As expected, a couple of our table mates did double takes. Then we discovered that three of them are Mormon, one a Baptist (not sure which 'flavor') and two are "estranged" from church. Over dinner the next few days, faith and religion discussions came up a number of times and we actually had some interesting exchanges that were not threatening or difficult, just simple topics like "what do you like best about your church?" or "what is it like being a pastor?" I think it was our second dinner though that the other shoe dropped when one of the Mormon men handed out some tracts (don't recommend that in social settings with people you don't know!) and then started asking me about what I teach and believe. It was a good discussion until he "suggested" I look up "salvation" in the Book of Mormon and that I should share that and teach my people.
Hmmmmmm......I replied that it would not be appropriate for me to preach from the Book of Mormon since we don't consider that scripture (I wanted to ask him why it was scripture when it's been dramatically changed hundreds of times over the years by the president). Instead, I pointed back to the Gospels and said everything one needs to know about salvation is found right there, particularly in the book of John and that, tested by over 2,000 years, I believed they were a reliable testimony to God's intention and desire for us.
On Friday evening, even while celebrating our anniversary, this one gentleman felt compelled to prod me once more to preach the Mormon version of salvation, this time I just smiled. It was clear I wasn't going to change his mind and he wasn't going to change mine, especially in our brief time together. But something did happen with the couple who were estranged from church. We learned that she was returning hope to potential major surgery for cancer and was obviously concerned. Almost simultaneously, Valerie and I both asked if we might pray for her before we left and she eagerly accepted. After dinner we stepped into the hallway near an elevator and with people wandering by, we prayed and then said our goodbyes.
What's the difference between what the Mormon man did and what we did? He told me what I should do and where I should go to find information. He, without saying so, implied that my way of thinking was incorrect but the BoM would correct my thinking. What we did was to demonstrate the same love Christ had, the same compassion, by taking time and risking public ridicule, to pray for this woman that we will most likely never see again. Our faith and believe in Christ was communicated clearly through the week but never as strong as in our prayers and yet we didn't condemn anyone's belief. Our risk was minimal, the potential payoff's tremendous in her life. Perhaps, for the first time, she experienced the practice of faith in a non-critical way and focused only on her right where she was at the moment.
I grew up with the tract method of evangelism, but I prefer the relational method; genuinely get to know another person solely because they are a person of beauty and created by God, then wait for the time and the opportunity to extend God's grace through action and prayer. You can do this too. You don't have to have the Bible committed to memory (but some helps), nor do you have to have a formula. Just be yourself and ask God to create the opportunity, but you have to be ready to act when he does for surely, this is a prayer God answers every time.