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  My Witness

Vol. 3, No. 4, November, 1998

First Characteristic of Training in Evangelization
by Sr. Angeline Bukowiecki, S.N.C.

Sister Angeline Training in evangelization! What does that mean? Think about it for a moment! What do you believe the most important characteristic of such training should be? Ponder it awhile before reading on.

Over and above learning how to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, character formation is what stands out in my mind and experience as the most important aspect of such training. Character formation is the hallmark of training in evangelization because it produces evangelizers whose interaction with others is characterized by a hospitality that is clothed with humility, simplicity, warmth, kindness and loving service.

Such formation is absolutely essential to the training given in any school of evangelization. No training can produce authentic evangelizers unless those trained are stamped with the image of the Cross. In other words, the training must instill in the trainees a readiness for the kind of unselfish giving that helps others grasp and accept Jesus' message of love.

One of the signs of such love is hospitality so authentic that it surrounds people with practical acts of caring. The silent witness to the love of Christ embodied in such hospitality adds a vital element to verbal proclamations. The things we do for people give us the credibility that best disposes them to hear the Gospel.

In any school of evangelization, formation needs to be caught not taught. This means that every school must be a model of what it proclaims. Potential evangelizers must be challenged not only to announce the Good News, but also be Good News through the love and hospitality they practice. Christian hospitality shown to family, relatives, friends and co-workers, in the words of Pope Paul VI, "stirs up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who experience it: Why are you like this? Why do you live in this way? What or who is it that inspires you?" (Evangelization in the Modern World, 21). The Good News definitely sounds more convincing when proclaimed in answer to such questions. And people are most inclined to ask these questions and listen to the answers when their hearts have been stirred by meeting an evangelizer who authentically models Christ.

A proclamation enfleshed in action gives credibility to the proclamation made with words. The experience of a deeply dedicated couple I know illustrates this truth. In planning to celebrate an important wedding anniversary, Ed and Sara invited a number of relatives from outside the country. Because they were so enthusiastic about the Lord, they knew that their relatives would be anticipating, but perhaps not looking forward to "alot of religion talk." It seems that Ed and Sara had a reputation for "over-evangelizing." This time they decided that their only efforts to share Christ would take the form of loving hospitality. Instead of forcing Jesus into every conversation, they would simply be witnesses to his love.

During the visit, Ed and Sara picked their guests up daily from their hotel and brought them to the house for breakfast. They planned the agenda for each day with great care and concern, including favorite meals and interesting tourist spots. For Ed and Sara it was a taxing routine, but they gave themselves wholeheartedly to each selfless act of love. And this love did not go unnoticed! Over and over again, the relatives commented: "You're doing too much for us! We're taking too much of your time! You don't have to drive us there; we can take a taxi! We've never experienced such caring. You've been so good to us!"

When only two days were left of .a wonderful visit, the relatives said to Ed and Sara: "We know that you are very involved in the Church. Tell us about it." With this invitation, the opportunity for proclaiming Jesus had arrived and was followed by a wonderful time of talking and sharing faith. Many of their guests were brought into a renewed relationship with Jesus, and serveral experienced a needed healing. One in particular showed that she had been genuinely converted by the loving example of Ed and Sara. When she returned home, this woman decided to call a brother with whom she had developed a strained relationship. Her brother received her call with amazement and delight, and the tension in their relationship was eased. A clear proof that credible witnesses achieve powerful results!

Bible scholars tell us that disciples learn through imitating the actions of their master. Character formation for every Christian is the fruit of following Christ as the measure of all their actions. For those being formed for the task of evangelization, this formation is expressly aimed at achieving a style of behavior vividly marked by kindness, the central principle of all Christ's teaching.

This is why the best schools of evangelization embody:

  • a spirit of hospitality and welcome;

  • a sensitivity to the needs of others: the visitor, the marginal, the lonely;

  • a sharing of gifts with others;

  • a willingness to be inconvenienced without counting the cost;

  • an ability to absorb hurts by transforming them into opportunities, for returning love;

  • a heart that knows how to listen and read beneath the surface of what is being said.

To be known and loved is the deepest longing of all human beings, and life becomes a journey in search of that love. When love is discovered, feelings of self-love and self-esteem begin to blossom. Evangelizers are bearers of the Good News that God's love, surpassing all others, can be experienced personally. Evangelizers lead people to this forgiving, healing love by the way they love, more than by the things they have to say about love. When others are led in this way to experience God's love for themselves, the great change called "conversion" takes place.

With the major focus being placed on learning how to evangelize, we must never forget that learning how to love is the first lesson. The God of love has eternally planned to use us to bring his love to others: "Before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you" (Jeremiah 1:5). Helping people to be carriers of divine love through practical acts of loving service is what schools of evangelization are all about. Through a character formation that produces witnesses to the loving heart of Christ, these schools train future evangelizers the best way to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. During such training, people are "discipled" into becoming the hands and feet, the eyes, ears, voice and heart of Christ, every part clearly expressing love. When in our whole being we become expressions of Christ's love, we have learned how to evangelize!

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