This year I visited Iglesia Evagelica Lawndale (Lawndale Mennonite) in Illinois.
Prior to this visit I had visited the church several times and I was familiar with the worship. For the first time I decided to attend Sunday school with my mother-in-law. This Sunday school class was intended to train lay people to practice evangelism more profoundly.
I have to confess I went into this course with assumptions. My perception of Evangelism was mainstream—individual conversion—but in matter of minutes my assumptions were proven wrong.
This Sunday school had a more radical understanding of evangelism.
It understood evangelism as a form to tell a story or testimony.
The handout for the class was intended to help people outline their story. There were three sections: life before Christ, life when you experience Christ, and life with Christ.
As the pastor explained the outline, I realized that each participant were eager to tell their story. I thought in my mind, that they are going to tell the conversion story, but once again I was wrong.
The pastor was quick to explain that telling one’s testimony means being transparent.
He quickly said, “We cannot forget our past just because we decided to follow Christ.”
I understood this to mean that conversion does not erase a person’s past. Thereby, our cultural experience shape the way we encountered Christ’s story.
Evangelism is often understood as a “yes” or “no.” Either you accept Christ or not, for example on Christian television.
But this pastor, Angel Canon, provided something different. His understanding of evangelism invites the marginalized to tell their story of they encountered Christ—how their life without Christ and their lives with Christ come together at a crossroads.
Each person in that basement had a story to tell.
These were stories that society has disregarded, as many were blue collar workers and recent immigrants. Telling their testimony was more than just their decision to go to church—it was being part of Christ’s liberating story.
One brother told a story of his conversion. He started by explaining his life and struggles. His story began with his abusive behavior with alcohol. His words were the following: “I tried everything to stop and I always found myself back in the bar. Until I found a church that cared… that is when I experienced Christ.”
I do not think he meant that his efforts were worthless, but that he found Christ’s reconciliation through the church.
We are entering a crucial time in the church.
We need this kind of honest expressions of radical evangelism. This means sharing our own stories being open for people to prove our assumptions wrong.
Martin Navarro and his wife Viridiana live in Elkhart, Ind. They are both from Chicago. Martin received a master’s of divinity in Theology, Ethics and Church History from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart. Martin currently holds the position of bilingual church relations representative at Everence. He works closely with the Hispanic Anabaptist community. This is a web exclusive piece.