Guest column by Maris Bentley
This week’s “In Layman’s Terms” is a guest column by my friend Maris Bentley, in which she talks about evangelization:
My good friend, Bob Sullivan, introduced me to the work of street evangelization several years ago, shortly after I met him. I was living in Omaha at the time (I live near Plattsmouth now, in the Lincoln diocese) and several of us from Omaha traveled to Lincoln to learn more about the evangelization taking place on the streets there as part of the rapidly growing national apostolate called St. Paul Street Evangelization.
As people who had been engaged in many years of pro-life evangelization in Omaha, we really liked the idea of putting together a team of people who would communicate the “full” pro-life message by sharing the Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ and His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church with others.
Over the past four years, the Omaha group has grown enough that we are able to have teams of Catholics evangelizing in the Old Market area of Omaha on Saturday mornings during the Farmers Market, and on Sunday afternoons from May until November.
Though I am unable to be part of the evangelization effort in Omaha on a regular basis, I have discovered that my new parish, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Plattsmouth, has an active Legion of Mary group who do street evangelization there during community events, and I have happily joined them when I am able.
Many Catholics are interested in street evangelization, and want to know more about what we are doing. But they also often express the belief that this is something they don’t think they would be able to do. Wrong! If I can do this, anyone can do it.
All Catholics can and should share the joy of their faith, and the fullness of truth which they have found in Catholicism. You don’t have to be Scott Hahn or Bishop Robert Barron (I’m sure not). You just have to love Jesus Christ and His Church. You don’t have to know everything about the Catholic faith. You just have to know where to look for the answers….like the Bible, the Catechism, and good apologetics material from groups like Catholic Answers and St. Paul Street Evangelization. You don’t have to be a smooth talker. It’s better if those you encounter do most of the talking, while you ask them the questions. You don’t have to memorize opening lines or clever phrases or bible verses (though I think EVERY Catholic should know 1 Timothy 3:15!) You just have to pray and be open to the workings of the Holy Spirit.
It seems, though, that one of the best ways to explain street evangelization to others is to give them some examples of what we encounter—our “Stories from the Streets.”
It was a cold, windy day, and we weren’t seeing as many people out on the streets. As I stood behind our table, one of the brochures blew off and behind me onto the sidewalk. I turned around, taking a few steps to pick it up, and noticed at the same time that there was a young woman standing there behind a stroller with a child in it. I also noticed that the young woman had tears in her eyes. As I bent to pick up the brochure, which was only a few steps from the young woman, the title caught my eye, “The Problem of Suffering.” So my mission was obvious. I walked over to the woman and said to her, “Wow. Did you see how this brochure blew off the table and over in your direction?” She nodded. I pointed out the title to her, and said “I see you too are suffering.” She nodded. “You are meant to have this,” I said as I handed it to her. Then I asked her if I could pray for her, and she said “Yes,” which I did. I don’t remember now all that I said in that prayer, but I prayed that she would know how much God loved her, and that He would always accompany her through her suffering. That was the whole encounter, but how powerful! How much I rejoiced on the way home that day that I had been able to be there to pray for her, and with her, and provide some small amount of hope and comfort in whatever trials she was facing in life. Like those who witness for life at abortion mills, it often doesn’t matter so much what we say, but that we are there being that personal witness of the love of Jesus Christ to and for the world.
In every area of our lives we can, and should be, witnesses to the Gospel—to our family, friends, co-workers, the neighbor next door, the person we sit next to on the plane, or stand behind in the line at the grocery store. Oftentimes, we do this through our silent, faithful Christian witness, in how we speak and comport ourselves throughout the day. But do watch and pray for those times when Our Lord wants you to speak, and to listen, and to share the fullness of truth and faith with those around you. I promise you, you will see more and more opportunities to evangelize if you do.
Not only does Maris provide excellent insight on evangelization, she is proof that I’m not the only one who thinks like this! I’ve been out with the Omaha evangelists several times, and I can attest to their great witness to Christ. As Catholics, more of us have to accept the fact that we are all called to be witnesses to the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Gospel.