Witnessing To Strangers

by | Jun 16, 2023 | Times of Restoration

It is on the rare occasion that I am accused of extroversion. When visitors come to Fairwood, where I live and work, I hope that my neighbor and friend, Gretchen, will be present to greet them with the same joyful enthusiasm with which she welcomed me! At friends’ weddings, I prefer to help behind the scenes, not just for the sheer enjoyment of serving, but so that I won’t have to make small talk. 

Combine tendencies towards not talking and the fear of someone getting angry, and you would get a great hurdle in witnessing. But I’m here to testify how God overcame what felt like a great hindrance through a combination of His Word and experiential learning. 

Thankfully, in witnessing or anything that we do for God, we do not have to depend on our natures. If I had thought of my tendencies, I might have talked myself out of one too many of the 48 encounters, that I can recall with detail, telling strangers about God on the streets of New York City and elsewhere. Instead, I focused on His Word, and doing it, and He continually provided leading, ability, and guidance—not just once, but many times!

The context of nearly all of these exchanges was that at the age of 27, I experienced a fundamental life change. I was touched by God, and Jesus became my foundation. I had found the source of life, and I couldn’t keep Jesus to myself when it came to friends and co-workers. Also, during this time, the Holy Spirit was daily opening the Word to me. Among other passages, I began to take Matthew 25 very seriously, especially verse 40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.’”

And I had ample opportunities to live and practice this verse. Being in a major city meant that there was a deluge of needs all around me, and I wanted to bring hope to those who were downtrodden, especially the homeless.  

Early on, I was feeling things out and doing my best. On one of my many commutes home, I had seen a man sitting on the floor of the subway station. His name was Peter, and his heart was teeming with bitterness. Over  several weeks, I pulled out my best Tim Keller apologetics with him, but to no avail. Frustrated, I was about to give up, when a young woman named Julie approached us. She had been watching us from about 20 feet away and came over while her friends looked on. They were visiting from Texas and had taken the subway in the wrong direction. Eventually they realized it and got off at the stop where Peter and I were talking, and I later learned that God had told her, “I want you to meet someone.” 

So without missing a beat, Julie said, “Hi, my name is Julie, and Jesus saved my marriage.” That held Peter’s attention, and moments later she asked if he would like to accept Jesus as his Savior. When he nodded, she led him in the sinner’s prayer, and Hallelujah! Peter found salvation! Opening his eyes at the end of the prayer, he said, “I feel better.” Julie prayed for me, too.  Julie showed me what it meant to witness in the Spirit, and to be bold. I also discerned that I had been talking at Peter’s mind, while she had spoken to his spirit while in the Spirit.

This encounter gave me the courage and training to share a shortened version of my testimony and to eagerly pray for others. I would sometimes talk about how God restored my family, or how God saved me, or sometimes I would say, “Jesus has blessed me, so that I can help you today.” These times filled me with strength.

I also learned to pray for boldness and for God to open the doors. I didn’t understand how sometimes I would be filled with what I understood as boldness: a lack of hesitation, an abundance of confidence, clarity of voice and thinking, and yet how later the same day I would be quaking with nerves when approaching people. I took this confusion to the Lord for help. “Why? Why can’t I be consistent?” 

And He answered  through my Bible reading. While going through the epistles, my attention was suddenly attuned to Paul’s dependence on God to fulfill his ministry. He didn’t rely on his own abilities or past performance; he continually looked upwards. In Colossians 4, he was asking others to pray that God would open doors for him to share the Gospel, and in Ephesians 6, he sought the boldness to go through them. We can shrug this off by saying, resignedly, “But I’m not Paul”! True, we are not, but we can depend on God just as he did! 

When I prayed like this, I began to rely more on Him and not myself, and I became less dismayed by fluctuations of feelings. Feeling confident is not a prerequisite in walking in the ways of God, and the more I realized this, the less nervous I became. When I shared this insight of applying Paul’s prayers with other believers at church, they started to pray this way and saw results. One of them shared the Gospel with a stranger on the street for the first time, and another found that she didn’t have to look for a strategy to talk about God with a friend: the person they shared with initiated the conversation. Another testified of the same thing happening with a co-worker. 

I also continued to have such encounters. For example, while I was waiting for my take-out order at a local eatery, Larry, a retired librarian and a self-proclaimed hippie of all hippies, started talking to me. Over a period of several weeks, we discussed politics and how fundamental worldviews can change the way we see and interpret social phenomena. I had the opportunity to exalt the existence of God and who He truly is, and found myself sharing the Gospel and praying for him. This was shortly after I had said to God, “I think my political science degree was a waste of time,” with nonchalance rather than disappointment. God was reminding me that He works all things towards good. He can use it all.

And I frequently read about and reflected on Paul boasting in his weakness because he discovered that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I discovered this principle to be true firsthand, as God often used what I considered failure to show His glory. Charlie is an example. I met Charlie near the farmer’s market where I worked, and introduced myself as a Christian. He told me he had recently become an agnostic, having abandoned life-long atheism. The second time I ran into him, he was venting about politics. At church, we had been going through the book of Daniel, so I nervously quoted Daniel 2:21, “He removes kings and sets up kings.” In the midst of his steaming, he paused. I couldn’t quite read his reaction, so feeling awkward, I just left. 

As you could tell, I did not feel confident that time; I felt weak and feeble, so much so that for several weeks, I engaged in overly critical rumination. “Why couldn’t I have just told him the Gospel?!” I said in frustration. At the root of such angst was the belief that someone’s eternal condition depended on the success of my words—on me.

What happened next made me realize once again, in a deeper way, that it is not the strength of our flesh that makes moves in His Kingdom. Because the growing season had ended for the flower stand where I worked, a few months passed before I saw Charlie again. When I did, it was on the top floor of a sandwich shop, brightly lit, with many people sitting on long benches. Charlie was in the middle of the room, and it seemed as if a spotlight was on him! His face was brighter than anyone else’s. I greeted him enthusiastically. 

“You-Young,” he replied, “I met the Lord!” 

Stunned, I exclaimed, “What?!” 

 “Yes!” he said. “The Lord sends His workers like you along, and…” to be honest, I can’t remember how he finished that sentence. But I was greatly humbled by this. I thanked the Lord, because He showed me that it was His life and power, not my ability and strength, that was at work here. We might feel feeble in sharing with others about God, but God can use what is weak to show Himself.

Another major adjustment in my thinking came unexpectedly. Sometime around December 2008, I had tried to share the Gospel with a man who was sitting on the street in the dead of winter. He had a very large black tattoo covering his swollen face. I was too afraid of offending him with the Gospel and making things awkward, yet I was able to approach and say the words, “God loves you.” His face scrunched up, not in anger, but in uncertainty of what to do with what I had just spoken. I soon left, but I thought of him often as time went on because I had so much regret. All I could recall was that his name was something like “Cypher.” 

In 2015, nearly seven years later, ten miles and an hour’s train ride away, I met Cypher again in my neighborhood. His hair was longer, his face was no longer swollen, but I recognized him by the face tattoo. “Hey!” I said, “Is your name Cypher?” 

“No, it’s Spider,” he replied, but it was the same man! I explained how I had met him. He said, “Oh yeah… I think I remember.” And honestly, it didn’t matter to me if he remembered or not because what he proceeded to tell me strengthened my faith and blew my regrets into oblivion. Even though I had failed to tell him the Gospel, God had sent someone after me who did. Then God sent someone else to take him to church. Eventually, he accepted Jesus and started bringing all of his friends to church!

I was so thankful to God. He was showing me His wonderful sovereignty in a way that made me stop quaking. He powerfully moved the fulcrum of my heart, so that I could understand this and rest in Him. I realized that I may not be the one who leads someone to Jesus, but I can be number 2, 3, or 15 out of however many God uses! So in witnessing, we don’t have to have perfect knowledge or polished words. We don’t need to be extroverted, introverted, tall, short, or even confident. We just need to be His, living our lives with Him, and relying on Him. I did not become more confident on the basis of my own ability, but through experiencing His power and strength. He’s working on me just as much as He is working through me.

I’d like to end with another encouragement. I have had the pleasure over the past few months of hearing people’s testimonies. One brother I know became a Christian because it was at a youth group where he received his first genuine hug. It embraced his abused soul so much that it won him instantly to Jesus. Another sister came to the faith because of consistent kindness shown to her by a Christian couple—in action, not so much in words. I myself came to the faith through the revelation of sin and Jesus through expository preaching. Some have come in response to the fear of hell, and others through a careful examination of Scripture and its veracity. And we’ve all heard of the visions and dreams people have had around the world of Jesus. These examples show us that God uses many different people, gifts, and ministries to find His sheep. We rely on God to do His will, and He works in and through us to accomplish it.

So, brothers and sisters, let’s be in the Word, with Him and for Him. Aside from meeting our own needs, it stores up treasure to distribute to the hungry. Expect on-site training and for God to be with us when we do His will.  “Help!” is a powerful prayer in the life of each believer because of who it is we are praying to. Remember that good works are already prepared for us, so let’s walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). That might seem easier said than done sometimes, but let’s remember to look to Him for opportunities and the boldness to take them. Finally, let’s pray for God to send out laborers for the plentiful harvest (Matthew 9:38), and be willing to be one of them.

—You-Young (“YY” to her friends) is a staff member at Fairwood Bible Chapel, managing websites, serving in the kitchen, accomplishing secretarial duties, and doing layout for this magazine.

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