I have engaged in a number of different types of evangelism. When I was in junior high school, I distributed Bible verses to my friends (much to their chagrin). When I was in high school, I brought Jesus up in every conversation I could (most of which were totally inappropriate). And when I was in college, I passed out tracts outside the lecture halls to students who were cramming for their impending exams (keyword: cramming). As hard as I tried and as much time as I put in, my success rate was low, verging on non-existent.
Fast forward to just last week when my success rate got a much-needed bump. It’s not because I am now a professional evangelizer… I mean an ordained minister… or because I have had years of practice. What was different this time around was that I didn’t even know I was evangelizing.
Here’s what happened: I was sitting on the M3 bus riding down Fifth Avenue to my apartment from the church. I love taking the bus. It is great for people watching, catching up on emails, and just relaxing after a long day at work. The one drawback is that you either have to have a MetroCard or the exact fare in coins, or else you get a serious scolding by the bus driver that often results in public humiliation.
But this time I was prepared. However, my fellow passenger was not. He walked up and down the moving bus asking for $2 in change in exchange for a $5 bill. Unfortunately, no one could oblige him despite the huge profit they would make. When he walked up to me, I told him I didn’t have change, but he could take my MetroCard instead. After doing so, he came back to return my card along with the $5 bill. I politely declined the money and told him not to worry about it. I’d been there before. Looking confused, he pushed the $5 bill at me once more. I assured him it was okay and so he tentatively sat in the seat across from me.
We rode together in silence for 30 blocks, but I could sense him looking at me every so often like I was some kind of unknown species in a familiar world.
Finally, he blurted out, “What are you?”
Laughing, I replied, “Uh, I’m a minister.”
The look of confusion returned to his face.
“A minister of what?” he asked.
“I am Presbyterian minister. I serve at the church on 55th St. and Fifth Avenue.”
“But what do you do?” he probed further.
“Well, I preach, teach, meet with people, and a whole bunch of other things.”
Finally satisfied with my answers, my fellow bus rider was quiet for another moment until he said, “Okay, I will come to your church.”
Here’s the best part. I never asked him to come to church. I never went through my well-rehearsed shpiel about why Jesus is the best thing ever. I never even evangelized. I just gave this random guy a free bus ride, but on that day, that is exactly what he needed. Turns out, it was exactly what I needed too.
Since that day, I have started seeing evangelism anew. I no longer see it as the burden Christians bear to simply say the right thing. I see it as the responsibility Christians take on to do the right thing. To meet people in their need. To listen for people’s earnest questions. To wait for an open door and walk through it. Or in my case, to wait for the bus, and get on.
Charlene Han Powell is currently the Associate Pastor for Christian Education at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. She oversees Adult Education, Young Adult Ministries, and Family Ministries at this historic Manhattan church.