The first person who prayed to receive Christ in response to Leighs personal
witness was not her best friend, favorite uncle or even a long lost cousin. It
was a 16-year-old girl shed met just 30 minutes earlier during a cold call, an
anonymous church visitation assignment.
Leigh knew such conversions occurredbut at the invitation of evangelists,
pastors, missionaries fanatical Christians so supernaturally infected with
boldness that they could unashamedly drop tracts in restaurants, hold up John
3:16 signs at football games and turn a bus ride into an opportunity to present
Leigh resisted attempting to witness to strangersuntil she had to abandon
the neighbor for whom she secretly harbored hopes and prayers of leading to
Christ. Shed occasionally heard this single mother yelling at her children
through the walls separating their apartments. She planned to offer support and
friendship. Instead, after a couple of casual, tentative over-the-back-fence
conversations, an unexpected job offer sent Leighs family packing.
So when the opportunity to knock on a strangers door presented itself, Leigh
pushed aside her reservationswith results that both surprised and
It was really easy, she recalls. We just went to the door, introduced
ourselves and shared the gospel. The hardest part was feeling like I didnt have
a right to go up to her door.
Beware of strangers?Many of us experience Leighs
hesitation at the thought of sharing our faith with complete strangers. While
we acknowledge that the message is for everyone, even people unknown, we also
realize that it impacts some at a deep level. So when we ask someone about his
or her relationship with God, we do it with the uncomfortable realization that
were not just talking about the weather. Were actually asking another to lay
bare his or her heart.
We may assume that such probing requires intimacy, as if knowing who wields
the tools of surgery will make it a more viable option. Certainly a case can be
made for this. My husbands 78-year-old grandmother finally received Christ on
the heels of his familiar witness.
But the witness of strangers has won many. Consider the conversion of
evangelist Billy Graham. Although he was very familiar with the tenets of
Christianity and had practiced them in his home since childhood, it took the
witness of a stranger, a visiting evangelist, to get through to the 16-year-old
Graham. His words, and his way with words, grabbed my mind, gripped my heart,
Graham writes in Just as I Am, his autobiography written with Jerry
Moreover, the scriptures validate the one-stranger-to-another approach. In
his parable of the wedding feast, Jesus instructed His disciples to go to the
street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find (Matthew 22:9). If you
visualize that scene, you may picture yourself in the town square calling out
to friends and acquaintances, but you also have to paint in the passersby youve
Plus, there are plenty of biblical examples of how this works. Philip
approached the Ethiopian eunuch without so much as a formal introduction (Acts
8:26-40). Peter and John witnessed to the beggar at the temple gate on the
strength of little more than eye contact (Acts 3:1-10). Paul preached to
Agrippa, who protested Pauls temerity on the basis of their flimsy acquaintance
but nevertheless listenedand was almost persuaded (Acts 26:28).
When a stranger talksWhen my husband, Barry, and I
went on a mission trip to Australia, one of our hostesses, Mary, prepared for
our visit by inviting her friend Wilf to dinner with us. Mary hoped our witness
would lead to Wilfs salvation.
Unfortunately, Wilf didnt accept Christ that evening. But our discussion of
Christianity was long and intense, and Mary was exhilarated at the interest
Wilf had shown. Her own words, she felt, had long since fallen on deaf ears,
but Wilfs curiosity had been peaked by these strangers from America.
Thats why so many of us invite our friends and neighbors to hear someone
else present the gospel, whether at church or in another setting. We recognize
that by removing relational tensions and pressures, its no longer about our
relationship. The relationship getting all the attention is the one with Christ
and Him alone.
Graham, who was first drawn to hear Mordecai Ham because of his colorful
preaching and reputation, says he soon forgot about the messenger and
concentrated on the message: I have no recollection of what he preached about,
but I was spellbound. In some indefinable way, he was getting through to me. I
was hearing another voice, as was often said of Dwight L. Moody when he
preached: the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Perry Neal, an evangelist based in Montgomery, Alabama, says people
attending services in host churches often make appointments to see himbypassing
familiar, beloved pastorsso they can explore their relationship with God with a
stranger. They sometimes open up more to a stranger like me.
Strangers, all of usIncreased urbanization of North
America, hectic lifestyles and a more transient population all mean on mission
Christians must expect to witness as strangers. The opportunities to plant
seeds, cultivate, nurture and then harvest them, too, are disappearing amid
As Leigh experienced, the likelihood of a budding friendship becoming
interrupted by a move is on the increase. Between March 1998 and March 1999,
15.9 percent of our countrys population moved, according to the U.S. Census
Bureau, diminishing our opportunities for building long, deep friendships.
According to researcher George Barna, many of the adult unchurched are in
that category in part because they are resistant to forming relationships. So
planning a friendship as a vehicle for witnessing may not be everyones best
Not surprisingly then, the Internet, a place where strangers interact
regularly, has emerged as a prime location for faith experiences, according to
the Barna Research Group.
Gil, a computer network analyst at the University of Arizona, was surfing
the Web when he engaged in conversation with a stranger in a Christian
Do you know Christ? Gil queried as the other man elaborated on recent
Its much easier to ask that question when they cant see you for some reason,
he says. When he got a no answer to his question, Gil sent an invitation into
cyberspace: Would you like to receive Christ? He typed a prayer for the person
to repeat in his heart.
Finally, a note appeared on screen: I DID IT.
Since then Gil has conducted many Internet conversations about Christ and
now has online acquaintances in Pittsburgh and California, for example, who
regularly contact him for prayer.
Its a cool way to get the word out, he says, but warns: Even then, the
occasional rejection is inevitable.
Intimate strangersWhat troubles some would-be
witnesses is the absence of a relationship as a context for faith sharing. But
on mission Christians can be reminded that, while we may never get the
opportunity to build a personal friendship with some of the strangers we meet,
we are building relationships when we assure them that God loves and cares for
them or when we show interest on behalf of Christ.
John Brackin, director of missions for Palm Lake Association in Palm Beach,
Florida, who also has ministered in Tucson, often relies on what he terms kiss
and run encounters to penetrate certain cultures for Christ. For example,
Brackin helps coordinate a booth at Floridas largest jazz festival, playing
games and awarding prizes to those who stop by. What were trying to do is make
a quick contact with them at a level theyre interested in.
Talking to a stranger about Christ can actually be a more relaxed way of
sharing ones faith, according to Brackin. I think what it does for me is
knowing Im not going to destroy a relationship here inadvertently, because I
dont have a relationship. So, while finesse is still required, Brackin contends
that a quick, positive encounter with an interested Christian can be just what
a stranger needs. People will listen to us if we build this temporary
Brackin sees it more as a seed-planting opportunity but realizes that it
also can result in a harvest. In Tucson Brackin gave away bandanas to cowboys
at an annual rodeo. One year a cowboy returned and asked for a new one,
explaining that his first had gotten worn out from the sun, because hed put in
on the dashboard of his truck.
Every time I looked at that bandana I remembered you telling me about Jesus
Christ, Brackin recalls the cowboy saying. Hed received Christ in the
But witnessing to a stranger also means that you may never be anything more
than an anonymous faith-sharernot the soul winner, friend, discipler or
mentorjust a stranger with a message from God. But as the apostle Paul
explains, its okayperhaps necessaryto be a stranger for God: I have become all
things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some (1
Kima Jude is a writer and photographer living in
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