By: Nancy Ward
Old Sally leaned forward expectantly in her wheelchair inside the front door of the nursing center, awaiting the Sunday visitors. She was the first person my husband and I met on our initial assignment as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist in 1985. The director had gathered the ambulatory Catholic residents into the library, which served as a chapel. Old Sally insisted on showing us the way and introducing us to the residents as her “new friends.”
As she made her way to her place in the center of the room, Old Sally stopped gave each person a hug or a pat on the hand. After the Communion service, I found that Old Sally had a story for everyone, many about answered prayers, healings, miracles – and some of them involved her great-grandchildren. Her contagious laughter permeated the halls and drew the curious out of their TV stupors.
When I fast-forward for thirty years, I realize that I am about the same age as Old Sally was then. I’m not confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, but I have stories—journals jammed full of accounts of what God has done in my life. The odd assortment of notebooks recount answered prayers, healings and miracles — some of them involved my new great-grandchildren.
Evangelization is about God’s Work
Old Sally taught me that evangelization is not about me or how well I can convince those lonely souls on the fringes of the church that they need God. Evangelization is about sharing what God has done in my life.
My spiritual biography began when I was a year old when I was baptized in my grandmother’s Protestant Church. I grew up going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and Youth Ministry. When I was 15, I realized God was real and loved me. Me! I gave my life to Jesus at a Youth Ministry Retreat but kept my relationship with God a deep secret I couldn’t put into words. When my father died suddenly three years later, Jesus was the only one to comfort me and I knew he would never leave me.
I worked in the church office in college, fell in love with a Catholic man and struggled with the difference in our denominations before we married in the Catholic Church. We moved around frequently in the military service. After three years of sporadic instructions and trying out the Catholic lifestyle, I knew by the peace in my heart that I belonged in the Catholic Church. There I’ve found the fullness of my Faith.
During post-Vatican II fits and starts of renewal in the church, I learned from Saint John Paul II that the most effective way to evangelize is through our personal witness—what we know best and what we have available to us. Could I do this? I participated in every renewal program I could find, and recorded accounts of spectacular encounters with God in my journals.
Experience More Powerful than Logic
Saint Peter’s call to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15), called me to start blogging. I rummaged through decades of journals to find stories to share on the Internet. I discovered that I had greatly underestimated the power of my simple story and stopped focusing on all the “do nots” and “should nots” of evangelizing.
I’m not a theologian or a gifted orator. If I was, my audience could question my logic. No one can refute the experience of my personal encounter with Christ! As for you, think of all the life lessons God has taught you through your God-moments!
God promises us, through the Psalmist,
“The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, they shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit even in old age, always vigorous and sturdy, as they proclaim: “The LORD is just; our rock, in whom there is no wrong.” (Psalm 92:13-16)
I’m part of the elder generation of faithful Christians who know the Truth and bring that Truth to the spiritual orphans of our secular culture. Vigorous and sturdy. We shall bear fruit among those whom no one else can evangelize but who can relate to us right here and now. We interact with the walking wounded at Walmart and can minister to the casualties of the culture of death.
Don’t be Afraid to Share Your Story
When you share a story that’s relevant to the problem your listeners are struggling with, they will hear you. The cancer diagnosis they just received is less frightening in light of how God brought you through chemo and radiation treatments.
Trust the Holy Spirit. Prepare to tell your story by clarifying it through journaling but don’t rely only your own power. The Holy Spirit has empowered you to evangelize through your personal testimony and will guide you beyond what you can ever imagine. He knows who and when and where to share your story, for he has prepared the way.
As for what to say, rely on the promise Jesus made to us in John 14:26 that, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
God Will Take Care of You
Jesus keeps his promises. The Holy Spirit has come! He will remind you of everything that Jesus has told you about your faith and your faith story. Then he will help you keep focused on what God does.
Know your story and know that God’s grace makes his presence real to those who receive your testimony. The encouragement they feel from your story is an answer to their prayers because you were available and ready for God to evangelize through you.
Old Sally didn’t worry about the “correct way” to evangelize or what reactions she would get. She exemplified the spirit of the New Evangelization in letting the love of Jesus overflow from within her to those around her. She trusted the Holy Spirit. Sally took St. Peter’s instructions as a direct order and was always ready to share a story to bring hope to anyone.
Because you have lived a one-of-a-kind story, you alone can tell it from your heart in your one-of-a-kind voice with your authentic wording and emphasis. Someone is waiting to hear your story. Are you ready to share it?