing weapon consumed my full attention.
“What you wanna show me?” the voice growled. The house was dark, and all I could make out was a seated figure. Then I realized it was a man in a wheelchair.
I spoke slowly but confidently. Paul told the young evangelist Timothy that God had not given him a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a calm mind. As a young evangelist, I had all three. I don’t recall being scared for a second, startled maybe, but not scared.
“I want to show you a book about Jesus, sir.” The gun was still leveled at my face. Its two barrels looked deep and dark.
“Get it,” he said. “Slowly.”
Well, I was going to go slowly anyway. I removed a Steps to Christ—with a picture of a smiling Jesus on the cover—from my bag and held it up.
“Leave it right there.” The man made a slight motion with his gun to a stand just inside the door. I slowly placed the small book where he indicated.
“I think you’ll like it,” I said.
He mumbled something. I didn’t ask him for a donation.
After I was through canvassing the section, I went to the project’s office. Three women were inside working in cubicles. I told them what I was doing, and they greeted me warmly and asked what I’d thought of the complex. They did this with mischievous smiles, for they knew the place was run-down. I replied that a lot of good people lived there. They agreed.
Then I related my experience with the armed man. When I described him, they immediately knew whom I was referring to and said that he had shot two people (that they knew of). He was violent, mean, and irredeemable, they claimed. The women were surprised when I told them he had accepted a Steps to Christ. I sold them each a book, and we said Goodbye. I radioed my leader and told her I had finished the area, and soon I was gone.
The story doesn’t end there. A decade later, when I was in the city again—this time during the summer—I stopped by the row house of the man who had pointed the gun at me. I knocked softly this time, but no one answered. I went to the main office where I had met the three kind women. They didn’t work there any longer. I asked one of the employees if the man still lived there.
“Mr. X* died about two years ago,” he said. He knew right off who the man was, just as the women had ten years earlier. “I first started working here three years ago,” he continued. Everyone told me that Mr. X was a demon, never came out of his apartment, shot at people. He was infamous. Since I was new, they sent me over there to collect the rent a couple of times.”
“Yeah,” I said, eager to figure out where his recollections were leading.
“I didn’t have any problems with him whatsoever. He was always kind to me. Invited me in, offered me coffee. Talked a lot about Jesus. I’m not much into that religious stuff. He always had this little book with Jesus on the front by his wheelchair.”
Mission to the Cities is the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s emphasis on sharing Jesus’ love and the hope of His soon return with people in the world’s largest cities. A vital part of that initiative is establishing Centers of Influence—wholistic ministry centers that put Christ’s method of ministry into practice. These LifeHope Centers provide a springboard for starting new groups of believers through mingling, showing sympathy, ministering to needs, and leading people to Jesus. To learn more, visit www.MissiontotheCities.org.
To view more pictures for this article and to read more articles visit http://www.adventistmission.org/mission360mag
God mentions Saul by name to Ananias and tells him to help Saul, and He did something similar for me.
Centers of influence are currently being established in cities around the world.