Oxford Outreach (February 2017)
Sister Helen’s following and methodical journal will no doubt be of interest to those reading this month’s newsletter.
For one week in February, our small team travelled to Oxford, in the South of England for another outreach, this time in a town that proved to be highly diverse, with academics, students, professionals, working-class and homeless all abounding, plus the usual plethora of languages heard on every corner.
This was probably the outreach with the most interaction, something we thoroughly enjoyed, as our wish is to reach as many as possible with the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. After an initial try at a spot on the main pedestrian street in the town center, we found another place some meters down.
This new spot was right at the foot of the tower where the famous Anglican bishops Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were imprisoned and tortured as part of the persecution of Protestants during the reign of the Catholic monarch Mary I of England in the 16th century. Very nearby, Brother James was able to shoot some video of Patrick and Martin commenting at the very site where these men were burned at the stake, and it was rather emotional to remember martyrs who stood against Romanism.
(Angry person rips up one of our tracts)
Despite the very cold weather (-1 to +3ºC) and occasional snow flurries, the street was well trafficked and the situation was truly ideal, with relatively good shelter from wind and close to a number of spots for warming up quickly.
As usual, we found that only about 10% or 20% of passersby accepted a tract, but many people had a good look at the banner, some made brief comments, some just glanced and then looked away disgusted or embarrassed, and a few took pictures. One man snapped a shot and shook his head, but we just laughed quietly and hoped he put it on Twitter where more would see it!
In this outreach, we were especially mindful of several great verses in I Corinthians 1: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God (v. 18)… But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness (v. 23); Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men (v. 25)… But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (v. 27).
A number of people politely refused a tract, saying they were Christians, believers or church-goers. Our habit has been to gently urge them to read it and pass it on to someone else if they like it, and most were agreeable to the suggestion.
One of the most surprising encounters was for brother Patrick to meet the conservative English journalist Peter Hitchens (brother of the famous and late atheist Christopher Hitchens). Peter is probably the last true conservative in the UK mainstream media, and we enjoyed a very congenial conversation on 20th century trends and the current state of society, and he kindly received a gospel tract from us too.
We had a couple of very interesting and more confrontational situations, one with a man who disliked the banner and said the message was inappropriate. Although he ran roughshod over James’ attempts to explain that “repent” was one of the first public commands of the Lord Jesus and to encourage the man to read the Scriptures to see that repentance is indeed required, the discussion did last for several minutes and our only prayer is that he will be convicted enough to actually get into the Bible and read the Lord’s words for himself to see where he is wrong.
We also met a young, rather derisive Jewish man who did not like the idea of Hell. In fact, his very first comment was, “What is this all about?” We told him about the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to which he replied, “He [the Messiah] hasn’t come yet. So, if I die now, will I burn in hell?” His nonstop stream of challenges and questions meant that the reply, “Well, are you a sinner?” went unheard, but James made every attempt to quote Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and to request this young Jew’s interpretation of these passages, but he kept insisting that Messiah had not yet come, stating that Jesus did not bring peace and therefore could not be the Messiah. We tried our best to speak truth and challenge his thinking, but in the end we had to draw things to a close. His parting comment was: “So, I’m going to need a fire blanket where I’m going?” Again, our only prayer is that he will take a careful look at the Old Testament Scriptures which speak of Messiah. It would not be the first time that someone has examined the Scriptures to prove them wrong, but came out a repentant and converted believer!
“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9).
We had a very nice and pleasant conversation with a young Catholic student who said he was taking a first-year theology course at Oxford and described himself as “practicing but exploring.” We asked why he was taking the course, and he told us he had hoped to gain further knowledge and get more grounded in his faith. He said that he was surprised to find that most of his fellow-students in the theology course were atheists. We asked if he read the Bible much and he said a little, so we encouraged him to read more, so as to understand salvation by grace through faith alone. This man said the Council of Carthage decided on the canon, but we explained that early translations and early church fathers’ quotations of Scripture demonstrate that the canon was known and acknowledged well before the 4th century and, therefore, Catholics cannot make such a claim. We were also able to broach the topic of Bible versions and the importance of the issue, something he was not aware of.
We also met several people who said they were believers but had some rather ecumenical or charismatic views. One young American student at Oxford was quite enthralled with Thomas Aquinas and we tried to explain that it was not wise to study this mystic or to get entangled with Catholic theologians, as we are called to be separate and because truth plus error is a dangerous combination.
Another young man was in some kind of Christian group and said it was best to evangelize in fellowship groups and that he found that many students were from broken homes and apathetic but searching. He said an existentialist had joined their group, whatever that meant. He did take some tracts and we hope he will think further about the gospel and how it impacts people.
Patrick had a very good conversation with a young couple. The young woman had received help from a Church of England (C of E) chaplain and couldn’t understand that his kindness and help were good works but of no value for salvation, and that he was sorely lacking in assistance in the word of God and with salvation, but it was a pleasant encounter and hopefully they will look into the issues more.
Brother Enrique had a rather interesting conversation with a young foreign man who kept answering questions with more questions to elicit a gospel explanation. This man never explained his position and was a bit too confrontational. Enrique later saw him in the grocery store, and was told, “I was just testing you to see if you had the right gospel,” an attitude we found rather puzzling.
We did meet other believers, some of whom are local and seem to be making some sort of effort in the town to evangelize. One young man was very clear and immediately told us: “Yes, I’ve repented of my sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ!” Wow, what a refreshing thing to hear!
Brother Patrick met an older man, a retired librarian who was confused about religion and said, “I’m ready to die. I’ve had enough.” He did say he reads the Bible as well as other books. Patrick gave him a bookmark with Bible verses (Acts 4:12) and told him, “Do me a favour. Keep this in your current book and read it every night before you go to sleep.”
Patrick also spoke with a young man training to be an Anglican vicar and told him he needed to get out of it, that it was just another link to Rome, but this man seemed still too interested in pursuing his career and not understanding the need to follow the Bible alone.
Sister Helen had a nice conversation with a young girl from Spain, who was in England to work and to study English and was able to explain some of her testimony, give her some tracts and encourage her to read the Bible.
Sister Tantri had a brief conversation with a Jewish person who refused her tract. Tantri mentioned that Jewish people also need to get saved and James added, “Jesus was Jewish,” but there was little reaction to that wonderful statement.
Another lady told us she was C of E but currently attending a Quaker meeting, but she had no understanding of what being born again was and didn’t seem overly interested in understanding it either. She said the Bible was old and not pertinent, but didn’t react when we said that Jesus had told us that we must be born again.
We met another man who said he had been Presbyterian but converted to Catholicism three years earlier. We tried to explain the difference between salvation by grace, that either you pay or the Lord Jesus pays, but not both, and that a person cannot pay because the debt is infinite, hence why Hell is forever.
Sister Helen was able to give a Chinese tract to an elderly Chinese lady who was extremely happy to see us on the streets. It was very hard to converse and her English was limited to hello and thank you, but it was so pleasant to meet someone so appreciative of the street work.
Helen also had a strange encounter with a Catholic lady who told her she (Helen) had left the RCC due to disappointments in people. Despite Helen’s insistence that she had already understood at age 12 the futility of “mediation” by Mary and the saints, this lady emphatically stated her opinion, telling her that Blackfriars Hall had mass at 6:30 and she would pray to the Blessed Virgin that we would go!
One 12-year-old boy took a tract, but immediately said, “God doesn’t exist” and tore up the tract, throwing it on the ground (please see picture at the top). Our mouths dropped open and we wondered what kind of background he must have to be so hateful at such a young age.
We had many other brief conversations, and clearly had to stay on our toes. It is practically impossible to prepare enough, as each comment or question is unpredictable. We hope to have done our best and we are confident that the Lord will bring fruit through His word. Here are some highlights (our replies are shown in parentheses and italics):
“I’m already a Christian.”
(Oh really? Have you been born again?)
“(with puzzlement:) Uh, I’ve only been born once!”
“If Jesus is the Messiah, why do the Jews still exist?”
(There is still a blessing for them)
“Yes, it talks about 3 1/2 years of peace, but it hasn’t come yet!”
(It is still future).
“Why do you believe in the King James? It’s 500 years old. It was because Henry XIII wanted to divorce his wife.”
(No, the King James was translated many years later).
“You should take that (banner) down. It’s very contentious.”
(It’s the word of God)
“I don’t care. Keep it to yourself.”
“Jesus is not the most important person in history.”
(Yes, He is. He saved my life and I’m eternally grateful).
“No, it’s Confucius and Buddha.”
“Repent? That just means have another think.”
(No, it means change your thoughts about your sin)
“No, sorry, I don’t think I will.”
(Bible tract? Are you born again?)
“I’m already born again. I don’t need one.”
(You could pass it on to someone else)
“No, don’t want to.”
Here are a sampling of the one-liners we heard as people rushed by:
“No, WE pay the price!”
“Can I have another one?”
“Can I have one, sweetheart?”
“No, I don’t want your rubbish.”
“I only want your card if it has your phone number” (to a sister).
“I believe in Satan.”
“No thanks, I’m a Muslim.”
“I’m a Christian in the morning but not at night” (from an alcoholic).
“You’re doing a good work. God bless what you’re doing” (from a couple in their 80s).
“I need to check that out”
“How do you know the Bible is true? How do you know that’s what Jesus said? You’re misleading people.”
“I don’t want to perish.”
“You’re wasting your time with me, luv.”
“I worship Satan.”
“Where I’m going, there’s no one that can save me.”
“I’m always repenting.”
“Please, could you give me one?” (from a young man who came back to us).
“No, we’re Catholics for Christ” (two young Franciscan monks).
On top of daily street work, we also letter-boxed many tracts and worked outside the local train station (sometimes twice daily).
James also did daily (sometimes twice daily) Bible studies, which God willing, will be uploaded in March.
In total, we estimated that we gave out around 1300 OT prophecy postcards, 700 verse bookmarks and over 1000 credit-card tracts, plus 100 other miscellaneous tracts in English and other languages. We also guessed that the banner was seen by at least 25,000 or 30,000 people, all despite the freezing weather.
(Some of our new bookmarks)
Our apologies for such a long report…but every encounter was a real gem! The outreach proved to be very successful, albeit different than we expected. No one mentioned creationism or anything remotely academic, but we felt it was very fruitful.
We have wished to share our many experiences to show that the Lord is working to reach many, that the comments and questions vary widely and are unpredictable, that it is impossible to be entirely prepared, that this leads us to depend in faith on the Lord’s provision of words in our mouth, and that it is just better to get busy and to do something!
To our dear sisters and brothers who read this: you will be enormously blessed as you do something and you will find the Lord’s strength in your weakness, as the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16)! Amen and amen.