Every once in a while I get to meet someone who has an even more difficult name to pronounce than mine. Ed is one of those people. He’s also someone who has influenced my writing in a more profound way than most other writers I’ve met. He has offered me help and encouragement and I admire him more than I can say. I’m so grateful for his contribution here. If you’d like to contribute, check out the details here.
In college, I served as a discipleship coordinator for my floor. A “D.C.” was basically a small group leader with minor pastoral responsibilities. Naturally, this was an unpaid position.
We were doing this for heavenly riches folks.
With a new car at my disposal, I took to driving the freshman all over the place.
Driving Range? Sure!
Late night taco run? You bet!
Tacos and fried chicken together? Why not?
Blue light special at K-Mart? Not my thing, but yeah!
We’d hit all of the “crazy” Indiana towns like Gas City, Marion, and, if we were really daring, Muncie.
It’s a shame we were so far from Pawnee because I’d really like to give Paunch Burger a shot.
This driving ministry also involved church on Sundays. One guy named Brian, a quiet, tall, well put together missionary kid, usually attended church with me. One day we got to talking on the way home from church, and I started asking him questions about God.
I was a bit pushy in those days. Perhaps I was even trying to “test” his faith. He’d given some answers that left me uneasy about where he was at. He finally blurted it out.
“I’m not sure I even believe in God.”
“Oh.” I replied. That was that. We didn’t discuss it any further.
I never stopped praying for him, but I did keep my distance from him when I could. He still caught rides with me. I just didn’t know how to talk about God with him. In retrospect I can see that I was fearful to engage someone with different beliefs. I’d been through enough conflict in my own family when I left the Catholic Church that I didn’t know how to gracefully differ with someone.
Should I try to convert him?
Trying to convert my Catholic family to my fundamentalist faith as a teen didn’t go so well. In fact, we had been estranged from each other for a few months. It was painful and awful.
I’d been so riled up with the urgency of saving my family from hell that I adopted a scorched earth policy. They needed to be saved immediately, lest they suddenly die and go to hell. The people who advocate this kind of thinking don’t realize that an aggressive approach could leave their loved ones even further from God.
Aggressive evangelism has a down side that we rarely consider.
We’re so quick to call attention to the one or two converts that come from pushy, in-your-face evangelism that we fail to notice how many people it turns off from God.
By the time my college friend shared his atheism with me, I was done trying to convert people. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. At least I wouldn’t give him a reason to hate Christians any more than he already did.
A year later, Brian decided to room with a goofy missionary kid we called Pan—as in, he was a missionary kid from Panama. Pan was always cracking jokes and taking girls on dates. I’ll just say it, we all envied Pan a little bit—some of us a lot.
Pan and Brian hit it off in an opposites attract kind of way. I worried that Pan would be de-converted by Brian. On the contrary, Pan had a radical experience of God one night, and he suddenly became extremely earnest for God.
Pan started praying for everyone. He showed radical love to even the most difficult guys on our floor. Brian noticed.
A few months after Pan’s spiritual awakening, he returned to his room to find Brian reading his crisp, rarely touched Bible.
“You know,” Brian said, “I think there’s something to this.”
Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus and the author of Coffeehouse Theology. He shares his imperfect and sometimes sarcastic thoughts about following Jesus at www.inamirrordimly.com and is the co-founder of the Renew and Refine Retreat for Writers.