Now that summer has entered the northern hemisphere, many of us will be involved in ministries such as summer camps, VBS, in addition to open air and door-to-door ministry, respectively. Many souls will be touched by the gospel but what happens to them after the outreach is over?
Recent circumstances have reminded me about the importance of persevering in the face of discouragement and the fact that our Saviour is indeed the Lord of the Harvest (Mt. 9:38).
8 years ago, a young woman named Jan was involved a large-scale, week-long outreach with her husband which canvassed their entire town with the gospel. In the aftermath of the outreach, they were tasked with following up with contacts reached through the door-to-door ministry for the purpose of inviting them to an evangelistic Bible study.
After driving to the address of one of the contacts, they found themselves literally on the other side of the tracks. They knocked on the door and what greeted them was one of the saddest faces they had ever seen, on a woman named Tina.
Committing to Tina
Tina had tattoos across both arms and legs, and a small tattoo of a teardrop on her face. Jan would be lying if she said that she knew that you would be hearing Tina’s story today after that first encounter. In the flesh, we seek those we want to be with because they make us feel good about ourselves rather than those to whom the Holy Spirit directs us, those who truly need us.
After the introduction, Jan asked Tina if she would be interested in joining a group study. Apprehensive about studying in a group, Tina said that she would prefer meeting one-on-one. Jan immediately agreed to visit her at her home on a regular basis despite the fact that she was a young wife with many responsibilities, not the least of which was her ten-month-old daughter. Moreover, Jan was young enough to be Tina’s daughter. Yet, Jan remained undaunted. From that day on, Tina became a part of their lives and before long became an honorary member of the family.
One of the first things Tina told Jan was that she had heard it all before; having explored every religion including Mormonism, into which she was once baptized. Jan prayed about this with her husband for weeks which then turned into months, all while continuing studying with Tina. One day, Jan opened John 3:16 and asked Tina to read it out loud.
After she did this, Jan then asked if Tina could place her name in the verse, “For God so loved [Tina], that He gave His only begotten Son, that [if Tina] believes in Him, [Tina] will not perish but have everlasting life”. Jan then asked Tina if she believed this, and Tina replied that she did.
They embraced and shed tears of joy together. The joy they experienced in that little house undoubtedly paled in comparison to the celebration in Heaven.
Continuing with Tina
Discipleship doesn’t just involve preparing Bible studies. As Jan soon learned, it can turn into a full-time job. In addition to being Tina’s teacher, at times Jan became Tina’s chauffeur and courier! While discretion is needed as to when to say ‘no’, the thing that resonated the most with Jan was God’s command to “associate with the lowly” (Rom. 12:16, ESV).
It involved anything from picking Tina up Sunday mornings for the Family Bible Hour, counseling over the phone or helping Tina move on short notice.
Jan eventually had three children, each of whom Tina loved dearly and vice-versa. With a growing family, the visits with Tina became less frequent and although Tina sometimes went back to her old ways, Jan was always there for her to be a help and a listening ear.
8 years after their first encounter, Jan received a phone call from Tina’s daughter saying that Tina had experienced a cardiac arrest and was in the intensive care unit with severe brain damage. Jan paid one last visit to Tina at her bedside, singing to her and praying for her. A few days later, the inevitable happened and Jan was informed of Tina’s death.
Tina’s brother asked Jan if she would be interested in saying a few words at the funeral. Apprehensive at first, Jan consulted with her husband who encouraged her to do so as it would likely be the only gospel testimony at the funeral. They would soon realize how wrong they were!
The Lord of the Harvest
Jan approached the pulpit with her notes, took a deep breath, and told the gathered mourners (many of whom engaged in Tina’s hard-living past) the story of Tina coming to know the Lord, inviting them to make the same decision. Through tears, Jan said that she thought Tina would be blessed through knowing her but she was the one who was blessed through knowing Tina and that she looked forward to seeing Tina again in glory.
As Jan took her seat, her husband and her listened to Francine, the main speaker who (to their great surprise) was not only a believer but one who had come from a similar background as Tina and after getting saved, made it her life’s work to tell street people about her Saviour! What’s more, the Lord had begun planting the seed into Tina through Francine years before Tina had ever met Jan.
The rest of the eulogy was a beautiful lesson from John 11, how death should not be feared by those who believe in Christ. Francine closed by declaring that hell, a place she once mistakenly thought was a place of pleasure, was the loneliest place in the universe and challenged the mourners to receive Christ that very day.
After the service, Francine gave out complimentary copies of her autobiography, entitled “From Darkness to Light”. Jan and her husband left the funeral rejoicing and worshipping the Lord of the Harvest for the work that had preceded them, not to mention the fact that Tina’s testimony had ministered to more through her death than it had in her life.
So, is all the work involving personal evangelism worth it if few come to Christ? Well, the Lord seems to think they are, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). Jan wouldn’t consider herself an evangelist, just somebody who made herself available. I should know, because I’m married to her!