Evangelist. The very word conjures up images of men with slicked back hair fleecing the ignorant masses or, if you have a more positive view, the ultra spiritual giant pleading with the masses of the world to turn from their sins and trust in Christ. The word probably doesn’t bring to mind jobless beer drinking Vietnam vets, but that is exactly what my wife and I found one day as we were minding our own business taking a leisurely walk in Arnold Park.
It was a nice summer evening and my wife and I were enjoying the fresh air when we noticed a man throwing a stick to two big playful dogs who were having the time of their lives. As the dogs came near us, we began to pet them and, without intending to start a conversation, we found ourselves unable to walk away from the owner who just wanted someone to talk to. Without us asking, he began to tell us of his love for dogs and how one of the dogs he took in a week earlier because he had been abused and abandoned. He then began to tell us about his days in the Vietnam war and how much he despised the U.S. government.
Without necessarily sharing his disdain for my country, my mind immediately went back to the week I had spent in Vietnam during my Bible School days and the museums that showed me the awful things that both the Vietnamese people and the Americans soldiers suffered during the war. Given that I assumed he must have experienced some terrible things that I couldn’t even imagine, I decided to cut him some slack as he continued with his story.
The man proceeded to tell us how he had been kicked out of more than a few churches, how he had a bit of an alcohol problem (though he was not drunk at the time), how he had a very difficult time relating to people, and, lastly, just how much he loved his dogs. Judging from the dogs themselves it was obvious they were well cared for, better than most dogs I know at least. I sensed a profound affection for these two K-9s that at the very least matched a good parent with human children. He proceeded to tell us that, although he couldn’t relate well to people, that God had given him these dogs so that he could care for them and protect them. In essence, he said that this was his ministry.
As we stood there listening to his story, we could tell that he was wanting to say something, but was struggling for the words. Finally, he worked up the courage to ask me, “If you died tomorrow, do you know where you would go?” I had a choice at that moment. I could have said, “Why yes, as a matter of fact I do. Not only am I a Christian, but I am also a missionary to the nations” , but I did not. I knew that it took a lot of courage for this man to ask me that question, probably more courage than for me to stand on a platform and deliver a gospel sermon.
The man proceeded to apologize for not being a very good witness. As I looked at the two beautiful dogs staring back at their master in playful anticipation, dogs that had been abused, abandoned, and wihtout hope in this sometimes cruel world, I thanked him for taking the time out to talk to me.
It’s been several months since that summer evening and I still can’t get the man out of my mind. I may win millions to Christ or I may only reach a few. Perhaps, in the end, I have a feeling that’s not what really matters. What matters is in the end is what I have done with what God has given me. This man, although he had very little to give, gave all that he had. As I walked away, I realized that my Father in heaven was teaching me, the aspiring world evangelist a valuable lesson that day through this red head beer drinking evangelist. God help me if I ever forget. Man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart.