By Paula Schlueter Ross
The Web-based “counter” that tracks the number of times LCMS Lutherans have shared their faith with others as part of the Ablaze! movement hit 10,006,997 as this Reporter was going to press April 29.
That figure includes some 310,000 additions from the Synod’s Southeastern District, which has been recording Gospel-sharing events for three years and last month added them to the Ablaze! Web site.
Sally Hiller, who has been overseeing the districtwide Ablaze! emphasis, says “people are becoming more comfortable in seeing and seizing the opportunities to share their faith” and now the initiative is “beginning to gain momentum” in the district.
“I rejoice and give thanks to God because each day I am humbled to read of the faith-sharing experiences of people throughout the district,” Hiller told Reporter.
She recalled one person who told her, “Oh, I probably speak to someone about Jesus 25 to 30 times a day. How do you not?”
Still, the district is not easing up on its Ablaze! emphasis. At its May 1-3 convention in Norfolk, Va., delegates unanimously adopted a resolution to make faith-sharing a districtwide priority for the next triennium. The Southeastern District wants to have reached 750,000 people with the Gospel by its next convention in 2012 — that’s 30 percent of its goal to reach 2.5 million by 2017.
With a little more than eight years left until Ablaze! culminates on Oct. 31, 2017, the movement is one-tenth of the way toward its goal of reaching 100 million people worldwide with the Gospel.
“I wish we were further along than where we are right now, but I think that we’re making a good start,” says Rev. Scott Snow, director of national outreach for LCMS World Mission.
At the same time, Snow said he believes that many more LCMS Lutherans are sharing their faith with others. They’re just not recording those faith-sharing events on the Ablaze! Web site (www.lcms.org/ablaze).
“Sometimes I think folks have a tendency to be unduly modest about how God is using them to share faith, and while we’re not asking people to be boastful … we want them to be bold about sharing how they’ve shared their faith because it helps others see how that could be done, with whom it could be done, where it could be done — and that’s a great motivation and encouragement and a great teaching opportunity for others.”
Faith-sharing ideas from the Ablaze! Web site are copied by others “all the time,” according to Snow.
“If we count and share the stories, then others will say, ‘You know, I never thought about sharing my faith in that setting,’ like with a hairdresser, or at the supermarket.'”
One idea that’s “racing like wildfire” in the Synod relates to praying before a meal in a restaurant. Snow says you can tell the server, “We’re going to pray for our meal in just a few minutes. Is there anything that we can pray for you about?”
“That, in itself, is not what we’re counting as a ‘critical event’ [sharing one’s faith and giving the recipient an opportunity to respond], but it can often, and does, many times, lead to a faith-sharing opportunity.”
Snow says people have told him that, many times, servers will come back and offer other prayer needs, or will bring over another server with a prayer request.
A couple from Metairie, La., write about their restaurant experience on the Ablaze! Web site. When they asked their server for her prayer needs, she responded, “Yes, I just got married yesterday!” So they prayed for her. Later, she explained that her husband was in jail, so the couple prayed again, “that if he were innocent, he might be released, and if not, that he might confess his sin and be renewed in Christ.”
When they returned to the same restaurant another day, the server seemed happy to see them and thanked them for their prayers. That day, they were able to “talk about the love of Jesus and for her and for her husband and how He forgives sin.”
Says the couple: “We are reminded that many times our paths cross people who are going through difficult times, and in our hurried lives we don’t even notice.”
Sharing stories such as this “helps to embolden and encourage others to be about the work the Lord calls us together to do,” Snow says.
Pilgrim St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Ohio, is always on the lookout for ways to encourage outreach, according to Pastor Jim Herbolsheimer. During worship services, members are asked to fill out a “Gospel contacts” card that records the number of times they have shared their faith with others during the past week. For about a year, the congregation would total up the contacts and put that number of carnations on display in a vase on the altar as a way to “keep before our people weekly our responsibility to share the Gospel,” said Herbolsheimer.
On the weeks when there were no carnations, “it was a wake-up call to our people,” according to the pastor.
The largest number of carnations — 115 — followed the congregation’s “Cup and a Prayer” initiative which offered nearly 100 visitors to the church a free cup of coffee and prayers for a need or concern in their lives.
“We then attached the names of these people to the carnations and asked our people to take them home and pray for these people for as long as the carnations lasted,” Herbolsheimer said.
The 175-member congregation is continuing this year the “Cup and a Prayer” events, as well as similar ones that will offer free hot dogs, ice-cream cones, and pizza with personal prayer. Since September 2007, Pilgrim St. Paul has logged 826 contacts.
Snow says that resources designed to help individuals, congregations, and schools reach out to others in faith are available on the Ablaze! Web site (at www.lcms.org/?14747). Listed are a number of “Personal Evangelism Tools” such as John 3:16 coins, Ablaze! bracelets, and a pocket-sized New Testament. Schools can choose from a variety of “Ablaze! Idea-Starters” for students such as pencils, magnets, bookmarks, and bracelets. And there are a number of materials, workshops, and outreach ideas for congregations and districts, as well.
To reach 100 million people wit