She came up to the microphone and spoke in halting English. It was her turn to share about her experiences as part of street evangelism team in Center City Philadelphia. This unimposing Korean woman was one member of a small team that had just spent several days handing out tracts and wearing bright orange t-shirts that said “Jesus is the Jewish Messiah” and referenced Isaiah 53. No this was not a hazing experience gone terribly wrong, but a core part of the training program of a foreign missions agency preparing their team members for rejection and hostility.
My first reaction to hearing these stories and seeing the pictures was judgmental and fearful. I knew that I would not have volunteered for that assignment and wondered if it was even a good idea at all. Not surprisingly, the team dealt with outrage and anger from the Jewish community they were targeting and even attempts to steal all of their tracts so they could not hand out any more. As I listened, however, it became clear that the team had prepared themselves well. They had learned that many Jews saw the holocaust as being perpetrated by Germans who called themselves Christians and even rewarded their soldiers with a medal called the iron cross. Far too often, Jews had been accused of being “Christ Killers” and therefore were not likely to be open to the idea that He was in fact their messiah.
Despite these potential negative perceptions of Christians by Jews, the small team took to the streets and handed out tracts, answered questions and even prayed with people. Occasionally, they were cheered on by other Christians that passed by, but more often than not they were ignored. I could not help but wonder what effect this bold witnessing would have in years to come. One thing was for sure, it had prepared this small group for far more hostile environments in other parts of the world that they would be assigned.
While, I was not quite ready to sign up for the next evangelism training event, I began to think about holy boldness and what it might look like in my life and in the life of those I influence. It seems to me that far too often we as evangelicals equate confrontation and even obnoxious behavior with Biblical boldness. While many Christians no longer do this in person, they are certainly quick to do so on Facebook or Twitter. It is no longer “hit and run” evangelism as some street witnessing attempts by suburban Christians is called, but “hit and keep hitting” antagonism on the internet that has become the norm.
I think that true holy boldness probably looks a little more like what Jesus did on a daily basis during His ministry hear on earth. He loved people enough to tell them the truth that they needed to hear, but always did so in a way that showed he really loved them. His harshest criticism was saved for the religious leaders of his time and not “the enemies of the faith”. He often got in trouble for affiliating with the unclean, the rich and the most outrageous sinners in his community. He boldly confronted men about to stone an adulterer and ate dinner with a hated tax collector.
What would it look like for the evangelical Christian community to boldly confront the hypocrisy in our own hearts that leads us to see non-believers as simply statistics and not as people loved by a Holy God. I know that my own heart is the first one that needs to be challenged as I learn to see my sin for what it really is, the filthy rags of self-accomplishment and pride.