Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Three Evangelists

I participated in two seminars at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) last week, one on Evangelism and one on Apologetics. I met three individuals who made a strong impression on me. I’d like to tell you about them.

Richard Armstrong was a 31-year old baseball executive in 1955 with the Baltimore Orioles and a nominal churchgoer when he heard the distinct voice of God telling him to go into full-time ministry. He obeyed, and five months later began seminary at PTS. His first church was a declining congregation in a changing neighborhood of Philadelphia. He pioneered a method of “faith sharing,” which in his words is a three-way conversation in which people relate to each other their experiences of God (the third person is the Holy Spirit). He trained and led his members in a ministry of knocking on peoples’ doors and asking how the church could serve the community better. This often led to non-pressure, friendly faith-sharing conversations which bore great fruit. The congregation experienced renewal and growth and individual members’ faith came alive as they experienced the joy of being ambassadors and witnesses for Jesus.

In 1980 Armstrong came back to PTS as a professor of ministry and evangelism. He retired in 1990, three months before I arrived, so I never got to take one of his classes. But I read several of his books and developed a deep admiration and appreciation for him. He led our 2 ½ day seminar at age 86, still going strong, full of love for Jesus, the church, and lost people, still preaching regularly and speaking to churches about how to reach out to their community. What an inspiration!

Gerald (Jerry) Mills is also a retired minister and PTS alum, widowed and about 80. He is a Jew who began attending church with a neighborhood friend when he was six years old and later came to embrace Jesus as the Messiah. Jerry is passionate about outreach and in memory of his late wife he endowed the evangelism seminar I attended. You see, PTS never filled Armstrong’s position of evangelism professor after he retired, and Jerry feels that is a huge hole in what a seminary should train ministers to do. He sat through all the sessions and kept us in stitches with his Jerry Stiller-like humor.

Paul (from Rwanda, whose last name was about 17 syllables) is a PTS second-year student. When I walked into the cafeteria on Thursday morning for breakfast Jerry excitedly waved me over. “Matt, I want you to meet Paul!” Paul came to southern California from Rwanda at age 7, a committed Christian whose father told him they were to see themselves as missionaries in America. Paul came to PTS because he has a passion for reaching college students and Princeton University is right across the street from the seminary. He began a Bible study in a P.U. dormitory and actively evangelizes among the Princeton undergrads. The harvest has been plentiful, as they scriptures say, and when I talked to him he was arranging to baptize a student later that day. The passion and love and energy in Paul were amazing to behold. Jerry invited Paul to our seminar and beamed as Paul told his story to a bunch of wrinkled and tired pastors looking for inspiration. “Paul’s pickin’ off the pagans one-by-one!” Jerry exclaimed.

Richard, Jerry and Paul are three evangelists and brothers in Christ whose faith, endurance, sweetness and passion were a wonderful part of an excellent week. Friends, the gospel of Jesus Christ is life-changing. When we share it with others their lives often change and our lives always do.


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