Sharing God’s message is like learning to swim. Just like swimming, the only way to learn to talk to people about our faith is to plunge in and give it a try. The more opportunities you give yourself the more confident you become.
This was one of the lessons we learnt from Michele Thompson and Fr Jon Bielawski, who are the evangelisation team for the Diocese of Plymouth and they run the programme at Genesis Mission House in Plymouth.
Our diocese has been working with them for several years and the parish evangelisation teams being set up in some of our parishes are following their method of formation for evangelists.
Together we learnt some principles about speaking to people we meet in ordinary life about some of the big questions in life. Who is God? What happens when you die?
We then went out to ask people in the street about their answers to these questions. We told people we were Catholics on mission. We didn’t preach but gently explored some of their ideas. Despite our worries, most people were happy to talk.
We can believe that people without a religious commitment are apathetic. Our chats proved otherwise. People were trying to make sense of the world, though their ideas were often uninformed.
Just talking to us gave them a chance to reconsider some of these ideas with people who were interested in their views and could give them the answer they needed to hear.
The encounters also reminded us of the burdens many people carry every day. We listened to many heart-breaking stories. We were able to give some comfort. We told them that God was with them in their difficulties and offered to pray with them.
I was joined on the trip by Rob Smith of the cathedral parish and Hamish MacQueen, Ciaran Losasso and Emily Murphy from Ignite.
Reflecting on the trip, Emily said: “I was sceptical of the whole experience to begin with. I didn’t think people’s beliefs could be changed by a chance interaction with a stranger on the street.
“While it’s true that their heads seemed unconvinced I witnessed first-hand that hearts were changed. One woman in particular was grieving for her family, left behind abroad. She found our prayer with her strengthening. After tears, listening and a good hug she said, ‘I’ll never forget you’. I will never forget this experience either and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to share God in this world.”
Hamish said: “It was really good to be challenged to evangelise in a different way to what I’m used to. I was a little uneasy going up to strangers on the street, offering to pray with them, but no-one was hostile. On the contrary, I was surprised how many people shared about some of the pain in their lives and welcomed the opportunity for us to pray with them.”
As part of a final prayer session before we left to return to East Anglia, we were all commissioned to be evangelisers and spread the good news of the Gospel to others by Fr Jon.
Pictured above Ciaran Losasso is commissioned by Fr Jon Bielawski of the Genesis Mission.