by carolyn curtis
Radically changed describes the effect of the
gospel on young Bill. His combination of wild hair, torn jeans, shoeless feet
and tie-dyed T-shirt testifies to how recent was his conversion to
One Sunday soon after his conversion, Bill attended the local college
church, filled weekly with well-dressed and conservative members.
Picture the scene as Bill enters. He has no shoes. Hes clad in his jeans and
T-shirt. The service has already started, and Bill ambles down the aisle
looking for a seat. The pews are full, so he keeps walking. By now, people are
a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. When he realizes there are no
seats, he simply sits on the floor. No one had ever done that at this church
The tension thickens when an elderly deacon rises from his seat and slowly
makes his way toward Bill. Hes known as a godly man, elegant, dignified and
courtly; his gait is aided by a finely crafted cane. As the deacon walks toward
Bill, many are thinking, You cant blame him for what hes going to do. How can a
man of his age and background understand some college kid?
It takes a long time for the deacon to reach Bill. Silence reigns. All eyes
focus upon him, and people are thinking, The minister cant even preach the
sermon until the deacon does what he has to do.
Suddenly, he drops his cane to the floor. With great difficulty he lowers
himself and sits next to Bill. When the pastor regains his voice, he says, What
Im about to preach, you may never remember. What youve just seen, youll never
In 90 percent of evangelical churches, most people would not have
responded to young Bill as did the deacon in this scenario. Weve lost a sense
of compassion in America for the radically unchurched, and thats why so few
lost people, or even new believers like Bill, are found in most of our
churches. Most Christians in North America see the church as a hotel for saints
rather than a hospital for sinners. The church has, by and large, failed to be
salt and light in the midst of a depraved humanity.
Adapted from Radically Unchurched: Who They Are & How To Reach
Them, by Alvin L. Reid, Ph.D., professor of evangelism, Southeastern
Baptist Theological Seminary (Kregal, October 2002)
Hard soil. Difficult to penetrate. Requires frequent tilling. Absorbs water
and fertilizer, needing more soon. But, when roots form, hard soil holds steady
the new growth. Supports tall trees.
Who are the hard soil cases in evangelism? People like Kimberly, Steve,
Shannon, Juan, Lori, Jason, Abbie, Judy, Linda, Roy, Sheila, Charles, Logan and
Chuck. Alcoholics, prostitutes, people with addictions to everything from
heroin to sex to chasing financial success, Goths with multiple piercings and
body art, homosexuals, prisoners. And who are the on mission
Christians who never give up on these people? Timothy and Grace and Sammy and
Robert, to name a few.
In the next pages youll meet folks who readily describe themselves as hard
soil and others who minister to them with a helping hand and the gospel
In many cases, the hard soil converts become advocateson mission
Christianswhen they are healed.
Kimberly: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a needy place. Thats
why its important to tell about my faith in Christ, demonstrate my growth, talk
about my journey, even if its ugly. Somebody at AA wants what I have. Her talk
of Christ is more than working her 12-step program.
Its her personal ministry.
Crime supported her addictions (I earned my chair at AA by running guns).
Over time, she sold every possession, including the appliances, to support her
habit. She often downed three beers before driving her kids to school. She flew
below the laws radar until she was picked up for a simple DUI. When arrested,
she was consuming a case of beer a day and $1,000 worth of cocaine a week.
Except for being cold, jail was what hell would be like, she says, recalling
sleeping on a cement floor for several days with no pillow or blanket, eating
two peanut butter sandwiches and two cartons of fruit juice a day, sharing a
cramped holding cell with a dozen recently booked women, being shackled daily
to go before a judge who sent her back when she couldnt make bail. No one would
help me. Id used up all my favors.
Kimberly is a rarity, right? Some-one you probably wont encounter.
Hardly. You may encounter a person like her in the worst way. According to
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), people arrested for driving under the
influence have driven drunk or high 200 to 2,000 times before their first
Steve: My addiction was money.
I was so focused on showing the world my success that I lost track of the
people and priorities in my life.
My desire for money consumed me. When I was making lots of it trading stocks
and options, my wife would ask, How much is enough for you? I would answer, Its
never enough. I found that the danger of going after your desires for earthly
riches is that you will always find something else you wantanother vacation, a
new car, a bigger house.
Steve had some wealthy relatives, and he wanted to be like themowning
property all over the country, traveling the world, having a seat on the New
York Stock Exchange. Now he tells them and othershow his hours hunched over the
computer until midnight researching investments, making trades and taking huge
financial risks set him up for a nearly fatal fall. When the market dropped he
attempted suicide. I was dying and knocking on the gates of hell, Steve
recalls. His wife found him full of sleeping pills and losing consciousness. In
what I thought were my last moments alive, I reached out in prayer to Jesus to
save my life. He did, and now Steves personal ministry is telling about it to
other people who are chasing after material riches.
Shannon: I asked to be sent away from the temptations of
this neighborhood when I was weak-willed, just starting my walk with the Lord.
Now Im back to help other women leave prostitution, the streets and drugs. I
tell them about Jesus. She shows a visitor around her inner-city neighborhood
where she supported an $800 per day habit via 20 to 30 daily trysts with
strangers in fancy cars who offered me a ride, code words for a pickup. Her
routine was devoted entirely to the pursuit of drugsno reading the paper, no
watching television, certainly no legitimate work. Just a trick, then a hit,
then another trick and another hit.
Shannon approaches a woman haggard and covered with scabs scurrying along in
the agitated manner of someone strung out on crack cocaine. With the few
dollars from her latest trick, she will purchase a five-minute high, then
experience the muscle aches and chills and nausea as she comes down before
needing another fix and another trick to afford it. No middleman such as a pimp
is needed in this simple economy. Instead, the woman will give a dealer all her
money for the drug. Shannon treats the woman with compassiona hug, a pat, an
invitation to hear how Jesus changed her.
Its hard to picture this tender-hearted woman in modest clothing selling
anything but love for the Lord and surrender to His will. Her transformation is
testimony to Gods healing power. Her bed in her mothers neat-as-a-pin house is
covered with stuffed animals. In her sneakers and white crew socks Shannon
could pass for a college student. Her skin is blemish-free, her posture
self-assured, her manner confident, upbeat, happy. Shannon has become a
Juan: Right in here is where we worship, he says, patting
the churchs stucco wall with his hand. And right out here is where I used to
shoot dope. He loves the way the Lord brought it all full circle for me.
Juan has been squatting in the alley near a rain gutter, its spout hammered
nearly shut to form a hiding place for syringes. He demonstrates how he would
tie off a vein in his arm with a crude handkerchief tourniquet, thump a likely
spot, then thrust into heavily scarred flesh the needle he shared with his
junkie friends. This was how they began each day. Their pushers house was a
mere 100 yards away in the barrio where he now ministers to hard-core users,
often gang members and ex-convicts, who have turned to Christ.
Juan pulls no punches, telling converts housed in the residential
detox/discipleship facility that the problem in his life wasnt drugsit was sin.
The dormitory is orderly and sparkling clean, the newly minted Christians
maintaining to spit-and-polish perfection all buildings and grounds to become
accustomed to the higher standards of their new lifestyle and as part of the
discipline of their now daily submission to Christ.
Reaching beyond the razor
wireThe mean streets breed trouble, especially in North Americas
urban environments that are growing by leaps and bounds. Could it be that God
is organizing America into cities so the church can reach more people? asks
Southeastern Seminarys Alvin L. Reid in Radically Unchurched: Who They Are
& How To Reach Them (Kregal, October 2002).
One of every 125 Americans is in prison, according to Operation Starting
Line, a campaign to share Christ with prisoners, organized by Prison Fellowship
and a dozen other ministries, including SBCs North American Mission Board.
The goal of the outreach is to bring offenders to a relationship with Christ
and help them grow in faith as law-abiding, productive citizens after they are
released. It will be an uphill battle. U.S. prisons are overflowing, housing
125 percent more people than their recommended capacity.
Indications are that the prison system is not working, since 62.5 percent of
prisoners are arrested again within three years of their release, a Bureau of
Justice Statistics study shows.
More than 6 million men and women in the U.S. are under correctional
supervisionincarceration, probation or parolecompared with 3.2 million in
Of African-American men in their 20s or early 30s, 11 percent are in prison
or jail compared with 4 percent of Hispanic men and 1.5 percent of white
Can individual on mission Christians and churches help to stem this
With 306 prison chaplains endorsed by the North American Mission Board, its
not surprising that On Mission magazine is seen by inmates all over
Occasionally prisoners write Letters to the Editor, telling of their
conversions and sharing about their own on mission experiences. Ive
used On Mission as a tool to help 79 other women in prison find their
way to Christ, writes Linda. I can be a light in the darkness, writes Roy,
describing his joy at participating in prison chapel. Razor-wire fences
surround us, patrol cars check the parameter fences. Guards in the control
center watch the monitors for an activated sensor; sometimes a bird will set it
off. No one ever escapes from this prison. Yet, every Sunday men are set
In preparation for our Hard Soil cover series, the On Mission staff
decided to tap this population for anecdotal information, writing to prisoners
who had corresponded with us and asking: What methods and factors caused you to
turn to the Lord? We also asked what circumstances led to their incarceration.
The return mail was fascinating.
Most crimes were drug-related. Many serve repeat sentences ranging from four
years for embezzlement to 45 years for a third robbery offense to multiple life
sentences for kidnapping and escape from prison.
Most said they grew up hearing about Christ but not seeing Him in their
home; many offenders shared tough stories of witnessing mothers beaten by
fathers, seeing multi-generational substance abuse, being neglected and left to
find their own way in the world.
Some wrote of the difficulty of understanding God the Heavenly Father when
their earthly father was such a disappointment.
They described their daily walk with the Lord behind prison walls. Most
expressed an acceptance of their circumstances as the price they must pay (only
one letter complained of an unfair sentence); many expressed contentment, even
joy. Some described a life of service.
As for advice for on mission Christians: 1) offenders requested
ongoing friendships with people on the outside, including visits and
correspondence, providing opportunities for the prisoner to experience
unconditional Christian love; 2) they recommended exercising patience and
persistence, not giving up on them as they believe society has done; 3) in
witnessing, they suggested emphasizing the blessings of a day-to-day
relationship with Christ over the consequences of spending eternity in hella
circumstance they perceive to be much like they endure today.
As John wrote: Do not misunderstand me. I am not even beginning to suggest
that the potential for hell should not be pointed out. Its obviously a very
important issue. But if you want your message to have a better chance of
getting the attention of prisoners, it might help to take into consideration
the reality of their situation: their lives tend to be miserable.
One trend stood out among all inmates who wrote to On Mission:
Christ radically changed them. Each was outspoken about the 180-degree
That which overcomes the greatest of adversity is that which stands with the
greatest of strength, wrote Logan. Hard-soil people are indeed hard to reach.
But, once you win one over to Christ, they are among the strongest of His
Carolyn Curtis is editor of On Mission.
Pastors and mission leaders: For worship and small group videos
on Hard Soil and other subjects, visit www.essentials.tv or call 800-634-2462, option 2 for
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC