Many people understand that witnessing to non-Christians is often very different in the “work world” rather than at university or on a military base. I’ve known several people who are alumni of college or military ministries who decided that witnessing the way they were taught is not possible in life afterwards.
In the 20s ministry, we focus on how to take the principles of witnessing that we learned in those past settings into the new lifestyle. It’s easy to determine that spending time at work exposes you to people for 40 or more hours each week. Yet when new college grads enter their first job, they are faced with the fact that almost all of their co-workers are older than they are. And beyond their family members, they haven’t established a way of communicating with “old” people.
In past environments (college or military bases), our witnessing often involved approaching strangers and striking up a conversation. Many college grads have mentioned that they simply can’t share the gospel in this same manner without being at risk of termination.
There are three groups of people that Christians often interact with: co-workers, neighbors, and people who are in their “third place.” A third place is somewhere that you frequent; a coffee shop is a good example. If you go there enough times, they begin to know your name and your “regular” drink. I can walk into Chick-fil-A and immediately hear, “Welcome to Chick-fil-A, Mr. Bruce.” And they begin to pour my Diet Dr Pepper.
Rick Warren mentioned in his book Purpose-Driven Church that there’s a need for relationships to be built over a long period of time. Then the waiting begins. Warren says that we need to wait for transition of tragedy before people are ready to hear the gospel. This waiting can be the hardest part of building what I call a redeeming relationship.
As people leave the school environment, they often remain connected for at least some amount of time with classmates. We hope that an opportunity will rise when we can share the gospel to a listening ear. But the waiting is difficult.
I finished high school in 1973. With the advent of Facebook, I began to connect with classmates from there. It wasn’t anything spectacular. Little thumbs-up likes or comments might occasionally appear to let me know there was still a connection.
Two weeks ago, one of my high school classmates surfaced in a personal message on Facebook. He admitted that he had been reading my posts for several years. I was vaguely aware of a couple comments that he had made, but we weren’t well connected in high school. He was a Homecoming King and star athlete; I was the nerdy guy in band and musicals.
I often wondered how useful it was to try to maintain a relationship that had a gap of 45 years since we were even in the same building. But John (not his real name), was staying connected and that was enough. Then came his message…
It seems that John had watched the entire process of Kandi’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death, and my reaction to that. His wife was now facing a potential cancer diagnosis and they were scared (who wouldn’t be?).
So, he reached out to me to tell his story and end his message with a request. “Will you please pray for us?”
We communicated throughout doctor visits and waiting for test results. In the end, the doctor found that it was not cancer. Yet a much stronger relationship was developing and John had recognized a need for prayer, even if it was someone else praying.
In the end (but not the end of the story), John thanked me for praying for them. I mentioned that I would like to visit them when I’m back up in the Twin Cities. And he offered to pick me up at the airport, regardless of the day or time.
This is a classic example of how long-term relationships with non-Christians can grow toward an opening to the gospel over time – in this case 45 years! T really is all about God’s timing.
What about you? Are you staying in relationship, even over a distance, with people from your past? Are they the kind of relationship that when transition or tragedy strikes, they will turn to you for prayer or questions? I’d love to hear your comments below.