There are limited places to share the Good News with strangers in my small hometown. But the streets of downtown afford a friend and me many opportunities to talk about our faith as people have to stand on the sidewalk outside the bars to smoke. One recent summer weekend outing was more memorable than most.
The weekend before, a guy exiting an establishment handed us an advertisement for the bar’s first annual wet T-shirt contest inside the bar the following Saturday. To the best of my knowledge, no similar event had taken place in this town, and certainly not in the last two years I’d been witnessing downtown. I felt very strongly that if the business owners downtown were stepping up their level of wickedness, we Christians should do something.
I spoke to my pastor about getting some people together to go downtown that evening to witness or sing worship songs. He said he wanted to help, and he made some phone calls. I found out at the last hour, however, that he wasn’t available and no one else was willing to help. By that time, I couldn’t even get my friend on the phone. I decided I had to go alone—with the 8-foot-tall cross we often take downtown to help lure people into talking about the gospel.
Because I knew I didn’t have any backup, I thought it would be wisest to stand with the cross in front of the place quietly and wait for God to bring people to me. Several people did talk to me. I had two very heartbreaking conversations with some people who said they were Christians. One was a woman who planned to enter the contest, and the other was an older man who was serving as a contest judge. Reasoning with them about the Bible was like talking to a brick wall.
I’d been standing there for more than an hour when a man, about 60 years old, came over from across the street. We’d never met before, and he introduced himself with a threat: Either I would move on—or he’d knock me into the gutter. I calmly told him I was standing on a public sidewalk and tried to ignore him, hoping he would realize I wouldn’t be moved, and walk away. I was wrong. Before I could react, he hit me above the left eye with his wooden cane. While the pain wasn’t great, a goose egg appeared almost immediately. I pulled out my phone to call the police. The guy tried to knock the phone out of my hand. Thankfully, some other people got him under control, and I called 911.
When the police arrived, they asked me some questions and then arrested the man, who was still sitting on a nearby bench. After the police left, I returned to my place on the sidewalk and the once-calm group seemed to turn against me. Soon, my friend showed up, and we decided to move on to the next bar. As soon as we left, we heard cheering as the contest, which was supposed to start at 7 p.m., started at about 8:30.
The police recommended the guy be charged with 2nd degree assault (two to eight years in the state penitentiary); the district attorney called me and said they were lowering the charges to 3rd degree assault (up to two years in the county jail). That’s fine with me—all I got was a goose egg (which later turned into a black eye). I also found out that his name is Melvin.
The cross, a rich symbol of God’s grace and mercy, seems to be offensive to many. I’ve asked myself why people like Melvin care what I think, and why they bother to ridicule me or my faith. While I know that many of these individuals are under alcohol’s influence, I firmly believe the Holy Spirit’s power is at work, convicting of sin and prompting people to think about their eternal future and examine the Bible.
I struggle with whether my decision that night to witness alone downtown was wise. But I do believe God’s power was at work that evening, and I hope He will use my efforts to plant seeds that lead to salvation in the hearts of Melvin and the others with whom my path crossed that night.