Unexpected Evangelistic Avenues

I serve as an international minister at the Christian Campus House, overseeing the work of our international ministry. I began part-time in the summer of 2007 and started full-time on January 1st, 2008.  Our work on the international staff is very much teaching and evangelistic outreach.  So many things about our ministry are unexpected: unexpected opportunities, unexpected questions from international students, unexpected interest in the Bible and in following Christ from people with secular and Marxist backgrounds.  In light of the unexpected, I want to share a scripture that had an unexpected evangelistic impact on the life of a non-believer.

This semester, our Well services have been focusing on the book of Ecclesiastes.  This phrase from the book might be familiar to you: “’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’” (1:2, NKJV).  Or from a newer translation, “’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (1:2, NIV). Such a beginning to a biblical book, especially from the Old Testament, doesn’t sound very promising as the first passage to share with a non-believer!  And yet, this is exactly what happened in the case of a man, actually now a seminary professor, who came to believe in Christ.

Jerram Barrs, who is Founding Director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute, and Senior Scholar-in-Residence at Covenant Seminary, was struggling with the major questions of life as a young man at a university in Manchester, England.  He believed that life was absurd. He struggled with understanding the meaning of life. He was to the point of throwing himself off a cliff near Manchester but was so taken by the beauty of the place that he felt he had to keep searching for answers.

A PhD student named Michael invited Jerram to a Saturday evening dinner and discussion group at his apartment.  Jerram writes, “Michael started the discussion by reading the first two chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes: ‘Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless,” says the Preacher.’”  And I was astonished. I had thought the Bible had nothing to do with human life and the real questions people ask. I thought it was just a pile of stories, not in the C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien sense of a story that carries the truth, but just empty fables.  Yet here it was addressing the very issue that I was wrestling with. We had a wonderful discussion, which led me over the next month or two to tell Michael where I was coming from. So he started answering my basic questions about human life.”  Eventually, Jerram put his faith in Jesus Christ. 

God can use unexpected events, circumstances, meetings, and especially scripture to reach people.  Like Michael, the PhD student, we need to be faithful in sharing the Word with others. As we do, we will see faith develop in the hearts of some of those in whom we would least expect it.  Ecclesiastes was a key that unlocked a shut door in Jerram Barrs’ life enabling him to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith arose in his heart as a result. But, in light of Romans 10:17, that faith should not be unexpected!  “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

David Sowers – International Ministry
 1. Rick Matt, “A Conversation with Jerram Barrs,” Covenant Magazine (Issue 32  2020) 51.