(Image shows Biola students praying with a man during an evangelism excursion)
I sat down with Team Fullerton’s co-leaders and elementary education majors Elizabeth Canales-Rathbun and Briana Valdez to talk about their heart journey behind street evangelism in the local area. They talk a bit more about overcoming the fear that we, as believers, often allow to paralyze us and keep us from the potential of establishing relationships to point to the eternal relationship with a God who is so jealous for His people. Street evangelism is one way that allows us the privilege of becoming careful carriers of God’s transformative stories as our hearts break, rejoice, and are poured out to the previously unknown, as we pursue to walk in love as Jesus walked.
Here’s what they had to say.
Q: Could you share a little bit of insight into the process behind becoming Team Fullerton?
BV: I would say that my expectations changed a lot as I’ve gone on through throughout semester. Our ministry completely changed from Info Night. So, we were originally planning on working with this organization that worked with kids...refugee kids and at-risk youths, that was the original plan, but that ended up not working out. So, me and Elizabeth really wanted to find something that we could do with our team. The original organization is in Fullerton, so we [were going to] stick with Fullerton hopefully. So, we were trying to find an organization, but we didn’t want to choose one just for the sake of finding an organization. We wanted to choose something that God was leading us to and wanted to find something that we were excited and looking forward to each week, something we were passionate about. And so God led us to street evangelism. And so now, every weekend we’ve been going out to different areas. We’ve gone to parks, we’ve gone to downtown Fullerton, and we’ve just been going and engaging in conversations with people that are just walking around and [have] been able to share the Gospel with people and just kind of open up the door to those kind of conversations with a ton of different people...it’s been very growing.
Q: Can you share of a specific encounter you can recall from the weeks you’ve done street evangelism?
BV: People with different perspectives can come together and really engage in these types of conversations with each other. One, in particular, that really stands out to me is...we ran into this woman. She’s probably in her 20s, I would say, and we were talking to her and she believes in God, but she believes that God is more energy. And so we had this really interesting conversation and we got to learn a lot about what she thought and kind of had this very relativistic perception on God. So, if you believe in God, it’s all the same God, so everyone is going to heaven that believes in God, basically, was her idea behind it. So, it was super cool to hear about her perspective. Afterwards, we got to share who we think God is and it just really opened up this cool opportunity because I think a lot of times, when people think about having conversations with people that don’t have the same exact belief system, it’s gonna end up really badly and awkward...and I think there’s this fear when you engage with people that don’t have the same set of beliefs as you.
So, I feel like this kind of was a huge learning experience...still have different perspectives on it, and still be loving and accepting towards that other person. And it was cool because she mentioned that she’s had one of these conversations with someone years before...how she recalled another experience. To me, when I heard that, I felt that God was trying to get her attention....one of the biggest things I’ve learned from street evangelism is that we don’t always get to see the end result of that, but she’s someone I still get to pray for and pray that God eventually opens her eyes to the truth of the Gospel and the fact that He’s used and He uses other people from the past to do the same thing. I feel like God’s going to do something in her life...I’m praying that God will bring other people to minister to her life...Just surrendering these people we have encounters with to God and just believing that God’s going to do something in their lives.
EC: I’ll share a story that doesn’t have to do with me, but has to do with two of our girls. So this was at the La Mirada park and they went up to this lady and her kids were playing by her and they did the normal thing. They introduced themselves, they had said they go to Biola and were just kind of walking around and getting to know people’s perspectives on things and asked her if she has an opinion on God or if she thinks about God, something along those lines, and she was not very interactive, so they said, “well, before we go, is there anything we can be praying for you?” and she broke down in tears and started opening up about all these different things that had been going on. I forget the fullness of all the different things that was going on with her, but a lot of family things...
I think that just kind of speaks to evangelism, in that, every single time, we have so much diversity in our stories...what each pair comes back with, with what person we interacted with, how that conversation went, they’re all so different. So, even just getting to listen to our girls share that story and how they were impacted by it and just understanding of “wow, we were here,” and “because we asked her those questions,” and though she didn’t really want to talk about these things, just asking her “can we pray for you?” and that door that opened with that...that’s such a testament to just going out and doing street evangelism. We’ll never know what fruit will come from it but just to be obedient to God’s call and God asking us and commanding us to go out and share His word and His gospel with all the nations.
Q: I want to talk a little more about street evangelism. If we view street evangelism as starting the conversation, how has that experience with approaching individuals been as a team in regards to being relationally intentional?
BV: A huge part of it is getting to know the person, getting to know their background, getting to know their own personal experiences, and really listening and trying to validate what it is that they’ve gone through, what they’ve been through in regards to religion or their perception on who God is, and just really opening that door...that really helps me figure out what it is that I might want to share with them. Also, getting to know them as individuals, cause I don’t think we can form a generic script for doing evangelism because each person is unique and has been in a different place and it’s really important to listen in on what it is that they’ve experienced and gone through.
Q: LA is our backyard. You’re taking advantage of the location God’s placed you guys in at this time. How has the Team Fullerton experience shaped your perspective on local missions?
BV: Going to share the Gospel with people who are so near to us, but so far from God and the gospel...being able to go, I think, go past boundaries that have been set and being able to engage in these conversations in giving different perspectives and hav[ing] these fruitful conversations with people are coming from a place from genuine concern and love for these people...in our community...I just love that I’ve been able to be a part of this ministry.
EC: It’s not always easy waking up on a Saturday morning and thinking “okay, let’s go talk to people for hours today,” but then you really sit down and think “there are so many people at that park, 2 miles away from us who have no idea who Jesus is and may never know unless we live in this and go out and share with them,” you’re filled with compassion and you want to go out and share the truth because someone shared the truth with us at some point with us in our life... No matter where you’re at in the world, there’s always a local...