Wednesday, March 15, 2017

We Go to Church for Training

hymnal at Carter Memorial AME Chruch, Fresno
Carter Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, Fresno
Gladys didn’t come for the evangelism training, “I came for Bible study, but this is good too.” We were supposed to divide into pairs and discuss what might keep us from sharing the Good News about Jesus with other people. Gladys said nothing did. “I’ll be celebrating my 85th birthday this year and God has always been faithful to me. Yes, there have been hard times, but God has always been there.”

Many of us have a harder time talking about what God’s done in our lives. That’s why the sponsors of “Good News in the Valley” (also known as “Fresno City Fest” -- coming April 1st & 2nd at Save Mart Center) scheduled evangelism training at different churches throughout the city. We were happy they held a Wednesday night meeting, because we’re trying to got to church on Wednesdays evenings this month. (Have you noticed that worship services aren’t all we write about?)

Michael greeted us at the door. We later learned he's been at all the training sessions. He asked how I was, and I said, “Well.”

I asked how he was, and he said, “Blessed.” A cheerful and gregarious guy, Michael told me about the Festival he attended last year in Southern California, at Angels Stadium. He told me about the thrill of seeing thousands put their trust in Christ in that Festival, and how he was looking forward to seeing the same in Fresno. He told me 1,500 counselors had been trained, but they’d be needed for the thousands that would be coming.

Before the meeting started, I walked around inside Carter Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church. A wall to one side of the sanctuary was filled with pictures of the founders of the AME denomination along with pictures of pastors of Carter Memorial including their current pastor, the Reverend Sharon Avril. A group of people was finishing up a meeting at a table in the room, and we later learned they were taking a membership class. Since part of the membership class was evangelism training, they were taking advantage of the Festival session along with the rest of us.

Jeff, one of the leaders of the training, introduced himself to me before the meeting. A woman from Carter Memorial asked if he was my pastor, and I told her no.

Pastor Avril opened the meeting in prayer and welcomed all in attendance. Jeff came forward and mentioned that he and Pastor Avril were both members of the West Fresno Ministerial Alliance, an association of churches that has been working together for over 60 years.

Jeff talked about the upcoming event and said the purpose was to lift up Jesus; it was not about lifting up any particular person or church or evangelist. (The evangelist that he was talking about, I assume, that the Fest was not looking to lift up is Luis Palau. Palau has been called a successor to Billy Graham. Born in Argentina, Palau now has an evangelistic organization based in Oregon, but he has preached around the world, even in China in 2005.)

Jeff turned the podium over to Javier, who was to talk about the need for evangelism. He discussed the need to be open to God’s leading, telling us about driving to meeting in Fresno when he felt God urging him to stop at a Valero gas station along the way.  He stopped and saw a young man he knew. The young man said he was considering suicide. Javier counseled the man, who gave his life to Christ, and has now been active in a church for years. He urged people to pray in the time before City Fest, “We need to talk to God about people, before we talk to people about God,” he said.

Fresno City Fest is April 1 and 2 at Save Mart Center
Using a fill in the blanks handout, we were reminded “People are _______ without God” (“lost” was the missing word). We were encouraged to remember that just as Jesus Christ came into the world to save the lost, we are to be His witnesses.

Jeff and Javier traded off speaking, and they went on to talk about obstacles to sharing Christ and the importance of knowing the Gospel message so we would be able to share it. We were encouraged to write up a short summary of the Gospel message. (FWIT, I wrote, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, and sin leads to death. But God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins, so that we would know God’s forgiveness and eternal life.”) People were encouraged to share what they had written with the group, and all of the responses were given positive encouragement from the leaders. (Mindy and I didn’t read what we'd written aloud. She was still writing when they called for responses.)

We were encouraged to think of people from various parts of our lives: friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, etc. that don’t know Jesus and therefore need our prayers. We were encouraged to write those first names on two pieces of paper -- one list for our personal prayer life and on another card to be turned in so that Festival associates can also be praying for them. (Just so you know, Karen, Kay, Roscoe and Sandra -- someone is praying for you.)

There was discussion of how to begin conversations about spiritual issues. Some people suggested variations on “Where do you go to church?” which probably isn’t the best in a place where many people don’t go church and never have gone to church. Other suggestions for questions included, “Are you happy?” and “What’s important to you?” The importance of listening to people AND the Spirit of God was stressed.

Those who attended the training were encouraged to be counselors at City Fest. Counselors (or “Friends of City Fest”) were asked to go to a special tent at the Festival, where they would be registered and given an orange t-shirt to identify them as counselors. At the end of the evening worship meetings, people who want to follow Jesus won’t be called forward; instead, they’ll be asked to raise their hands so counselors can go to them.  

Toward the end of the training time, someone quoted Acts 1:8 (NIV), “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Javier said, “We are at the ends of the earth here in Fresno. You can look it up on the map.” It will be exciting to see what God does here at the ends of the earth in April.