‘People were more interested in buying broccoli than hearing me talk about God’
Sheila Jacobs talks about how she learned to do mission authentically
I used to be involved in street evangelism, some of which happened on Saturday nights in a large town. One night there was trouble, and the next minute there were police on the scene. I was thinking, ‘I’m too old for this!’ and wishing I’d opted to go to a restaurant that evening instead. I’m fairly sure the apostle Paul never felt that way. Or maybe he did. Who knows.
My own journey to faith was, in fact, helped by listening to an evangelist. I was somehow cajoled into going to a Billy Graham rally with my mum and gran in Bristol, back in the 1980s. I remember the speaker talking about the broad way and the narrow way. I was young, very much on the broad way – and enjoying it – but I asked for gospel literature, and reading it began to spark my curiosity. Later on, I read a book written by a woman who had a real relationship with Jesus, and said to myself, ‘If that’s possible, I want it.’ After my my own personal encounter with God, I devoured all the Christian books I could.
Long before COVID-19, I’d stopped being involved in street evangelism – jumping out at people on their way to the shops, brandishing leaflets and a big smile. We had some good conversations, but generally people were more interested in buying their broccoli than talking about whether or not there was a God. Still – I may have given up on this type of evangelism, but I’ve never given up on books.
Books have played an enormous part in my journey with Jesus. They have been my Emmaus Road companion, gradually revealing deeper truths about the One who has been walking with me and who so often I have failed to recognise. I remember the first time I read Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee. I was in my thirties and God spoke to me, saying that he didn’t want me to ‘work for him’ but to do his work in and through me. It was life-changing.
People, too, have been ‘living books’ in my life: unwritten stories, accompanying me on the journey, sometimes just for a short period, but often for longer, their testimonies about the faithfulness of God proving to be true lamps along an all too often foggy path.
My work today involves writing, editing, honing manuscripts and encouraging new as well as seasoned authors. I’m a great believer in the power of the written word. I think people who don’t feel able to join a Christian community, a church or fellowship group, will often read a book (or an article) at their own leisure. Nothing forced; the writer just facilitating a space for the Holy Spirit to work in somebody’s heart.
Writing flows out of experience. A testimony has to be lived out before it can be written down. Writing is like a conduit, allowing ourselves to be used by God to ‘speak’ when it may not be actually possible to use the spoken word. It’s powerful. It’s effective.
We don’t know what this COVID winter is going to look like. But if you find yourself at home, with not much to do during the long, dark evenings, why not open up that laptop, or grab a biro and an exercise book, and begin to write your story? You might find yourself writing about your life with God; or fiction, an allegory, history, or something that is devotional – even a journal. Pray for an outlet. Post it online, or in your church newsletter, to encourage others.
Authentic mission isn’t over. It’s just changing, like the seasons.
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