Features

Men on the street

"Men on the street" Continued...

Issue: "American bounty," Nov. 30, 2013

I wasn’t able to see him in person, but talked with him at length on the phone and watched videos on YouTube. “Jesus Christ spoke more on hell than He did on love, grace, and mercy combined,” Israel told me on the phone. He insists that Jesus spoke more about repenting, weeping, gnashing of teeth, and eternal darkness than He preached about God’s love. “It’s so sad that people think that’s the gospel. That’s not. It’s pretty much a lopsided God. The issue is: God loves us, but how much do we love God?” 

To show how much he loves God, Israel once stuck a butchered pig’s head on a stake at the International Arab Festival in Michigan. He name-calls sinners, because “calling people names is biblical.” Jesus himself, he listed, called a woman a dog, Herod a fox, the Pharisees devils and snakes. So that’s what he did at San Diego’s Pride Parade with a megaphone, and also at other religious festivals, armed with signs blaring: “Warning: Hell Awaits You.” Or “God Will Judge You” and “Jesus saves from hell.” 

In retaliation, some wisecrackers stood before him with their own signs: “These people will go to hell for annoying you.” They also flashed plenty of middle fingers. When I asked many Los Angeles–area evangelists about Israel, they groaned: They consider him the reason Christian preachers get a bad rap. 

Israel says, “It doesn’t matter what people think of me. I’m not going to preach a message that makes people feel good. That’s not inspiring. I pray more than other people now, because there’s a real good chance that when I leave the house, I may not come back home. That’s how real this is.” He welcomes persecutions, because the apostles were persecuted, and says, “Most Christians don’t understand what persecution is, compared to what real Christians go through.” 

Miano has another way of defining the work of hell-fire preachers like Israel: “He’s there to inflame people, to get people to react in a violent way so he can say he’s been persecuted. It’s obvious in their preaching, that they hate the people they’re preaching to. That kind of preaching is blasphemous.”

MOST OF THE EVANGELISTS I talked with agree that street evangelism isn’t for everyone. Chris Casella, for example, said he doesn’t have the gift for cold-call evangelism, preferring intimate one-to-one conversations. The first time he joined Sanchez to evangelize, he relegated himself as a tract deliverer. But first, he had to fight his shame of Christ, Casella said: “I was afraid somebody at work will see me as a Jesus freak.” 

The fear of that negative, or worse, mocking label to Christian evangelists is real. Miano was recently arrested and fined for “homophobic” open-air preaching in London. Sanchez has had people flare up and call him names. I’ve seen street preachers splattered with beer, laughed at, mocked openly. They are called anything from racist, homophobic bigots to looney freaks. And sometimes, of course, the fault lies with preachers who embody all the stereotypes of a condemning , bigoted, hell-fire hater. 

I saw during my reporting that God made us unique for a reason. Casella wasn’t able to do what Sanchez can on stage, but he was astute in observing people’s thoughts and emotions, and he approached them privately. He may not be boldly cracking jokes, but he was passionate and sensitive in his mannerisms, which appeal to more introverted people like himself. I was reminded that Jesus, when gathering his 12 disciples, brought together people of many tempers, careers, and backgrounds. 

Ineffective evangelism comes when Christians try to force somebody to accept the gospel with their personality, fervor, or rhetoric—because the gospel is a precious gift, recognized by those God has already graced. The most effective way to evangelize is debatable. The most ineffective way to evangelize is not to evangelize at all, whether by word or deed.

Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

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