East Rochester, Our Jerusalem
By Jack Janson
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8
As I was preparing to go to India with Pastor Ray this past October, I attended a prayer meeting at church. I got a conviction from the Lord that I was called to be a witness. Surprisingly, the burden I felt was not for India or some other far-away place; it was for right here in East Rochester, the hometown of our Fellowship
The whole time I was away and after I returned, the thought kept coming back to me: East Rochester is my Jerusalem. I’m not an evangelist, but I started praying that the Lord would show me how to bring the good news of the gospel to this village. I knew he was going to have to lead me, because I wasn’t going to get there on my own
Like sheep without a shepherd
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they were scattered and weary, as sheep having no shepherd. Matthew 6:36
This verse really speaks to me about the condition of our culture today. Behind the closed doors of their tidy homes, many people in East Rochester face problems that we associate with the inner city. There is hunger, drug and alcohol addiction, teenage delinquency, and prostitution.
Over half the households are led by single mothers. Even if they manage to avoid major problems, people today are “scattered and weary,” overloaded by the burdens of work and family, trying to make ends meet and keep it all together. We are all lost sheep in need of a guiding hand.
Reaching out a hand of friendship
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
It turns out, by the grace of God, that I wasn’t the only person at Koinonia praying for an outreach to East Rochester. People have been praying about this for years.
Last fall, Pastor Ben mentioned to me that Bob Garritano had the same desire. Bob and I met, then Pastor Ben called a couple of others and we prayed and discussed a strategy to visit every home in East Rochester. Finally, four of us met for prayer and chose a date to begin. We would by the grace of God visit every home and then return again and again, reaching out to people with prayer and the gospel.
Bob put up a map in the Deacon’s Room and divided East Rochester into sections, then teams of two would take a section and commit to visit every house. If there was nobody home, we would leave a gospel of John and a letter from Koinonia. If someone answered the door, we would engage them in conversation. We asked people if they had any prayer requests. The hope was that we would be a blessing to everyone we met.
That first Saturday we met for an hour of prayer and then two 2-man teams hit the streets at 9 AM.
This style of outreach is called “Friendship Evangelism.” It is based on the understanding that you can’t effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to someone if you don’t see them with His eyes and have His love for them in your heart. People are naturally wary, but if you let them lead the conversation, asking them questions and then really listen to their answers, they sometimes open up.
Grace and truth comes through Jesus, not Jack
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17
As a rule, I am very quick to point out other people’s faults, but Jesus had a different way. With the woman at the well, and the woman caught in adultery, Jesus showed grace to the people He met and let the Holy Spirit convict them of their sins
At the first house in East Rochester that I visited, a woman answered the door and we began to talk. When I asked her if we could pray with her about anything that was going on in her life, she shared the concern she had for her teenage son, who was hanging out with the wrong crowd.
I felt privileged and praised God that she had given a total stranger permission to enter her life. On other visits I have prayed with people about their health, illnesses in the family, and other difficulties. Those prayers give us the opportunity to present the gospel and share the truth with people.
At the end of my conversation with the mother of the rebellious son, I asked her, “Have you considered the claims of Jesus Christ?” She smiled and said, “Yes, I’m a Christian.”
That was a blessing to me. Sometimes we as Christians feel like we’re entering “enemy territory“ whenever we leave our house; so it takes some time in prayer to work up the courage to go out and ring doorbells. When the first house I went to turned out to be the home of a fellow believer, it was like the Lord telling me not to be afraid, and not to have any preconceptions of the kind of people I was going to meet on this adventure.
Of course at the next house the man said no, I couldn’t pray for him and no, I don’t want your brochure. But at other times the Lord provided an opening that allowed me to get my foot in the door. One guy was closing the door in my face when I noticed a plaque on his wall that read, “A bad day sailing is better than a good day at work.” I asked, “Are you a sailor?” I’m a sailor myself, and this lead to a 20-minute conversation. He told me about the bad experiences he had with organized religion. In the end, he agreed to take my brochure and the gospel of John.
By the time Resurrection Sunday came around every house in East Rochester had been visited. Now the plan is for teams to follow up on that work and go on Friendship Evangelism walks on the third Saturday of every month from 9-noon.
I am looking forward to going back to visit the people I met and continue the conversations the Lord began.
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith. 1 John 5:3-4
When I think about the need for the gospel today, this fallen world looks like the scene of a massive car accident. If we look with God’s eyes, we see people everywhere broken and wounded. That’s what life is like for those who don’t know God. If this were an actual car accident, would any of us just drive by, or would we jam on the brakes, jump out and do what we can to help?