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"We Have Become Friends": A Layperson's Experience in the "Becoming Truly Human" Program

By James Blackstock

Love for others is the engine that drives evangelism.

For many years as a Protestant, I witnessed to others because I thought it was my duty. After all, we had been scripturally mandated by the Great Commission to do so, hadn't we? Unfortunately, try though I might, I can't remember many of the names or personal circumstances of those with whom I shared the Gospel. I mostly thought that my work was finished and the rest was up to God. I wished them well and went on to the next one. After they said the "Sinners Prayer" they were on their own and I rarely even prayed for them, except in a very general sense. As I look back, I realize that this was a very impersonal way to share the Good News.

Over several years, I served on the ministry staffs of several large international ministries who were only interested in how many professions of faith had been made at any given event. The goal in those days was clear, the essence of evangelism was winning converts, someone else would take up the work of discipleship. This approach seemed to work! But, we filled the pews with people who were nominal Christians at best and devoid of any unity in doctrine which led many to the practice of church-hopping in the hopes of finding a deeper meaning to it all.

It goes without saying that Orthodoxy changed my life and my view towards others. I am so grateful to my Archdiocese for making the Truly Human program available to us. The Antiochians have demonstrated an unfaltering and sincere love for others that I can't help but to be inspired by. Our Archdiocese stands out from the others in their evangelistic work. My own priest and spiritual father was received into the Orthodox under the blessing of the late Metropolitan Phillip Saliba when seventeen parishes with 2,000 members were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1987.

While that is impressive, what is most impressive is the love and care and direction that we receive as members of the Church and in the Becoming Truly Human program. Eighteen weeks ago, we began to open our homes to people who were unchurched, some for 20 years or more. Inviting people wasn't bad. I like social media and have a presence on Facebook. In one instance a gentleman, who was a Jehovah's Witness, asked if he could be a "friend" on Facebook. We talked, through messaging, and I asked him if he would want to come to the Becoming Truly Human program. He was excited to do so. He is now a catechumen in the Orthodox Church.

In another instance a woman, who I was not comfortable talking to regarding the faith, told me she hadn't been to church in decades and was opposed to "religion". When I invited her, she said, "I'm not sure I would want to come: churches are always asking for money and are often hypocrites." She came to the Becoming Truly Human Program and was very surprised, I would even say "stunned." She says she loves it. Last week she brought her 17 year old "non-religious" son who after the evening said, "Boy, I want to come every week!"

I, initially had the wrong concept of the program. I thought it was structured, following strict guidelines. What I found was that the content wasn't as important as allowing people to be themselves, to ask questions, to not be quiet nor afraid to say anything. The participants were given the opportunity to share their feelings openly, and there was no criticism, no arguing, we just listened and shared our own feelings based on our experiences.

By the Grace of God, our visitors felt safe and accepted. When the walls came down, they became open to Orthodoxy. We have taken an interest in their personal lives, their ideas, their fears and their joys. We have become friends and I have no doubt that we will always be friends. Since our humble beginnings, eighteen weeks ago, we already have a new Catechumen, Burt. Burt will begin his catechism classes this Saturday Morning. It is also likely, based on the level of acceptance that we observe in others, that Burt will not be the only new catechumen.

Our little group is growing weekly as the members of our group invite their friends. We started with only four people and we have grown to a group of seventeen. I can't begin to tell you how excited I am to see what is happening with us. There is no telling where this will go.

What do these people see in the group and why do they keep coming each week? They see love, they see people who care about them as people, who care about their families. They come in a very short time to see God as love and not a harsh impersonal judge. They become more open, they become more truly human. "Love never fails" 1Cor. 13: 8

The amazing thing is that this kind of evangelism is not difficult. One does not have to study the scriptures to prepare or have a seminary education in order to participate as a leader in the program. One does not have to be intimidated by others with this program. They just have to be themselves, to follow the simple guidelines that are provided by the Becoming Truly Human Program: to open their homes, put out some food or snacks and drinks and just listen! Just care, and watch the Holy Spirit do His work of Love.

I am so excited and inspired by the program and I can see tremendously wonderful and exciting growth in our parishes all over the country as a result of the love we share. I encourage all of my brother and sisters to embrace the program and share your love with people who are simply starving for love and truth. May God bring you peace and joy forevermore.