His sunglasses and suntan blended easily with the sea of Arizona undergraduates pouring in through the classroom doors… except I could see less than usual of the suntan. It was hidden underneath a T-shirt that casually informed me that sorority girls were whores.

You had to get up close to see the small word “most” inserted at the beginning of the statement, but I was destined to get up close. Within the week, the student had become one of the regulars (sadly, the only regular) around my office, tirelessly working through his astronomy homework both in and out of office hours.

His sign frequently came with him. He would knock quietly on the door, prop the sign on my officemate Sarah’s chair, throw his backpack and $3000-worth of film gear onto our couch, and get to work on the latest assignment. All the while, the sign would confront Sarah’s black computer screen with its dogged insistence: “YOU DESERVE HELL.”

The murmurs that skittered through our classroom when that sign marched to the front row drew the attention of the professor, who marveled to his TAs with raised eyebrows, then asked the student to leave the distraction at the back of the room during class. He was happy to comply, quick to please, courteous to authority… and a complete mystery to me.

The second office visit, I nodded at the sign as it was propped up. “You have a very different style of evangelism than I do.”

His answer surprised me, and made me think. He claimed that his style of evangelism could reach some souls that were inaccessible to me, with my everyday build-trust-in-long-term-relationships evangelism. He’s right—his signs make most of the people I’m trying to reach roll their eyes and run the other way.

Those signs are indeed drawing a crowd around him, but it’s a crowd of combatants instead of comrades, and the battle is only skin deep. Neither side will ever yield an inch of ground; it’s a shouting match with everyone’s fists jammed tightly over their ears. Neither side will ever yield, because neither side really cares for the other.

His is the sort of evangelism that costs little and gives little. It costs pennies to find Sharpies and posterboard and a sensational message. It takes seconds to scrawl the single most important truth in our world across the face of a president on a bill—and I might agree with some who say that the ratio of importance of message to time spent is high enough to warrant the scribbling. But just as it cost you nothing at all to send the message, it costs the recipients nothing at all to ignore it.

True evangelism costs everything, both to share and to ignore. It will take everything you have to speak up to your friend about the hope that you have in Christ, even when that friend has asked why you’re different and is waiting for an answer. It will take more than what you have, which is why you’ve been given Help.

We’re given help because the task of healing this world wasn’t our idea, isn’t within our ability, and doesn’t depend on us. Jesus told us to go and make disciples because it’s What He Would Do, and we are enabled by his Spirit to be his hands and feet in this world. Rejection of his message hurts him as much as it hurts us, but we’ve got to love the hearers enough to give evangelism everything we’ve got.

He did.


  1. Elaine Schnabel

    We have these folks at Purdue University too and I and my prayer group have occasionally found them to be very effective in bringing people to relational evangelists. One of our international friends would never ever talk to a scary sign person, but she always asks us what we think, how it relates to the Bible, and (even if it all makes my stomach turn), God seems to use those signs to start conversations.

    • Avatar

      I disagree with the comment above. I have never once found this type of message effective. Jesus never carried a sign that said you deserve hell…Heck Jesus never once even mentioned a physical hell in his sermons. The fact is that Jesus loved everyone with kind compassionate words and never once yelled at a sinner. The only people Jesus ever got mad at were the people who believed they were free from sin and self righteous. I am a believer and I believe that Jesus died for my sins and those of the entire world. The fact is it is not our job to convict others of their sin. The Holy Spirit will do that all on its own. Our job is to tell people about who Jesus was in in doing so mimic his voice. It is sad that people are inherently mistake makers and I am one of them. The real truth though is that these people need Jesus to actually come and live in their hearts. Peace that passes all understanding and love for others does not get shown by telling people they deserve hell or calling them offensive names. In fact Jesus tells us not to offend others by treating them how we would want to be treated.

      • Elaine Schnabel

        I apologize if I offended. I can be clearer: they are effective in starting conversation with those who do mimic Jesus’ voice, as you so nicely put it. More clearer still: God is effective despite forever bumbling human attempts to mimic his voice in the way each has been imperfectly taught to do so. And I find comfort in that.

        • Avatar

          Thanks for your thoughts, Elaine! I especially appreciate your final comment here. Reminds me of Phil. 1:18, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.” Slightly different scenario, but similar idea.


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