While mindlessly looking at videos on Facebook, the Spirit put something on my list to challenge me to think more of evangelism in the way of Deacon Philip in the book of Acts. The Jude 3 Project is an African-American ministry that seeks to understand and address the reasons why black church membership is decreasing and strengthen black Christians to be able to stand on their faith. I watched their video, “What Made You Leave the Church” (episode 1) about four times yesterday evening. I thought of my own exodus from the Baptist denomination to Orthodoxy and how it was similar to the stories of the four young adults who were no longer attending a church. I wondered how to empathize with these brothers and sisters and how best could I offer Eastern Orthodox Christianity to people who have (most likely) only been exposed to Western Christianity. A wise friend threw down a gauntlet of a challenge. I should reach out to them the same way others did to me.
I began asking harder questions about my faith about ten years ago. Like Saint Djan Darada (the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39), I was speaking aloud on social media and in my blogs that I worshiped God and that I wanted to know more about and grow closer to the suffering Christ. Philip, moved by the Spirit, ran up to the Ethiopian’s chariot, listened to and asked if he understood what he was reading. I was blessed to have a couple of “Philips” that ran, listened to, and shared with me what I was asking for. One was an African-American convert to Orthodoxy who also blogged about his religious experiences and perspectives. The other was a priest who invited me to his parish in a very unlikely town. This may be what the Jude 3 Project is aiming for; a ministry of spirit led listening to where people are.
This could be the biggest problems in modern Christianity and a trap that we Orthodox fall into as well. Some people are on lonely roads and want answers to their questions. Of course, Jesus is the answer. We offer the 2,000 year old body of Christ. But, just writing down the answer to an algebra equation is not enough. One must explain how he (or she) arrived there. My “Philips” did that by showing how the faith taught by Christ, the Apostles and saints was still alive and applied to what I was searching for. Ancient Christianity offers more than a type of service and music. We offer tried and tested ways to struggle against sinful passions and gain pure virtues. Belonging to a community or group has it’s place. But, the Ethiopian was on his way from worship alone and was still searching for something more than a book to read. He needed Philip to show how the words of a dying lamb could give life.
People who are bringing up questions about the church (as they know it) need us Orthodox Christians to bear witness of God in our lives and live the answers. The Spirit will lead us to people. But, we must take the effort to reach, listen, and have something to share when asked. Live spiritually and you will have something to share.