Sunday, December 20, 2009
AMERICAN PASTOR INTERVIEWS IRISH EVANGELIST
David Swanson, Community Life Pastor at Chicago’s New Community Covenant Church interviews Anthony Brabazon, a part time street preacher and evangelist from Dublin, Ireland in December 2009.
David: When I encounter a street preacher I often wonder what led that person to the decision to proclaim the Gospel in such a distinct manner. What were the experiences that led you to spend time on the streets of Dublin preaching?
Anthony: A Few things: Primarily the command of Jesus in the great commission and the promise He will be with us. Also a love for the lost who are unattracted to church and greatly deceived by what the media says about Jesus. In Ireland despite a good catholic upbringing, which I also received virtually nobody can explain why the Lamb of God was slain at Calvary. I am also aware that time is very short and the work is very great. Because He went up that hill for me I can be bold for Him. i often think that the first 2 letters of God are GO (while the first 3 letters of satan are SAT!).
David: It's interesting that one of your primary motivations is the realization that many contemporary people will not come into a church building. Here in the USA there has been an effort to reinvent church so the "unattracted" people will, in fact, be attracted to church. The thinking seems to be that if church doesn't look like church people will give church a chance. Do you think this is a valid effort, or does street preaching more realistically connect with the unreached?
Anthony: Both are probably valid but in general church is for believers and Jesus is for the lost. Every church seems to start out wanting to be cross focussed, free and Jesus centred yet over time the cancer of humanism (man and happiness centredness) can seep in silently, it is in this context that I would have a concern that its the gospel that some want to dilute to make the church more "attractive". Some will always be offended by the cross, especially the religious. Jesus focus can shift to church focus and the message of Ephesians 4 where the work is done by "the saints" can be filtered out as leadership is elevated higher than serventhood and all works are "checked out" or filtered for approval which leads to the saints clamming up and becoming spectators. Jesus went to seek and save the lost and I don't see him passing out flyers for the upper room meeting but healing preaching and ministering where people were. Many pray for seats to be filled by incoming sinners while I often pray for them to be emptied by the outgoing saints.
David: Many of the street preachers I have encountered seem to portray a very one-sided Jesus: angry and bent on sending people to hell. What do you think people's perception of Jesus is after encountering your street preaching?
Anthony: When I speak of Hell I normally speak about it being a place I deserve, this gets people's attention because they expect me to be self righteous and just tell them they deserve hell. I also say how Jesus went there for us and speak of Holy God's love for us in doing this. I have seen others speak only of the sin of others and I am not surprised that people are turned off by this. I have no idea what most people's perception of me is after preaching. I always thank them for listening and speak a blessing over them. We often worship on the street (singing to the Lord and not man) before witnessing or preaching because of the power of worship (Psalm 149 for example) which binds up the strong man.
David: I imagine you have experienced many different reactions- both encouraging and discouraging- to your street preaching. Are there any stories that stand in your memory that you could share with us?
Anthony: One night I was in a busy pedestrian zone in Dublin called Temple Bar. Although I like to be with at least one other saint I was alone this night and as I held high the name JESUS a French atheist started asking questions. I felt the Lord told me to not answer him back while he began to give his opinion about the BIble being untrustworthy etc.. i asked the Lord silently was there anything about this man I needed to know and then, without hesitation i asked him did he have a sore chest? He immediately stopped talking and his eyes widened as he stared silently at me. I knew I had about 15 seconds if that to witness and I told him that God knows everything about him, loves him and sent Jesus to take his sin on the cross. He slowly moved off, silently, and when at the end of the street he turned around and stared back at me. I knew the Lord had given me a "word of knowledge" and that this greatly impacted him, much more than my reasoning with his arguments would have that night. To God be all the glory.
Another time after my wife preached a rough living young heroin addict asked how he could get this new life. We prayed with him, he repented and over the following days we had ongoing contact but he then seemed to drift off an back to the old lifestyle. 2 years later I was again on the street witnessing and he came up to me with his fiance. They both were fervent for the Lord and testified to the great work God was doing in their life. Needless to say I was blessed and encouraged beyond measure. Hallelujah!
David: You seem to have observed that though many people won't enter a church building they are still interested in Jesus. In your interactions with people on the streets, what are some of the problems they have with the church? And what is it about Jesus that is fascinating to those same people?
Anthony: It is important to distinguish believer from pre-believer here. For the pre-believer they are often afraid to come for fear of getting caught up against their will, this would be typical for the Irish in Ireland. Foreigners in my experience are much more willing to visit, possibly because they warm more to fellowship being away from home, and they are more adventurous. Up to recently the Catholic Church held great power over people and any "non-catholic" church was viewed with deep suspicion. This has greatly, though not entirely, changed.
For the Believers who don't attend church regularly some have been spiritually abused but more have seen churches drift from revival to religion with predictable services and only limited controlled input from the members. Psalm 150 churches are rare. When you speak to such people not about church but about Jesus they light up and rich fellowship ensues. What fascinates and delights these people about Jesus is that He is the one they love and they are reminded of this first love in such discussions. Many evangelical awakenings and revivals bypassed Ireland but the ones that didn't are of note, especially the 1859 Ulster Revival where a massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred in the North of Ireland but its spread was limited by a very strong Catholic Church combined with a tribal anti-catholic mentality amongst some in the revival. Many mature Irish Christians today can trace their new birth to the Charismatic movement of the 1970's and 1980's when again the Holy Spirit was poured out, this time in the Catholic Church largely.
David: Given your own experience on the streets of Dublin do you think more Christians should proclaim the Gospel in such public places? Should those of us who are pastors spend less time preaching in our churches and more time preaching on the street corner?
Anthony: If the Lord leads them to do I would be delighted. To stand up for Jesus publicly is life changing and it would bring great new vision into any church. Having said that I know the thought is daunting to many and I often advise that it it best to start praying for those who do go out and then simply stand with them on the street, or even observe them from across the street while praying. It wont take long before they join in themselves and start to be used by the Lord. This is the teaching method Jesus used. If a family never goes out but only meets with its own members it goes a bit weird (although it always sees itself as normal). The church can become a bit like this when we do not regularly engage atheists and pre-believers with the message of the cross.
We have been given food for distribution in a famine land and, as the Lord leads, every distribution method should be considered. There is a war on for the souls of men and women and while not all are called to be frontline troops all are called to help in the effort. A fisherman needs the boat builders, the fish processing plant and many other persons to be effective but the goal is ...to catch fish! Pastors need not regularly preach on the street but they might be open to God calling them to do it on occasion. they certainly should lead by example and on occasion do some form of street work.
Anthony Brabazon was born in 1961 raised Roman Catholic and was born again in 1985 on Ash Wednesday after hearing the words "repent and follow the gospel of our Lord". He began street evangelism within weeks and after a break of about 18 years returned to it with his street preaching wife and a mixed group of friends from different churches. He is a qualified architect and runs his own small company and regularly encounters clients while standing on a stool in the crowded streets of Dublin or other towns holding up a JESUS sign. While attending different churches down the years and currently Every Nation Church in Dublin he has been known to consider the street his church with the pedestrians his congregation. He runs evangelism blogs Alien On A Mission and Evangelism for the Terrified as well as a YouTube Channel
David Swanson is Community Life Pastor at New Community Covenant Church in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Prior to his gig in the big city, David served on staff at a church in an affluent Chicago suburb. He is the son of missionaries and spent his formative years in Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Ecuador.