Does evangelism work anymore? Aren’t people today uninterested, indifferent, or even hostile to the message of Jesus? Aren’t large outreaches a thing of the past? Do non-Christians even come out to these events? Doesn’t it just attract a crowd of Christians? Is there any evidence of peoples’ lives being transformed by such initiatives?
The way God moved during this year’s Mission Week at the University of Toronto (U of T) challenged all of the assumptions behind these questions.
Even though our culture is post-Christian, the same human longings for love and grace, an identity that cannot be shaken, life beyond death, forgiveness from guilt, freedom, hope, peace, and true pleasure still remain. The university students of today have tried what is on offer in our culture and are often left dissatisfied, empty, and disillusioned. The gospel of Jesus speaks to their greatest needs and desires, but is often not recognized as having anything to do with their fulfillment. Why is this?
Tim Keller explains that every culture hostile to Christianity holds a set of beliefs that make Christianity seem implausible. He calls these “defeater beliefs.” Such beliefs are not held because they have been carefully thought through. They are assumed. Keller states: “When a culture develops a combination of many, widely held defeater beliefs it becomes a cultural ‘implausibility-structure.’ In these societies, most people don’t feel they have to give Christianity a good hearing –they don’t feel that kind of energy is warranted. They know it just can’t be true.”[i]
However, there is still hope. We can graciously deconstruct the culture’s implausibility structure. We can also connect the good news about Jesus to the narratives that drive our culture, showing that its own cultural story won’t be resolved outside of the hope of the gospel. .
showing that its own cultural story won’t be resolved outside of the hope of the gospel. Our greatest hopes, dreams, and longings simply can’t be resolved from a naturalistic framework. Pascal explains, “Men despise religion, they hate it and are afraid it might be true. To cure that we have to begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason. That it is worthy of veneration and should be given respect. Next it should be made loveable, should make the good wish it were true, then show that it is indeed true.”
Mission Weeks are designed to do just that: open up spiritual conversations, reveal the beauty of the gospel, and invite people into a relationship with the Living God.
What is a mission week? It’s a week in which Christians from various churches, organizations, and campus ministries join together for an intensive gospel-centered outreach on a university campus.
Days start early as the mission team meets for prayer, time in the Scriptures, and worship. They then go out on campus to connect with others through various evangelistic activities. Some examples include:
- worldview surveys, which pose a series of questions about origins, ethics, human significance, truth, and God, which help students examine their worldview
- white boarding, which involves displaying a large whiteboard in a high traffic area with an intriguing question posed such as: “Has Science Buried God?” A running tally indicates the votes of those who’ve engaged as they pass by. This provides an opportunity for conversation on this or other questions.
- Follow-up conversations, which happen in the coffee shops and pubs on campus following the more formal presentations and debates of the week.
All of the talks/dialogues challenge spiritual roadblocks, create curiosity, and show the attractiveness of the gospel. At this year’s Mission Week the following topics were among those explored: But What if I Don’t Need God?, Is God Sexist?, Is Christianity Intolerant?, Jesus: Man, Myth, Prophet or More?, Does God Care about my Pain?, Am I More Than My Resume?, One God and Many Paths?, Has Science Made Religion Redundant?, and Why Does God Care About What I Do in the Bedroom?
Are mission weeks successful? Is it worth all the effort, time, and resources? The results speak for themselves. At the U of T Mission Week, over 1300 people attended 15 talks. Twenty to forty percent of those attending were non-Christians. Students were able to build relationships with the mission team over the course of the week, have their questions answered multiple times by different people, and hear the gospel presented on a number of different occasions. One Muslim student attended a number of the talks. Following each one he would engage in discussion with different missioners for an hour or more! On another occasion, Michelle Tepper of RZIM sat down with a student who described himself as a nihilist. Over the course of their conversation, she communicated the beauty of what Jesus did on the cross for him. The gospel touched his heart and with tears in his eyes he said: “Maybe you are right.”
During the course of the week, we saw a number of students come to Christ. A first year international student from Hong Kong, was experiencing depression and feeling lost. At the invitation of her aunt, she attended church for the first time. She was surprised by the love and care she experienced. Then during mission week, a Christian friend invited her to attend a talk by Michelle Tepper titled “Why Would a Loving God Send His Son to Die?” During the talk, something Michelle said really hit home: “Sin is separation from Love. And God is Love.” This student deeply desired to no longer be separated from this God of love. Listening intently, she was jotting down notes and questions on her phone. After the talk, the student had many intellectual questions, but soon it became more personal, and she seriously considered why she needed Jesus. After a lengthy conversation with Vivian, on staff with Power to Change (a campus Christian ministry), the young woman understood the gospel and invited Jesus into her life! She is now sharing the gospel with her fellow students!
During the mission, 100 volunteers were mobilized. Christian students that were skeptical about the effectiveness of evangelism, or thought that the university was too hard to reach, or didn’t think God could use them, were amazed by the way the Spirit of God worked through them. One fourth year student really emerged as a spiritual leader. Coming to Christ only a year earlier, she became a key coordinator during the week.
This year’s Mission Week was hard work and required risk. However, it was worth it. Immense joy was one result. Christian students grew in confidence. They realized that people are actually searching and that many are open. They saw evangelism that wasn’t weird or off-putting modeled by more experienced Christians. Christian faculty were also mobilized. As professors put their heads above the parapet and spoke, non-Christian students became open as they saw those they trust engage publicly with the gospel. Greater unity in the body of Christ also resulted, as various Christian groups partnered together. People came to Christ and God was glorified. Friendships were formed that will last a lifetime.
Would you prayerfully consider helping a mission week start on a campus near you? Your life, the lives your fellow Christian brothers and sisters, your local university, and your country may never be the same again!
 Blaise Pascal, Pensees and Other Writings. New York: Oxford, 1999. Pensee #46, pg. 12.
. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries is based in Atlanta, Georgia (http://rzim.org) and the Mission Week was co-sponsored by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Canada (http://ca.rzim.org/teams/Canada).