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International seminary missionaries reach out in Ottawa

August 31, 2018 No Comment

Over Mother’s Day weekend, seminarians from Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario) Markus Peschel (South African), David Zakel (Canadian), Vishal Paul (Indian) joined Professor Harold Ristau to visit the neighbourhood of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Ottawa, knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel through personal invitations to worship, as well as the distribution of tracts. The trip was the ‘practical’ component of their Evangelism Course, along with witnessing their faith at a booth at a local county fair. The trip was made possible by a generous grant from Lutheran Women’s Missionary League-Canada.

by Dave Zakel

Striking up a conversation with a complete stranger is a lot like writing an open-ended article on a broad topic. Where do I start? What do I say? How am I going to do this? These questions and others are sure to pop up when the conversation shifts towards evangelism and outreach. Often the questions are inwardly answered with half-hearted excuses: I don’t have time. I can’t speak eloquently. I don’t know enough. The list goes on.

You’ve likely asked some of these questions of yourself and made some of the same excuses. I know I have. The problem with questions like these is what they focus on. Rather than focusing on Christ, and what He has done for me and all people, we begin by looking inward to “what I can do”—or, more commonly, “what I can’t do.” Christ’s Word is life; we confess this along with Peter (John 6) and proclaim it in the divine service. How then can we go wrong by speaking His words to others? Will they not achieve the purpose for which they are sent (Isaiah 55)?

The 2018 spring short term course offered at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (CLTS – St. Catharines, Ontario) focused on Evangelism in the Parish. The two-week intensive explored various methods of outreach used in the church historically and in the current era. An emphasis was placed on the practical applications of evangelism: connecting Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and Christian care and concern for our neighbours.

During classes, the students heard from Rev. Ron Mohr (East District Mission Executive) and Rev. Rob Korsch (Grace Lutheran, Kitchener) about outreach opportunities in both the larger church as well as localized ministries. For example, Rev. Korsch spoke about the English as a Second Language courses he uses to reach out and serve the neighbourhood around Grace Lutheran Church.

In addition to class work, CLTS’ Evangelism in the Parish course involved students in two practical evangelism opportunities. The first occurred in the fall at the Norfolk County Fair in Simcoe, Ontario. The second was a weekend trip to Ottawa, where students met with Rev. Bryan King to hear how his congregation is serving the neighbourhood surrounding St. Luke Lutheran Church.

These two outreach opportunities represented different types of outreach. The fair booth experience, while allowing students to meet with a larger group of people, is a more passive vehicle for outreach: those spoken with must first come to the booth. To that end, organizers tried various strategies to draw people in. For example, large oak doors were used as props for a reformation conversation starter; a spinning wheel of biblical trivia engaged children while giving them an opportunity to win a prize; and Project Connect booklets from Lutheran Hour Ministries on various life issues were available for anyone to take freely. The goal was to engage as many people as possible and give them something to chew on, along with information for local congregations. If they were willing, they could request a connection to a local congregation through the fair booth.

By contrast, the outreach experience in Ottawa required students to go out and make connections by knocking on doors. Every door in the area was knocked on, and one of several different tracts selected by Rev. King was left in the mailbox. Most everyone spoken with knew where St. Luke Lutheran Church was located, or knew of Rev. King. Some people were hesitant to talk about Jesus, perhaps thinking they were being visited by Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. But others, upon learning who the group really was, were grateful for the invitation. They were happy to hear that our only “agenda” was to let them know that a church that cared for them was located just down the street and that they were welcome to visit anytime. Still, talking to strangers isn’t easy in a culture that is suspicious of organized religion.

Sharing the Gospel with a complete stranger

So how do you share the Gospel with a complete stranger? It is definitely a challenge when the person is biblically illiterate, something which is increasingly the case in our society. Yet, even for those who do have some head-knowledge of Christianity, nothing that you say on its own will create faith; that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Prayer is therefore the place to start. Remember who you are in Baptism, as a child of God. Rev. King had a lesson for the students in Ottawa, reminding them that the easiest place from which to share your faith is retelling in everyday language what you already confess daily in the Apostles Creed. The more you know about what you believe and why, the more natural it becomes to share that knowledge with others.

One of the resources that we looked at during the course was CPH’s “Everyone a Witness.” This resource sets about explaining to the reader an effective method of evangelization, based simply on the idea of a conversation. The acronym LASSIE (Listen, Ask, Seek, Share, Invite, Encourage) is employed, reminding the reader that the place to begin a conversation is less about you, and more about the person you are talking with. Understanding the spiritual need of the other person will give you an opportunity to share more precisely the word that they need to hear. All people have needs rooted in real life concerns and brokenness. Christian witness can be as simple as letting others talk freely about those needs, which then gives you the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with them, in a natural and prayerful way.

Without giving away too much of the book, it does a good job at reminding us what St. Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” We who are baptized are tools of the Holy Spirit – a liberating thought when we feel uncomfortable in our evangelism efforts. Every one of us Christians is already a witness. That’s a comforting divine promise, both to them and to you!

Dave Zakel is a student at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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