According to our schedule for Semana Santa, the celebrations started at 1:00 am and went all night long. So, we got to bed early to try and get a little sleep before going down there. I got about an hour and a half's sleep - unfortunately, Ja did not get any - before having to wake up to the alarm at the unholy hour of midnight. But, in for a penny, in for a pound: so down to La Merced we went for El Pregón de Sentencia, or the presentation of sentencing. The processions actually follow the Biblical time sequence fairly accurately, with Jesus going on trial in front of the Sanhedrin in the middle of the night and moving on to Pilate after daybreak. The Kendalls told us we really should go down there to see the beautiful alfombras, so off we trudged. The sentencing consisted of Roman soldiers in full Roman dress uniforms on horseback, along with a soldier announcing Jesus' sentence of death. Unfortunately, totally out of character for Guatemala, the Pregón actually took place ahead of schedule, so we missed it. What are the odds of that! Thankfully, like all processions, it moved from place to place, with the soldier repeating the sentence periodically; so we were able to see one of the later presentations.
Having missed the pregón itself, we decided to drop by the café of the church where we had attended on Sunday. Earlier on Thursday night, we had gone in there before attending church and had been told they'd be open all night and that a group of them might go out and do some street preaching. There, we met up with Mark, a fine Christian gentlemen with a great passion for reaching the lost who was indeed going out to preach. Yes, street preaching: that Rob Bell-lambasted "Bullhorn Guy" activity where you go out and preach the gospel to unsuspecting passersby. I have long said that Rob Bell has no idea what he is talking about; that every person I know who has come to faith as an adult that I've discussed the question with has been positively influenced by a street preacher somewhere along the line. I vividly remember seeing street preachers on the quad at George Mason University back in the late 80s; though I didn't come to Christ right then and there, I definitely remember them as somebody who I respected for their faith and zeal even though I did not (at the time) share their religious convictions.
Note to Rob Bell: open your ears to what us real adult converts have to say. Be thankful for your sheltered Christian-from-birth bubble, but don't just stay in there and assume you know how everybody else thinks. Some of us who come in from the outside just might know better what non-Christians like we were need to hear. (Not to mention the way the Bible presents the gospel.)Anyway, though I had long been in favor of street preaching, I had never done it: in fact, it scared me to death. But when we heard that Mark was going to go and do it, we decided to join in with him. So, out went our little rag-tag group of four: Mark, our fearless leader; Dave, Mark's assistant and straight man; Ja, who speaks little Spanish but the rest of us could translate, and myself. Ja and I had never street preached, but we still felt fairly well equipped from the Way of the Master basic training course we had gone through. Now was our chance to use it. Yikes!
By the way, let me get in a plug for Way of the Master: I strongly believe that every Christian should watch these videos and put them into practice. If you are uncomfortable with sharing your faith with people, Christian, go to the link above right now and order the course. Or, if you want to go down to Guatemala and experience the training along with evangelism opportunities just like I'm describing here, Mark is holding an Evangelism Bootcamp June 20-26. This would be a great chance to get trained using excellent materials and get an awesome chance to practice in the same live environment where we were, for a very reasonable price. Maybe Mark will even take you out in the middle of the night. :-)
We spent the next three hours walking around the central park area of Antigua, sharing the gospel with whoever we met there. The Way of the Master method is quite simple: you essentially follow the first three chapters of Romans. You first present the bad news, then you present the Good News. That is, you present the law of God in the form of the ten commandments, and demonstrate that all your listeners have broken them. For example, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Have you ever told a lie? If so, what does that make you? The obvious answer is "a liar." The Bible says that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. Next, Thou shalt not commit adultery. Have you ever looked a a member of the opposite (or same) sex not your spouse with lust? Jesus said that's the same as committing adultery in your heart; thus, that makes you an adulterer-at-heart. After presenting three or four commandments and have the listener admitting that he has broken all of them, you help them to understand that they do not deserve heaven, they deserve hell. Once they have that understanding, then (and only then) do you share the Good News: that Jesus Christ died to take the penalty that they deserve, and by putting our faith in Him and Him alone, we can be freed from the penalty that we all deserve. Straight out of Romans.
It might seem that it would not be a fruitful place to preach, as most people in the park at 1:00am were drunk, but it was. Though we didn't have anybody put their faith in Christ right then and there, there were definitely a number of people who were under strong conviction by the Holy Spirit. One young lady, after I had explained about the ten commandments and how breaking them meant she was headed for hell, looked at me with a blank look in her eye and asked "so what can I do?" At that point you have the privilege of explaining that putting your faith in Christ's sacrifice, not in your own works, is the way of salvation. It's such a freeing truth! And, I should note, one that friendship evangelism would most likely never have provoked.
We were actually interrupted one time by an intelligent but militant atheist heckler who wanted to argue about the injustice of God using regurgitated quotes from Christopher Hitchins as well as scatter-shot fired objections he seems to have actually thought of himself. Mark was preaching at the time, and his lack of facility in Spanish actually came in handy: the atheist switched to English and continued the argument while Dave and I talked to the crowd. Ja then came to our rescue and took the atheist aside and talked with him for awhile (I'm very proud of that boy) so Mark could return to talking to other members of the assembled crowd. It all turned out very well: you might even suspect that God had a hand in the whole thing. (Wink.)
After three hours of exhausting preaching we returned to the church café for a cup of coffee and cookie, and off to bed. (Ja, of course, had a sandwich. He earned it.)
The next afternoon, after sleeping in, we went out to the market to buy a few final souvenirs. As we were walking around the market, we happened to see a street preacher we didn't know walking through the market and evangelizing. After listening for a few minutes to convince myself that he was doing solid Biblical preaching (you can't be too careful), I struck up a conversation with him. We talked for a minute and then we both spontaneously started talking in raised voices. I found myself again preaching in Spanish to a rapidly assembling crowd right there in the middle of the market! I suspect the fact that we were a gringo together with a Guatemalteco that attracted people's attention, but so what? Once they started listening, they could hear our gospel presentation. Once again, we had a number of interested listeners. I handed out as many gospel presentation tracts as I had with me to our listeners. Ja did a double take and said "where did you get those from?!" as I had apparently produced them as if out of thin air. Thankfully, I had brought along a handful for just such an occasion: it always pays to be prepared. I could have given out two or three times as many as I had to the eager recipients.
So, we had an extremely exhilarating but exhausting 24 hours. There were a minimum of 8 people who I believe were genuinely under conviction by God's Holy Spirit. Since then, I have been praying for them. I would appreciate your prayers for them, too.
Before I close, let me make an aside to those readers who are not evangelical Christians. Most people in Guatemala are Catholics, but we were emphatically not out there to get people to change churches. Good evangelists never do that. If an evangelist is trying to get you to join his particular church, run away, and FAST. (Well, either that, or evangelize him, like I do with the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who show up at my door.) That's not what the Bible calls us to do. It calls us to introduce people to being in a relationship with Him, the living God of the universe, NOT to join a particular church. My primary desire is to see people come into a live-giving relationship with God; I trust that the same God who can save them will lead them to being in whatever church He wants them in. If God leads them to stay in their own current church, that's wonderful; if He leads them to leave, that's great too. I figure God can choose what church they should be in way better than I will ever be able to. Do I encourage them to join a solid church that teaches the Bible? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean that my church is the only place that does it.