Lansing, Mich., Feb 12, 2014 / 17:20 pm
A leader with a Michigan-based street evangelization group says that anyone can evangelize simply by fearlessly sharing the truth about Jesus with those they encounter.
"We believe that street evangelization is the easiest method of evangelization," Adam Janke, program director with the St. Paul Street Evangelization, told CNA Feb. 10.
"We find that our street evangelists become practiced and better at evangelizing in everyday life, through street evangelization."
Spreading the gospel on the streets makes it easier for people to do the same with their family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, Janke continued. He said street evangelization can help overcome feelings of awkwardness or fears of being "annoying" in talking with others about the Catholic faith.
"We want it to be a natural process where we're sharing what we have found in our own hearts, this hope in Jesus Christ, for his salvation to liberate us from sin and death."
Steve Dawson, St. Paul Street Evangelization's current national director, founded the organization in May 2012.
Dawson, a convert to the Catholic faith, followed Mother Teresa of Calcutta's example of giving out miraculous medals.
"He started doing that," Janke said. "He'd give out a miraculous medal to his waitress in a restaurant. People responded positively. So he decided to go to the boardwalk in Portland, Ore. and start handing out rosaries and miraculous medals."
Janke said that first effort was "very successful." People started returning to the faith. Dawson prayed with people and talked about their faith.
When Dawson posted news about his effort on Facebook, other Catholics "saw how easy it was to share your faith through street organization," reported Janke.
St. Paul Street Evangelization has grown to more than 100 different teams in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Denmark and the U.K. The teams are usually "loosely organized," sometimes through a parish or through a Catholic who is "on fire for their faith."
Team members agree to a code of conduct and are supplied with free materials from the national organization.
"We ask our teams not to be manipulative. We ask our teams to go out there and be really truly authentic and share the love and message of Christ," Janke said.
"They'll go out and they'll be evangelizing in a very non-confrontational way, allowing the Holy Spirit really to move in the heart of those who are witnessing our public Catholic presence," he continued.
U.S. teams will go to a public space where they have First Amendment rights or to parish festivals. They display a sandwich board that reads "Catholic Truth" and give away free materials like brochures and rosaries or information about local Mass times, RCIA and evangelization programs.
The team will pray together publicly for the Holy Spirit's guidance "to bless those they'll have contact with that day," Janke explained. They ask passersby if they would like a rosary. They respond kindly to those who decline, telling them to "have a nice day."
Evangelizers will offer further material to those who accept a rosary or show further interest, asking questions like whether they are Catholic or have considered becoming Catholic.
The team asks interested Catholics whether they currently go to Mass and what parish they attend, talking about the importance of Mass, the Sacraments and learning about the faith.
"If they're not a Catholic, we'll ask if they've ever considered the Catholic faith before," Janke said. "It's a very, very effective method of evangelization."
He said that the organization's Las Vegas team has had over 450 people "respond positively" in the last 12 months. Some expressed gratitude to have met the team, while others said they would go back to Church or look into the Catholic faith.
At one recent training session, teens were taken out on the streets to evangelize.
"At the end of the day they had this long list of prayer requests that people had given them. Six people said that they would come back to Church as a result of them reaching out," Janke said. "That's just one team on one day, just a group of teens going out for an hour, telling other people about their faith."
In addition to their spiritual work, other evangelization teams have helped save lives.
"We've been able to intervene with people considering suicide. They know that they can trust us," Janke said.
Teams have also helped people considering having abortions, giving them "hope and encouragement."
"It's really a very simple method of offering a rosary or a CD or a brochure and being available to listen and say 'we care about you, that's why we're here'," Janke added.
He cited Bl. John Paul II's "Redemptoris Missio," saying that the document calls the Church to focus "all its efforts on the new evangelization."
Janke also noted the need for those who evangelize to first be evangelized, adding that street evangelists should begin conversations by finding common ground.
Moreover, he stressed the importance of action.
"Our culture is dying and our world is wounded," he said. "Pope Francis has said go out and heal wounds."
Janke himself entered the Church from a "fundamentalist anti-Catholic background" 10 years ago.
"Somebody reached out to me and talked to me about the Church," he said.
He now works as director of religious education and in youth ministry at a Lansing-area parish.
St. Paul Street Evangelization offers online training and other resources. Its episcopal advisors are Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit and Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing.