Martin Durham jumps up on a red metal box, his hands shackled together.
“Some of you today know what it’s like to be in chains.”
Durham, who is the chair of the Emerging Evangelists’ Institute (EEI), a yearlong proclamation training program in the U.K., is simply a storyteller on this cold, sunny Friday afternoon, just off Cathedral Square in Vilnius, Lithuania.
His message is not new. But his methods are anything but ordinary.
How do you present the Gospel in a foreign city? To folks who are just meandering by? Most of whom don’t speak much English?
Welcome to street evangelism. Lithuania-style.
“I want to tell you about my friend Jack, who was getting desperate. He was trying whatever he could to get out of his chains, but it wouldn’t work.”
Durham, working in concert with a Lithuanian translator, is making eye contact with anyone who will stop, or even hesitate, as they walk by. The foot traffic here is brisk. Durham, who speaks with passion, is engaging but not preachy.
He knows this may be the one and only chance the passerby will ever hear a Gospel presentation, and he has minutes, maybe just seconds, to be spot-on.
In front, a few gather to watch, and slowly — one here, two there — a small crowd develops in a circle around him. Some are holding invitations to the Lithuania Festival of Hope, given to them moments before by other strategically placed Emerging Evangelists on the perimeter of this corridor.
Durham kicks his storytelling into another gear. His message, creative in nature, must quickly get to the point or he may lose them.
“I don’t know what you think about God, but I believe there is a God in Heaven, and He wants to give us life and life in the fullest.”
As expected, at the first mention of God, one woman left the crowd. But for Durham, to only lose one at that moment wasn’t too bad. He’s seen worse.
Street evangelism is not easy, or for the thin-skinned. Durham doesn’t take rejection personally. The former banker, who began with the EEI in 2003, didn’t leave his career two years earlier to be comfortable. Or sit on the sidelines.
It is moments like Friday afternoon, preaching the Gospel to complete strangers, that fuels him inside. In some ways, standing on the “Red Box” is exactly what he was born to do.
“But we’ve turned our back on God. We’ve done our own thing. Or we think we’ve done enough.”
Standing in the crowd is Jon Turner, who will be preaching in about 20 minutes, after Durham and a couple of worship acoustic sets. Turner began cutting his evangelism teeth at the 2004 Billy Graham Crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
He accepted Christ at age 16 at a boys brigade camp in one of the rarest conversion stories you’ll ever hear — in the middle of the night in the middle of a field in a Range Rover, making his counselor promise not to tell anyone.
Years later, his faith had developed to the point where he not only quit his job at the BBC, he also enrolled in EEI, and was one of five people selected to evangelize in Nova Scotia, where he met his wife, Jessica, who was working for the Halifax Crusade.
Turner is fully engaged as a member of the crowd. He soon will be talking up the Festival, taking place at nearby Siemens Arena, and promoting all the musical performers, including the Newsboys. But he will also share the Gospel.
For now, though, Turner is just part of the gathering, and he will get a chance to talk with one of the inquirers after Durham is finished.
“A friend of mine told Jack that he could be free from his chains, that God sent his Son, Jesus, and whoever believed in Jesus would be free.”
Durham knows this is the moment where the Holy Spirit must take over, and he is encouraged that nobody leaves. A few start to get fidgety, and he doesn’t want to lose them. Sensitive to the Spirit, he cuts to the point.
Time for the dramatic ending.
“Even though Jack wasn’t sure, he called out to God and prayed and in that moment, it was as if the chains had been broken.”
Nearby, Julia, a 25-year-old Vilnius native, is handing out invitations to the Festival, like free cotton candy at a carnival. Julia, a Social Work student at Vilnius University, is involved at a downtown evangelical church, Kelyje. Handing out invites as quickly as she can, Julia is doubling as a translator wherever needed. “I love God,” she said. “And I want to share His goodness with the people who don’t know Him.”
Meanwhile Durham, who’s always looking for a new way to illustrate the Gospel message, has dropped the chains to the ground, the sound providing the dramatic effect he’s looking for. This is it.
“Let me ask you a question. If you knew eternal life was real. If you knew this, would you want it?”
About a hundred meters away, Helder Favarin is also distributing Festival fliers and is trying his best to strike up conversation. Favarin, originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, knows English, Portuguese and Spanish, but not Lithuanian.
A missionary in the south of Spain, Favarin has linked up with EEI and is just thankful for the opportunity to practice his evangelism. “I can come here, see what they do, how they do it and apply some of this in southern Europe.”
Spain happens to be one of three countries hosting the My Hope World Television Evangelism Project this year and his church, the Evangelical Baptist Church of Granada, is one of nearly 1,000 involved in the Dec. 15-17 outreach.
Between My Hope, the Lithuania Festival of Hope and a week of street evangelism, Favarin is getting full exposure of different methods of leading people to Christ. He has found that “the churches in Spain are eager to share Jesus with other Spaniards,” and he hopes to implement these methods into his youth ministry.
Durham, still on the “Red Box,” is putting the finishing touches on his five-minute sermonette, and several people are still locked in, listening to every word.
“Let me ask you a final question. If you could know God personally. would you want a relationship with Him?”
Pedestrian traffic continues to flow at a brisk pace. Nearly everyone is taking a flier, and few of the papers wind up on the ground. Some people are reading the Festival invitation and coming back, asking for a handful more.
Durham closes his message and invites people to stick around and talk. Not everyone rushes off.
“That’s the thing. You can know today if He is real. All you have to do is ask Him. That’s my challenge to you today.”