By God's grace, today we had the opportunity to engage in open-air preaching and one-on-one evangelism for over two hours on this campus in beautiful, 70 degree weather. GTCC is one of the largest community colleges in the state of North Carolina. It is a beautiful campus with state of the art facilities. We met with the school administration several weeks before today to kindly request permission to be on the campus every Friday from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. to engage in evangelism.
I arrived 20 minutes early to get a parking spot and as I walked to my preaching spot I passed out several tracts and told 30 or more students that I was going to be preaching in the "quad" and that they were welcome to come and listen and/or ask questions while I was preaching. I arrived at the quad and it was a perfect place to preach due to heavy foot traffic, excellent acoustics, plenty of places to sit, and some shade from nearby trees. I couldn't believe that this was the area that the administration assigned for me to preach at, but there it was, a perfect place that God providentially placed me in. I took my text from Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." I began to explain the gospel in clear, unambiguous terms, and it didn't take long till a small crowd formed with people listening intently and even some were videotaping the preaching with their iPhones and other devices. I expected to get at least a few hecklers, but I got none all day. Instead, I was getting "Amens" from people in the crowd! In my own personal experience, that's a first for me while doing open-air ministry work on a college campus. Several more people sat down on the picnic tables to listen while they smoked cigarettes, ate their lunch, or just sat down to relax. Others stood at a distance smirking, laughing, and pointing, but they were few and far between. However, those who drew near were listening intently, with no mockery whatsoever taking place. I expected otherwise, due to the profanity I was hearing from several young men as I was getting set up. Perhaps giving all of them a tract and letting them know that I was getting ready to preach caused them to respect me more in some strange way. I don't know. Either way, this is rare among campus preaching.
After I preached for an hour straight, a policeman walked up and I immediately stepped down, and courteously introduced myself with a respectful handshake and stated my purpose for being there. I then showed him my authorization papers to be on campus, and he said, "Man, I'm so glad you're out here, the phone has been ringing off the hook with complaints in our office, but I am really glad that the students are hearing about Jesus. You can't go wrong with Jesus!" He then told me that I was okay to keep going, I shook his hand and told him I appreciated what he was doing, and he warmly said goodbye. I kind of feel sorry for the guy because it was as if he wanted to hang around and fellowship, but had to go answer another call. You got to love that.
Since I preached an hour straight before the officer arrived, I decided to take a 10 minute break. At this point I had several students that wanted to talk to me, so I attempted to patiently interact with all of them. To summarize these encounters, the first young man was skeptical about religion in general and Christianity in particular. He believed that it was wrong to kill animals to eat them (unless your life was in danger) and I immediately asked him if he was a vegan. He admitted that he was not, and I pointed out to him the inconsistency of his position. He then tried to argue that it really wasn't his position and then I explained to him the powerful role of presuppositions in one's thinking, and he admitted that he was wrong, shook my hand, and humbly admitted that he needed to start going to church again. I explained to him that going to church was useless if he wasn't receiving sound teaching, and I explained to him what a Biblically faithful church looks like. He said he didn't have a Bible, so I gave him one of our compact ESV Bibles and some gospel literature. He then stayed almost one more hour after that and was nodding affirmatively to my preaching and encouraging others to listen in as well. Several other Christians came up and gave glory to God for my being there, and I told them I was merely trying to be obedient to the Lord.
The second hour of preaching apparently disgruntled some of the professors and other faculty. I think this was because the acoustics were great and the windows were open in some of the buildings nearby. At one point, about 8-10 of the faculty from Davis Hall (which is situated right next to the quad where I was preaching) stood outside to listen for about 10-15 minutes. When I saw them, I began an open-air critique of secular humanism, autonomy, and the sin of intellectual pride from the word of God. I was respectful of course, but they received an earful.
Once I finished preaching the second hour, I spoke with several believers that thanked me for being there and wanted to encourage me in the work which I was doing. Other believers wanted to know about how to better prepare for apologetic encounters. The several unbelievers I spoke with ranged from apathetic relativists to edgy pluralists, but the conversations remained amicable nonetheless. All of the unbelievers I spoke with today didn't care that they contradicted themselves and one girl even admitted outright that she didn't care if she was irrational; as long as she was comfortable in her own mind, she felt like she was good to go.
I plan on praying diligently for these folks and I ask that if you are a believer, that you will pray that the Lord will bless our efforts.
I will conclude with a few helpful tips for evangelists who are approaching a school's administration and campus police department to determine what (if anything) needs to be done in order to freely engage in on campus evangelism and open air preaching:
1. If you must meet with the administration, be kind, be truthful, dress professionally, and explain to them who you are, exactly what you want to do, and why you want to do it. I told the administration something like this both in person and in writing, "I am a pastor at a local church and I am concerned about the spiritual welfare of our city and your campus. Therefore, our church would like to kindly submit a request from your administration to engage in one-on-one evangelism, open-air preaching, distribution of Bibles and other religious literature." This was very timely in light of the fact that GTCC had a rape in broad daylight at 8:00 a.m. in a crowded parking lot back in January. The timing of this campus rape worked out for God's glory and our advantage since many in administration will welcome any measures that will quell such acute wickedness on campus and promote public safety.
2. Check with the campus police department and ask them if there are any regulations or ordinances regarding free speech that you need to be aware of. This brings to mind some more general thoughts: Campus police are like most other police I've interacted with; they simply want to do their job, keep the peace, and go home in one piece. Generally, I have found them to be helpful when inquiring about campus rules and regulations as it pertains to evangelistic work. They appreciate it when a person tries to work with them instead of making their job harder. Yes, there is the occasional opposition from an officer that has a personal problem with what you are doing. However, I have found that if and when you are confronted by the police, a warm smile, a hand extended ready to shake his or her hand, and a brief introduction of who you are and why you are there helps the situation tremendously. Always speak to him or her as "Thank you officer Jones" and "Yes sir . . . ma'am". Showing general respect and kindness to the civil authorities is becoming of Jesus Christ and His gospel and because it demonstrates that you are person of integrity and sound character versus the riff-raff that they regularly have to deal with.
While it is true that we have First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and press, in as much as lies within us, we should always strive to work with the God-ordained civil authorities unless they command us to do something that God forbids or forbid us to do something that God commands. Remember that God said, "Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." (Romans 12:18-19) May God bless you as you consider how to engage your community with the truth claims of Jesus Christ.