My experience of sharing the gospel with the homeless is mixed. It can be difficult because you want to show compassion and genuine concern for their physical wellbeing, but more importantly, you want to get the gospel to them. It can be tricky to find the right balance and it’s wise to use your discernment in these situations. It can be very easy to be taken advantage of. Trust me, I’m talking from experience.
COLD AND ABANDONED
I think my very first attempt was back in January 2012. It was a bitterly cold winter’s night in Bellingham as I journeyed home from my pastor’s house. The streets were barren and empty, and my hands were planted firmly in my winter coat. I was walking past the shops on my left when I noticed a man strewn across the floor with crutches. I remember feeling a real sense of sorrow as I passed on. He must have been freezing.
I couldn’t have got 20 metres down the road when I felt The Lord moving me to go back and speak with him. I was still quite inexperienced as an evangelist so I was a bit torn. I just knew I had to try it but it was an intimidating prospect. The bitter weather certainly didn’t help to strengthen my resolve.
I decided to pray and I simply asked the Lord to be with me before I approached him. I took a deep breath and drew near to the man.
‘Hello’, I began. ‘My name is Adam. Are you okay?’
He said he was, but I could see his eyes told a different story. The man’s name was ‘Tom.’
I continued, ‘Why are you out here alone in the cold? Do you have a place to stay?’
He said he did, but I seriously doubt he was being sincere. He was in a bad way.
‘Do you have any family?’ I asked.
He paused and smiled.
‘My mum’s still around,’ he said straightforwardly.
He looked down and thought for moment then his eyes met with mine again.
‘Could you possibly buy me a drink?’ he asked.
‘I’m afraid I can’t get you alcohol, I replied. ‘But I’d love to buy you something to eat.’
He turned it down but I decided to give him some change anyway. I just felt for the guy.
WARNING FOR WITNESSING
Sometimes homeless people will only hear you out in order to ask for money. This can be difficult to discern. As a Christian, you obviously don’t want to turn away your ear from the cry of the poor (Proverbs 21:13). God may even use your generosity to reinforce the message you’ve shared with them, but the obvious worry is that they will use the money for drugs. If they are hungry, I would always offer to buy them food. If they refuse this, it’s usually a sign they want the money for drugs and alcohol.
After some moments passed I changed the conversation to spiritual matters.
‘Well, the reason I’ve come over to you Tom is because I’m a Christian from a Bromley Church. I like to speak to people about their beliefs and views on life. May I ask you if you have any faith?’
‘Errrm, well I was raised in a catholic school,’ he replied. ‘But my faith kind of fell apart after that. It’s funny you’re out here because I’ve been approached by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims before. They all tried to convert me.’
He started laughing to himself. I joined in to try to be polite but inwardly I was actually quite grieved for him.
We spoke a little bit about the world, how cold and brutal people can be. I told him people often don’t care about anyone unless it suits their interest. From here, I took a more sombre tone.
‘Tom, what do you think happens when you die?’
He thought for a moment.
‘I’m not sure, but I’ve thought about that question a lot.’
‘Do you believe there’s an afterlife like heaven and hell?’ I asked.
‘Maybe’ he nodded. ‘But what I don’t understand is why there’s so much wickedness and evil in the world.’
‘Why do you think there is evil in the world Tom? Where did it come from?’ I replied.
‘I’m not sure,’ he said.
‘Part of the reason evil exists in the world is God’s way of demonstrating to us what life is like without Him. Evil shows us what the world is like when we reject Him as ruler of our lives. I followed this up by taking him through the gospel.’
If someone can first be given hope physically, then by God’s grace they will see the hope given in Christ.
‘Do you believe Jesus is coming back soon?’ Tom asked.
‘I think so, Tom. Not only that, but He is going to judge all ungodliness and rebellion. The Bible promises that Jesus will restore the creation and make things right.’
At this point I tried to gently press Tom on the issue of repentance, but also tried to help him understand the meaning of the cross and what it meant for us as sinners.
‘Our sins were applied to Jesus so that we could be reconciled to God and receive His forgiveness.’
Tom looked like he was taking it in.
I stressed, ‘It’s not about religion Tom, or our works. It’s all about what Christ did for guilty sinners like you and me because He loves us. God desires a relationship with us. He saves us by His grace. All we are required to do is repent and put our trust in the saviour, Jesus Christ. Will you please think about this?
‘Yes, I will’ he said.
‘There’s nothing stopping you from praying to God tonight. A broken and contrite heart He will not despise.’
‘I’ve heard a lot of people tell me these things’, Tom said. ‘But the way you’ve explained it is the best I’ve heard.’
In my head, I was really thanking God at this point. Despite my fear and trepidation, He really helped me to stay composed and explain His Word clearly.
My encounter with Tom taught me a valuable lesson about witnessing to homeless people. As the old saying goes, people don’t care what you know until they know you care. It’s really important to offer compassion, help and concern for people in these situations before you can share the gospel. My attempt was pretty feeble. But if someone can first be given hope physically, then by God’s grace they will see the hope given in Christ.
Adam Brennan is a digital producer at Premier
Next time: Confessions of a former Satanist