|An Evangelism Case Study: Glenda|
(by Chris Long)
Some of you may remember last August that I asked you to pray for an elderly friend of mine named Glenda. I first asked you if you'd pray with me for her salvation as I was leaving to visit her in another state as a "ministry trip" of sorts. She did indeed end up accepting the Lord and when I got back I asked you to continue to pray for her that the Lord would protect her and seal up the work that was done - especially because of her inability to read or speak well or hear/process info well, and a hostile family environment she was forced to be in (because of her health she went to live with her son/daughter-in-law) meant that she had no further real growth opportunities as a brand new believer/had no support network/couldn't read the Bible, etc. Anything further pretty much had to be the Holy Spirit speaking direct to her. And most of us know how the enemy often likes to play with new believers' minds - planting thoughts of doubt, etc. (and come to think of it, he keeps trying this same old trick no matter HOW long we've been in the Lord).
Well, I wanted to let you know that she has gone on to be with the Lord. I don't know many details, but it was apparently a murder-suicide. They found her and her son quite a long ways from home in a parked car (him driving), and he apparently shot her and then himself. His wife had filed a missing person's report the day before they found them. The interesting thing is that I sent him a text message the same day they died because I was thinking of her and thought I'd maybe be able to get back out to see her in a few days. I didn't receive an answer. Nor did I receive one when I sent one about 1 1/2 months prior for the same purpose.
Although I don't know, I am almost positive that there is a whole religious back-story to the whole thing. See, her last big hangup in coming to Jesus is she knew that if she did so, that that meant she was acknowledging that her family was NOT right with Jesus. I shared Scriptures and talked with her about how she couldn't make a decision for anyone else or know their hearts, but that she needed to take care of herself. In Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus tells us:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
"'a man against his father,
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
We all like to think of Jesus as the great "peace maker" - and He IS for those that believe in Him - He indeed brings peace with God and with others that also believe too. But Jesus draws a DIVIDING line between those who have accepted Him/will accept Him, and those that will not. And this dividing line can be seen to this very day. Our whole society - our whole world - and yes, often times families themselves - are divided over what to do with Jesus Christ.
I pointed out how tragic it would be if she died without Jesus and ended up in hell because she didn't want to make waves with her family, and then subsequently her son/family came to the Lord later. I explained she didn't know what the future would hold there, so she needed to make sure that SHE was right with the Lord.
Well, she did. She decided that "it was time" (previously the year before she told me that she "wasn't ready" - largely I believe because of the "family reason" mentioned above) and she prayed to receive Christ. Since I knew she wouldn't likely ever have an opportunity to be baptized, we did a makeshift baptism in my car (with a small bottled water!). :) However she was then concerned about what she should say or not say to her son/daughter-in-law. I explained that because of her speech/health, it would probably be hard for her to explain and them to understand. But then I also realized that it really wasn't my place to discourage someone from sharing about their new faith in Jesus and so I told her that on the other hand, it might be helpful to say something - that she'd just need to see. (FYI: If you're wondering how I could communicate with her with her health problems, it was the Holy Spirit all the way - I seemed to instinctively know what she was meaning/trying to say and then would repeat back to her to double-check).
Well, again, although I don't know details (and nobody but her and her son know exactly what happened, so this is a bit speculative), I am almost positive that she did say some things, which possibly ended up sparking conflict. There are a couple of clues from what I do know that strongly suggests that to me. It would definitely not surprise me if the conversation right before the trigger was pulled was religious in nature, and that specifically she had to make a choice whether she was going to stick with Jesus - with the truth that she had found and accepted - or not. Basically a choice between Jesus or her son - a last minute faith test of sorts. I have confidence in Jesus that He gave her the strength she needed in those moments. When I had last left her, I committed her to the Lord and asked Him to keep her safe in Him. I have confidence that Jesus gave her all she needed and that indeed she is with Him now rejoicing in Heaven.
And now you may be wondering why I am sharing all this. It is simply because there are a couple of lessons I have learned & that this story draws out, that I felt might be worthwhile to share.
The first relates to both the faithfulness and justice of God. See, Glenda was my neighbor when I was a kid growing up. A kid that desperately needed love and affection tangibly expressed. I was the kid everyone made fun of/had few friends/had a chaotic home life, etc. I was often lonely and felt very unloved. Glenda, however, opened her home to me and quite honestly it became a sort of refuge for me for a few years - esp. my chaotic jr. high years - a real blessing. Right around that time, she started getting very heavy into the New Age after her husband died. I'm talking the full deal: channeling spirits, etc. Although I had not yet "accepted Christ", I thought I was a Christian - I had grown up being taught some about God, etc.) Since I was at the age when I was really starting to understand things myself, Glenda & I often got into religious discussions - I would give her the "Christian" point of view as best I understood it, and she would tell me what she believed.
The fact that she went from where she was (when I was a kid and she was providing a help to me) to accepting the Lord in the car with me (as an adult) having come to see her years later was just beautiful. She helped me in a practical sense as a kid. And I got to share Jesus with her and help her in a SUPER DUPER practical sense as an adult! God knew her heart and He saw her actions. And I just really believe that the whole thing just showcases God's faithfulness and His justice.
Moving on to the next lessons I learned:
After I accepted Christ, I tried to explain to her about my "born again" experience. But she just felt it was like any experience like she had had - because after all, "all roads lead to Heaven". New Agers (or the many that don't use that title but share similar beliefs) can be some of the trickiest bunch of people to witness to because they'll say that everyone is OK, and that illusion can be awful hard to break through.
Flash forward now to about 5 years ago. Upon visiting her (I hadn't seen her in a few years), I noticed she was quite a bit softer in regards to the Gospel then she had been the last time I saw her, though she was still a ways off (believing in evolution, not wanting to accept the reality of hell, etc.). I got her a Bible as well as a Bible Answer book that gives answers to questions skeptics ask, etc. I continued praying for her. Each time I would see her (which was only a few), we would talk some and I'd witness a little, and she would seem a little closer.
Then she had a stroke and it became very difficult for her to communicate and/or process info - it got jumbled in her brain - though I didn't fully understand this. In 2009 when I saw her after the stroke, I naively thought that she would be able to listen to a CD with some teachings, so I tried to "cheat" (I'll explain) and give her a CD to listen to and I left her with some materials to read. See, I wanted to just leave her with some stuff and let her on her own come to Christ. Basically, I wanted the "easy way out" so to speak. I didn't really feel "qualified" - that I even COULD really lead her through all the Scriptures necessary to explain everything and address all her concerns (and she had a number!) - so I left her to read/hear what the "professionals" had to say, etc. Now, granted, I left her with some good stuff. But that is not what she needed. She needed a person to really demonstrate Christ to her and show her that it's real in their life!
How often do we as believers try to take the "easy way out" with someone? Oh we'll maybe tell them about Jesus, get them a book, and pray for them. But are we really willing to commit the time necessary to personally show the love of Jesus practically and share personally - to show this real faith that we say we believe in?
Evangelism is often portrayed as something that is very quick and requires little of us. We give a quick spiel on the Gospel, and then people are just supposed to flock to make decisions for Christ. Now, when you're talking about an evangelist in a stadium full of people, the evangelist's message is indeed likely to hit some of the people that happen to be "ripe" and are ready to make a decision.
But the reality in our own personal one-on-one relationships is that it takes time. Our friends and family want to see the PROOF of Jesus in our life - they want to see that it is REAL - not just that we can spout an "opinion" (what they think is an opinion anyway) to them. And this requires demonstrating the love of Jesus practically - and also showing His love by showing that we love them enough that we're willing to be committed to them in whatever it takes to remove hindrances from them coming to Jesus. Basically we need to show that we love and care about them - and make sure they know who's love it is working through us (though we don't need to bash them with that, either). It's basically us just being real and sharing Jesus and His love as best we can.
Back to Glenda: After trying several times to get her to listen to the custom CD I made her of teachings (she kept having trouble figuring out how to get it to play), and also upon discovering that even with it playing she couldn't process what was being said, nor could she read the materials I gave her, I realized I was going to have to get COMMITTED and do it myself. I was going to need to engage with her - to go through the Scriptures - to answer her questions. And this meant I needed to spend TIME. And this all honestly really scared me because I didn't feel "able" - but God IS able and I found out I just needed to rely on Him to work through me! (whew, what a relief!)
I thought I might have a real challenge because of the communication barrier. But I discovered that the Holy Spirit was greater than that barrier. He enabled me to understand her and her to understand me! I tried to keep my speech simple (for the most part tried to explain like I would to a child). God took care of it. While other people had trouble understanding her, I always seemed to innately know what she was trying to say (I believe this was the work of the Holy Spirit in me!)
I started coming and visiting her weekly. But I didn't just start bashing her with Scripture - I tried to be wise and look for good timing to try to turn the topic to spiritual things - which would inevitably lead to her saying something that would give me a clue as to where she was at - which I could then address and take her to the Scriptures. I also tried to help her with practical things: when her sprinklers were broken, I tried to help fix them, etc. Although I could have done better, I showed an interest in her and what was going on in her life.
Then my mom was diagnosed with serious cancer and I stopped going over to see her (temporarily I thought). When I last left her, she was getting very close to accepting Jesus, but wasn't quite there.
When I next went to visit her several months later, I found that her house where she had lived for over 30 years was empty. I was very distraught because I started thinking she might have died and I felt like I hadn't done all I could and she was "so close." I pleaded that if she hadn't died that Jesus would save her! As I was crying out to God, I had a sense that I needed to go back to her house, and when I did so, I ran into the realtor who explained that she had gone to live with her son & his wife. And that brings the story up to where I started this message today. Eventually (you would think it would have been right away but I didn't have peace about it for some time), I made a trip to see her - and I knew that this was THE time for her. And sure enough, it was.
And that's a part of the lessons I learned: timing. There's a process that people go through to be willing to accept Jesus - and it's different for all. For some it's relatively short and others very long. As I said earlier, with the way we portray evangelism, it's easy to get discouraged when you share with someone and they don't respond or seem to make much progress. But it's just another seed, a bit more water, along the way. And eventually there's a time where if they're going to respond, they will, and the harvest will come. And sometimes we don't even get to see the harvest - we're just one of the seed-spreaders or waterers - and someone else gets to help them overcome that last hurdle. But it's all important. The thing for us is just that we do the best we can to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit regarding timing and what we are to do & when.
And this also leads me to to another big thing I've learned: just how hard the devil will fight to keep 1 person! He fought awful hard for Glenda - and when he had her move away when she was "so close" I'm sure he thought that was the end of the story. But he was wrong. God nudged me and when the time was right, made the way for me to see her. And though I had to fight against the enemy all the way there, the Lord took care of it and gave me all the strength & grace I needed. And I'm sure that with whatever happened between her and her son, the devil thought he was accomplishing something great - but I believe by faith that Jesus ultimately turned the tables on the devil in that too (and even this message going out to many helps in that!). Jesus specializes in such things.
Another thing I learned is that while my presenting Scriptures to Glenda and sharing God's truth was important, my personal testimony and those I know were also very important and made the way for her to be more receptive to God's Word. Our testimony is important. And it doesn't have to be "glitzy" by human standards either - just our honest testimony. Me sharing about how I changed when Jesus came in my life, and how my dad changed when Jesus came into his life, made an impact on her because it was real people that she knew. People can argue doctrine with you, but it's real hard for them to argue with your personal experience - your testimony.
Finally, I want to share this which is what I'm just really grasping now:
1 Peter 1:6-9 (NKJV) says
"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith - the salvation of your souls."
We all once we come to Christ will likely have our faith tested. We encounter trials that test us. And the goal of these testings is to show the genuineness of our faith (and help purify and increase that faith)- which will bring praise & honor & glory to Jesus. And we receive the goal of our faith: the salvation of our souls!
I have learned that God will take us to the issues we need to deal with. Glenda, while being a new believer with no real support, still had to go through a very significant trial to prove the genuineness of her faith. And as I supposed much earlier, I suspect that in some way it probably went to the issue of Jesus vs. family, since that was the last major hurdle for her to overcome. And I trust that just as God has never left me and has helped me with my trials, He helped her in hers. And by faith I believe she's dancing with Jesus now!
The situation was a horrible tragedy - but not ULTIMATELY for her. Being shot by your own child is horrible. But after that, she went to Jesus and is in perfectness with Him. We're all going to die, it's just a matter of when and how. We're all just here for a short while, and we all, though maybe not having to go through the same type of death Glenda did, will face a "final trial" of sorts too. The important thing in life is that we get right with Jesus - because that affects all eternity.
The real tragedy isn't for her, but for her son. It saddens me that it didn't work like I was hoping. I was hoping that since she was elderly, that when she died, I would be able to go to the funeral, and then would have an opportunity to talk to her son/family and hopefully be an instrument to help "get them on the bus" too. It didn't work that way, and I don't know why - only God does. Only God ultimately knows what was in her son's heart - it's all in God's hands.
But for Glenda, I am believing that as His child, she has indeed received the "end" or "goal" of her faith - the salvation of her soul.
This whole situation provided a number of "takeaways" for me - it is my prayer that something in this today has been helpful or encouraging to you.
Love in Christ,
This is version 1.1 of this document (May 17, 2012).