Today, when I went to Church, the good Pastor, Revd. Sunil Ghazan told us that we were observing the Mission for Evangelism week. The Sermon that was delivered revolved around the topic of Evangelism. The Cambridge Paperback Encyclopaedia (third edition) refers to the Evangelist as, “One who preachers the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although evangelizing is now understood to be the task of the whole Church, the term has been more recently applied to popular preachers at missionary rallies.” Some of the more famous and well known Evangelists in recent times have been people like Billy Graham and Oral Roberts. St. John the Apostle was another well known Evangelist. Evangelicalism, a movement which started in the USA, refers to a term which has been used, “Since the Reformation ...(and has) been applied to the Protestant Church because of their principles of justification through faith alone and the supreme authority accorded to scripture.” – Cambridge Paperback Encyclopaedia (third edition). Evangelism during the late sixties to the early nineties was associated with the idea of the “born again” Christian and it dealt with an intense experience involving a personal commitment towards the Bible as the ultimate authority! In India, from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth Century, Missionaries, true-blood Evangelists opened schools and hospitals throughout the country. Most of these were in rural areas. Their work was based on actual preaching on the move! Revd. Doreen Riddell did a lot to establish the St. Thomas School in Jagadhri, District Yamunanagar, Haryana, St. Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi was the result of the evangelical efforts of Dr. Roseware, and Miss Fines, a staunch Missionary of the Delhi Diocese travelled from place to place to preach the Gospel in spite of her old age! Bishop Frederick Willis used to go from place on his bicycle to spread the word.
The image that comes to mind of the Evangelist is of a spirited young man or woman delivering the word of the Lord in a public place- the message of Hope, deliverance and that the Kingdom of God is nigh! I remember my brother telling me about seeing a group of young men and women preaching the Gospel right outside the Noida City Centre Mall. While there were a few who listened to them quietly, others openly ridiculed and mocked them. Evangelism for me stands for the Missionary activity of stepping out doors, away from the shelter of the building and preaching the Word of the Lord to the Man on the street! Unfortunately, going to the church on Sundays has become more like going to the club, and although Pastors do put in a lot of effort in making the service inspiring and effective, the Missionary energy of the Evangelist is not there! I guess the Evangelist is more of a travelling Preacher and he or she is not home-bound!
In his sermon, Revd. Sunil Ghazan related a story about how after graduating from a Theological Academy, some would be Presbyters in the USA were loaded into trucks and left on the Highway to come back on foot. They were supposed to survive and travel like the early evangelists. The person who narrated the story to my Pastor told him how they knocked on doors and were welcomed by the residents. They preached the Gospel and were fed. I guess this was the best exercise that would prepare these would be Presbyters for a more effective Evangelical and Missionary life. The challenge before would be Presbyters today deals with balancing their missionary zeal with the need to earn a living. In times when the laity is faced with so much chaos, stress and confusion, visiting the Church on a Sunday becomes for a few a routine without much meaning. I guess these few return home uninspired and hungry for Spiritual food. “The Church, as it mainly concentrates on worship on Sunday will lose many from its membership....The relevance of the Church a place of worship will further be affected by Sunday becoming a working day for some and, as for others, the worship services interfering with their weekly leisure.”-Selected Speeches on Church & Society (First Edition) by Bishop Dr.A George Ninan. As such it becomes clear that the Evangelist as opposed to Sunday bound Presbyter would be better able to adopt flexible timings for delivering his message.
This brings me once again to the question of who an evangelist should model himself after. To answer this question I would like to quote from Isaiah 61-1,6 “The spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;... But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God.” Perhaps this prayer, so loved by Mother Theresa might shed some light on the topic:
Cardinal Newman’s Prayer
Dear Lord, help me to spread
Thy fragrance everywhere I go,
Flood my soul with thy spirit and life,
Shine through me so that
Those who come into contact
With me may feel thy presence in my soul,
Let me preach you without preaching,
Not by words, but by my examples.
The demands before the Evangelist are great. He or she puts in a lot of work hours, and Missionary work is not just about preaching but also about preaching through examples. The work of the missionaries who set up schools, colleges and hospitals speaks volumes about how they taught through example and not just through sermons! To conclude, I would like to share what my father’s uncle once told me about Sahu Sunder Singh whom he had once met. Sadhu Sunder Singh, according to him was an ordinary unassuming person who was always on the move. He had a cloth bag which contained his Bible and various other things. Sadhu Sunder Singh was a tall strapping person, and there were a lot of stories about him. One was that while preaching in Kabul, Sadhu Sunder Singh was sewn inside a Bull’s skin and left outside for the night. The idea was that as the time passed, the animal’s skin would shrink and thus crush him to death. This story tells you about the dangers and problems that evangelists should be prepared to face in life! What happened the next morning was that the captors found him sitting on the ground smiling as if nothing had happened to him. Another famous Evangelist from the country’s point of view was Sadhu Sircar. My father met him when he was studying in school. He came across Sadhu Sircar at the Fetehpuri Church in 1950. My father describes Sadhu Sircar as a man clothed in a long gown, who carried a cloth bag. He went around barefooted to preach and conduct healing services. This, then is what Evangelists and Missionaries are made of!