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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

What a Subway Ride Taught Me About Evangelization
June 14, 2015

A few months ago in this column, I shared a story about a subway ride to work during which the conductor asked everyone to smile and be more friendly to the strangers we encounter every day. Well, today I’ve got another subway story, this one having to do with evangelization.

It started when a man stepped onto the train and asked for everyone’s attention. When you’re jammed into a subway early in the morning, this kind of greeting usually results in sighs of exasperation—mine included. But this time was different.

Here’s the gist of what this man had to say: “I’m not here to ask for money so relax. I’m just here to share a bit of news. I was originally at the L train station but it wasn't running so I made my way over here. On the way, I kept telling people I passed that the L train wasn’t running, but they all just ignored me.  Another passerby asked me why I was telling everybody about the train when they were ignoring me.  I told him that I’m just responsible for passing on the message. What other people choose to do with it is up to them. But spreading the message is on me. So let me tell you this message this morning. God loves you. We need to look out for each other and be our brother’s keeper. Let kids and the elderly have a seat on the train. Consider what God wants you to do.”

Then he got off the train.  I’ve heard many a preacher on New York subways. They often adopt scolding tones or yell about repentance and sin. They hammer you over the head with the message that you have to accept Jesus, but I often find they do it in such a way that it’s more likely to drive people away from Jesus.

On the other hand, you have this man who got people’s attention, then started with a story and point that were non-religious and that most people could understand and relate to. He met people where they were at, not from some lofty religious height that morning commuters might automatically shut out. Finally, he brought God into his message in a positive, loving way—asking people to perform some concrete action and give a little thought to what God wants from them.  And then he left.

It was the first time I remember liking a “subway preacher” and I wonder if his approach was more effective than most of the people who do this.  It was a “soft sell,” so to speak.

That’s not to say that the message of repentance isn’t important, but when you’re standing on a crowded subway early in the morning, you’re already a little aggravated.  Some stranger coming in and yelling that you’re a sinner is likely to just make you more aggravated. But when a man comes in speaking confidently yet humbly that God loves you, that message might linger.  It might be one of those scattered seeds that falls on fertile ground and slowly takes root over time.

It’s an approach that The Christophers have been using successfully for 70 years by highlighting the concept, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” And it’s an approach all of us should remember if we’re given opportunities to share our faith. Start with, “God loves you,” and let Him lead you from there.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org