Have you ever shared Christ with someone you never expected to see again? Perhaps you met in a cafeteria, dormitory, on a bus, or at a social event. Maybe you wondered how, if at all, God would use your brief encounter. The following story might encourage you.
I received an e-mail from Bert Watson, who told of our 1973 conversation in his freshman dormitory at Georgia Tech:
“You came to see me on a Thursday, but I had an exam and asked you to return on Friday. You shared the Four Spiritual Laws with me, and I responded by saying I had ‘done all that.’
“Before you left, you asked, ‘What do you think about heaven?'”
I answered, ‘I hope I am going there,’ to which you quickly and emphatically replied,‘Bert, God wants you to know.’”
Bert recalls that he then escorted me to the door, thanked me, and said goodbye. He continues:
“The Lord used that statement in a powerful way. For the rest of the day our conversation played over and over in my mind. My roommate and friends were away, so I went to bed early. As I lay on my back facing the ceiling, I wanted to pray. But before I could open my mouth, God clearly told me, ‘You have never received Me as your personal Lord and Savior.’
“All I could say was, ‘That’s right.’
“My spiritual eyes were opened. I was a sinner, and I was lost. I jumped up, grabbed the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, and read it cover to over. That night I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
Bert rode a spiritual roller coaster for the next couple of years. He transferred to Texas A&M to be close to his hometown friends. Emotional struggles sapped his interest in academics. Soon he dropped out of A&M to sort his life out.
Bert speaks with joy of the people God used to help him learn to walk closely with Him. A Houston church assisted his spiritual development. He led several people to Christ, including“the meanest man I knew.” He enrolled in the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where a believer helped him learn to trust the Holy Spirit to empower his life. A couple of weeks later at a Christian camp in Georgia, Bert felt God’s prompting to the ministry.
“God clearly spoke to me saying, ‘I have called you to become a minister of My Word.’
“I responded out loud, ‘Lord, if that is You, You are going to have to prove it.’ Two minutes later, the people in charge of morning devotions approached and asked me if I would speak at the 7 a.m. devotional the next morning. Only recognized ministers did the devotional. That was my first sermon, and I stayed up until 4 a.m. preparing.”
After this, Bert studied further to prepare for ministry. He joined a small, dynamic church where, under the influence of godly mentors, he grew rapidly.
Ministry, Pain, and Reconciliation
Bert received more opportunities to speak, teach, disciple others, and preach the gospel. He saw God work in his emotional and relational life. “I was so hungry for the Word that I would often read 20 or more chapters of the Bible a day. I soon found myself in active ministry, leading people to Jesus, speaking at camps, exercising gifts of the Spirit, and discipling new believers. During this time the Lord also exposed the root of my emotional pain and completely healed me, leading to a wonderful reconciliation with my father.”
Bert soon became convinced that God wanted him to work with young people…in Africa. Since 1983, he has taught, discipled, and trained emerging leaders in South Africa. During his tenure there with Youth For Christ he oversaw a massive high school outreach and more than 140,000 young people indicated decisions to trust Christ as Savior. His lifelong dream of fostering leadership development led to the birth of Leading Edge Christian Ministries.
Bert travels widely training both emerging and experienced Christian leaders. He also consults for nation-changing projects and has worked with Bruce Wilkinson in one of the largest abstinence-based HIV/AIDS interventions ever undertaken in AIDS-ravaged Africa. In addition, he mentors emerging leaders and is currently developing an innovative leadership degree program for South African Theological Seminary.
Bert and his wife, Surette, have many reasons to express gratitude to God. Reflecting on his exciting ride with Jesus, Bert says, “God has been good to me. We have been privileged to see much fruit over the past 20 years.
“As the Lord has renewed my mind over the years, my worldview has been profoundly affected. One important principle that I have learned is that life is in Jesus; it is only in Him that we are complete or made full. No other person or thing can do this. Apart from Jesus, we are nothing and can do nothing. How do I experience this life? Jesus taught, ‘It is the Spirit who gives life.’ When we submit to His lordship and allow His Spirit to lead, teach, and empower us, we discover what it means to live.
“Echoing John 15:16, he says, “I thank God that He chose me and appointed me to bear fruit that remains forever.
“Not all chance encounters end up like this. We are responsible to be faithful; God works in hearts. God can use you and me to bear fruit that remains.
Lessons for Reaching Secular Audiences
What lessons for secular outreach might Bert’s story hold?
God’s Word works
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth.They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it”(Isaiah 55:11, NLT).1 In 1973, at GeorgiaTech, God’s Word worked in Bert. His Word, sown in students’ hearts, will bring about His purposes.
Trust God to follow up
Be faithful to contact spiritually interested people. But personal follow-up is not always humanly possible. God is the best followup worker. Sometimes we sow seeds; sometimes we water; sometimes we reap. God is always the one who causes the growth (John 4:35–38;1 Corinthians 3:5–9).
The Holy Spirit can work wonders
Bert’s spiritual journey seems guided by God’sHoly Spirit. At key points the Spirit brought people and circumstances across his path to nudge him in the right direction. Bert notes,“It is the Spirit who gives life” and guides and empowers us. Sometimes amid the details of ministry it can be easy to forget the One whois both the enabler and purpose of ministry. Focusing on Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, brings real life.
Go where your audience is
Students hang out in dorms, Greek houses, cafeterias, and open plazas. Bert and I spoke privately in his dorm room, a place where he could feel comfortable. Communicating with people on their own turf can help open hearts.
Be persistent about His tasks
Campus ministers talk to many people. Managing details of timing and logistics plus remembering names and interests can be daunting.No one can contact every person. Ask God to give you wisdom to know His work for you.Jesus told His Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work whichYou have given Me to do” (John 17:4, NASB).2
Take the long view of ministry
In God’s providence, seeing results sometimes takes time. Realizing this can help relieve pressure and discouragement. I left Bert’s dorm room not knowing of his continued interest.He left Georgia Tech after that term and next appeared in my life 30 years later. Encourage students to take the long view of ministry.As they serve Jesus and minister alongside you, they are sowing seeds for decades into the future and for eternity.
Spiritual multiplication holds manifold possibilities
Robert Schuller notes that anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but no one can count the apples in a seed. God has used Bert to touch thousands of lives and, through those he influences, countless others. Students you contact today can have similar influence. The words you speak, the counsel you give, the outreaches you plan, and the discipleship you foster can bear fruit many times over.Be faithfulPaul wrote that people should “regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1,2). As we are faithful to fulfill the tasks He gives us, He will bring fruit that remains.
by Rusty Wright, an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com
Originally printed in Enrichment Journal in a column by Rusty Wright on “Reaching Secular Universities.” Reprinted with permission.
Photo by Subtle Cinematics on Unsplash