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Do we still do evangelism training?

I haven’t heard or seen much about that lately, not since Evangelism Explosion, the “I Found It” campaign, and the Four Spiritual Laws.

But we still have good news to share, don’t we? So it wouldn’t hurt, I suppose, for us to make a little effort to be prepared for the next time we run into a Barbara, a Charlie, or even a Violet—these, of course, being some of the main characters in the movie August: Osage County.

I went to see it last week, and I propose that anyone who has any inclination to tell people about Jesus first go see that movie.
Mind you, the movie itself contains little or no good news. It is a brutally honest depiction of family dysfunction, with the acting being the most outstanding feature. Meryl Streep is just amazing as the lead character, Violet, who is forced to face some painful realities in light of the suicide of her husband. But she is not above dishing out some painful realities herself, as she becomes the self-appointed truth teller around the family dinner table after the funeral.

Barbara is one of Violet’s three daughters. Somehow I wondered what I would say to Barbara if I ran into her and if she knew what I know about her life. I contemplated writing a letter to Barbara, which is sort of weird, seeing she is a fictional character in a movie, and she never told me her story personally. I only know her from my voyeuristic intrusion into her life as I watched it unfold before me on the silver screen.

In that respect Barbara is no different from any other person we might want to tell about Jesus. We don’t know their story. We don’t know where life has taken them until the moment we encounter them. We don’t know if an alcoholic father has just committed suicide or a mother is hooked on pills; we don’t know about sibling rivalry, about long painful marriages, about lost dreams and broken promises. We don’t know anything.

But we think we know enough to tell them about Jesus: on a long flight, the person sitting next to us. After a PTA meeting, in the parking lot. At a baby shower for a mutual acquaintance, between games and desert. Yes, we can be sure that God somehow is present in their lives, but we can also be sure that we have no idea where, and how, they need God most.

That’s why I propose that anyone who has any inclination to tell people about Jesus first go see that movie. That, and then one more thing. Two, actually. After you see the movie, pick one of the characters in the movie and write him or her a letter, as a Christian, telling that person, that fictional character, something that you think will bless him or her.

And then gather with a few other people who have done the same exercise and compare letters.

It will be good. For you, and perhaps also for that next real-life person you decide to tell about Jesus. Perhaps it will help for us to realize that we really know very little of their story. Perhaps we have just encountered a Violet, a Charlie, or a Barbara. Might our having seen the movie August: Osage County, and written a letter to one of the characters, change what we are about to say to them? I call it evangelism training. (Weinstein)

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