BMS World Mission sends mission workers in training out onto Birmingham’s streets.
Free hugs, prayer for strangers and time in a betting shop were all part of two days’ of evangelism training undertaken by mission trainees in Birmingham.
The day of training was led by Chris Duffett, founder of the Light Project and President Elect of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and attempted by BMS long-term and mid-term mission trainees and gap year students who are part of the BMS Action Team programme.
The two groups were given slightly different training on separate days, but the overarching purpose, according to Team Leader at the BMS training centre in Birmingham, Mat Wilson, was “to begin to experience what it is like to be proactive, courageous and creative” in reaching out to people.
Both groups were instructed to stand in small groups in a busy shopping area holding up signs saying ‘free hugs’, ‘looking for a miracle?’ or ‘do you need peace?’ They were also instructed to spend £3 on items they could give away for free to passers-by.
Conversations developed when people were hugged, when jelly-babies, flowers and chocolates were handed out and when some people asked for prayer or shared burdens with the trainees. “The aim of the day had been to help people become more confident in sharing their faith,” says Mat. “It was incredible to witness and be a part of a day when sharing Jesus became real and not just a theory to talk about in a lecture room or church hall. I think it achieved its aim.”
The third task, for both groups, was more challenging. Trainees for long-term mission were asked to spend time praying for someone they were to meet later, writing down who they thought the person would be and what God would have the trainees say to them. Action Teamers were asked to step out of their comfort zones and place a £2 bet in a betting shop so as to give them an experience that was utterly new and to give them an insight into how strange a church environment might be to someone who had never experienced it before.
“I felt really uncomfortable,” says Becca, one of the young people given the task. “The woman just laughed at me, because I didn’t know what I was doing. It helped me to understand how people might feel about going into church for the first time.”
Dexter, another Action Teamer who had been sceptical about the tasks at first, said the day had been both “fun” and “a strange experience” in the end. “It made me feel a bit more open to new ideas and up for the challenge of sharing my faith in an overseas context.”
“It helped them think outside the box a little bit,” says Ben Drabble, BMS Mission Teams Organiser who works closely with Action Teams. “I think it changed the way many of the Action Teamers thought about evangelism and it gave them an increased confidence in being able to talk to strangers about their faith.”
All of the trainees were surprised by how much of a positive response they received. “We all realised that people are more open to hearing the message of Jesus that we think,” says Mat Wilson. “People are thirsty for the love of God and maybe it is we, as Christians, who build up the walls and barriers to sharing faith rather than those on our streets.”