Healthy Soul/My Life/Teen Life/Witness and Evangelization

What I Learned by Failing at Evangelization

“God, you say nothing is impossible, so gosh dang it, please give me St. Thomas Aquinas’ brain right now”

I prayed this angsty prayer while simultaneously listening to the man next to me on the plane. You see, earlier I had casually noted that I was coming back from a Catholic conference which was responded with a chuckle and an eyebrow raise.

I should also mention that before boarding my flight I had prayed, “Alright God, sit me next to someone who You want me to love for this 48 minute flight.”

In my mind I thought I was praying for someone who I could, ya know, just be nice to for 48 minutes. Maybe seated next to someone who was having a bad day. But no, it turns out that is a dangerous prayer. Just a warning y’all. Because after I had told him that I was Catholic, I was no longer sitting next to a twenty-something male from Arizona State University. I was sitting next to an agitated man who does not like the Catholic Church.

He started to make points like rapid fire. Why would an all-loving God do this? Waiting to have sex makes no sense. You surely don’t believe in this church teaching do you? Your priests are pedophiles.

I internally gave myself a pep talk. Alright Julie. You’re a smart woman. You are 100 percent confident that the Lord and His Church are the truth. You may not know how to articulate it or know all the answers but the truth is on your side. Deep breaths. You were made for this!

I tried to recall every talk and every book I’ve ever heard or read. I prayed my angsty St. Thomas Aquinas prayer. And I tried to ask him a bunch of questions to try to lead him to truth.

But he wasn’t having it. He had so much built up in him that he would just respond louder and cut me off. He wasn’t listening. So eventually to keep up, I started to respond louder and sassier. People started staring at us. The other woman next to us chimed in about how she also left the Catholic Church.

I felt like I was slowly burning on a barbecue grill from Home Depot. I felt so defeated. I couldn’t keep up with this guy. I was now really regretting not reading more books on apologetics. “I am failing him. Oh gosh. And real talk, God why aren’t you giving me St. Thomas Aquinas brain right now?” was all I could think.

So I gave up. I had stopped trying to keep up with him. And this time, I interrupted him.

“Hey wait, what’s your name? I’m Julie.”

“I’m Matthew.” And we shook hands.

For the rest of the flight we just talked about life. We learned about each other. We laughed. He taught me about the things he learned at school. And how he thinks California beaches are gross.

Matthew became my friend.

As the flight landed we went out to baggage claim, and said our goodbyes. But before that we exchanged contact info. We added each other on social media and were on each other’s Snap Chat stories. He even helped me carry my bags.

That night, I laid on my bed replaying the entire flight. What could I have done differently? My new friend weighed heavily on my heart. My last prayer of the day was, “God why did you sit me next to him? You knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep up.”

But in that moment God had me remember my first prayer. “Sit me next to someone who You want me to love.”

Gut check.

Initially, I had not been loving this guy. I was trying to win a debate and not a soul. It was all about me winning and out-doing him. I didn’t intend to, but giving up on the argument helped me re-focus to who mattered most — God and Matthew — not me.

I don’t know, and I probably won’t ever get to know… but perhaps that’s exactly what Matthew needed. Maybe he just needed to see a Catholic who was (kind of) normal, who loves, who is passionate, and isn’t 90 years old. Maybe he just needed a Catholic friend.

Maybe I needed him. Scratch that, I did need him. He taught me something invaluable.

He taught me evangelization is about relationships. When evangelization is all about conversion we’re missing half of the equation. It becomes objectification. I am not looking at them wholly as they are and certainly not how Jesus sees them.

They are more than just a potential convert. We need to be relational. We need to know their name and their story. We need to build friendships that aren’t contingent on conversion. We need to build a relationship that says, “I care so much about you. Even if you don’t ever grow closer to Christ, I will still love you.”

Why? Because Christ says us, “I still love you” even when when we’re difficult.

Nothing pushes people further away from God than trying to force Him on them.
As JPII said, “The Church imposes nothing; she only proposes.”

So, walk with them. Be patient. Be their friend. Propose to them the Catholic faith. If we’re living our religion out as we ought to, they’ll naturally be attracted to it. They’ll wonder where your radical love, inexhaustible joy, and immense peace comes from.

By the way, in case you’re wondering Matthew and I still keep in touch. I bet one day we’ll laugh about this together.

About the Author

Teresa Nguyen

I'm a twenty-something gal who's a big advocate for picnics, long walks, and dancing (even if you suck at it). I want to spend my whole life delighting in the Lord's love and being in awe of the sacredness of the human person.

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