By Bill Itzel
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me”. (John 15:18-21)
We live in a bubble. I’m not talking about the bubble that is “the American experiment”. Persecution has been the norm since the establishment of the church, that is, until America was founded, granting religious freedom to Christians, and giving a respite to the continuous ill-treatment of God’s people. No, I’m talking about our 30 plus year concert ministry.
From the moment we pull up to a church to unload the sound equipment, everyone puts their best foot forward. They’re excited to see us and to hear our message. They roll out the red carpet, so to speak, and it is a symbiotic experience as we worship our Lord Christ together. Even when unbelievers are in the audience, they know what to expect and are at least polite and thankful. We live in a bubble.
This month, we started a street preaching ministry, and up till today, it has been mostly handing out tracts and having conversations with those who choose to stop. If there is someone who doesn’t want to hear, they simply refuse the tract and walk by without confrontation. But preaching is different. You can still walk by, but you’re going to hear something that is offensive to your sinful nature. And those who love their sin do not like to hear the truth. They don’t even want to believe in the existence of objective truth.
My family has been coming to Ocean City, Maryland and Wildwood, NJ since I was small enough to be knocked over by even the smallest wave. Just two years ago, we were here, at this very spot, preaching with the very same paint board. But something has changed. There is a darkness here, even before the sun sets. Ocean City, Maryland has always been a place that bred sin. Young people were free from their parents’ oversight, and they were going to make the most of it.
T-shirts being sold in the stores were often risqué, full of double entendres. But it seems as if all the restraints have been lifted. The most foul things that I can’t, and won’t print here are proudly displayed on shirts and even shoved in our faces as we preach. The occasional snickers and giggles we would hear have been replaced with outward mocking, and the sin of homosexuality is openly celebrated…but then again, it is “Pride month”.
I have seen people throw away the tracts, but here, some take great pride in tearing them up, and one even tossed it on the ground and spit on it. It has always been a den of iniquity, but there is a new boldness in it. I don’t know if it is because of Covid 19 and a release of the frustration of being isolated for so long, or if it is because they are following the mindset of the current leadership of our country who openly celebrate perversion. But whatever it is, something has changed…and something has not…the gospel.
In the midst of this darkness, God blessed us and His word went forth. We had several good conversations where we were able to give clear answers and share the clear gospel. Some seemed to listen out of politeness, but many seemed genuinely hungry in their soul for something more than this town was offering them. This was only day one. There are 4 more days to go…
After Day 1, we prayed earnestly for God to give us wisdom and boldness to meet the darkness with even more power and conviction. We prayed that we would have the strength to make it to the end of the week. God’s answer was to send us reinforcements. God dispatched the one evangelist who has dealt with more hostile crowds than anyone I know, Paul Adams, who has regularly preached on college campuses for years. In the past year, he was attacked in Virginia and his paint board was knocked over and destroyed by an angry college student who “couldn’t handle the truth.”
My sister, Amy, and two of her kids also came down to help us. Having more people to form a “crowd” definitely helped draw others in to listen. Day two was much better day, but street evangelism is like that. Hot and cold. For the most part, the crowds were more polite, and more people stopped to listen. We all had some very in depth conversations with people who ranged from recovering drug addicts, a kid who grew up in church, but became disillusioned with religion after growing up in a cowardly church that didn’t preach the Bible and lived hypocritical lives, to people who had never heard of Jesus before.
We gave out over 700 of our Walking Through The Gospel tracts, and only one person tore it up in our faces. Pray for the Holy Spirit to use the Word in those tracts to bring people to repentance.
My favorite part of day to was a little boy named Luke. Luke’s family was staying in the hotel next to where we were preaching. They don’t go to church, but Luke heard the message on the first day, and I believe the Holy Spirit was working in his heart. Ryan walked through the gospel with him several times and he knew he needed to trust in Christ. Today, we were handing out tracts, and here comes Luke.
He said he had read the Bible we had given him the night before, and what he had heard was “True and he needed to believe it.” He spent the whole night, hours, with us handing out tracts and listening to our preaching. He said he is leaving tomorrow, so pray for Luke. Pray his family will be saved and that they will take him to church to grow in the faith.
Day two was a tiring day, so we went back and went right to bed. We had fun plans for tomorrow morning…
7 AM came bright and early for Ryan and me. I haven’t rented bikes on the boardwalk in years, but decided to relive an old fond memory. It is a beautiful day and the boardwalk isn’t crowded, and other than the bike seat, which is much more uncomfortable than I remember, the experience was very enjoyable. I hadn’t ridden in years, but “it was just like riding a bike”. Ok, I have 4 kids, I’m allowed one dad joke.
We had some great theological conversations among the team during the day, and a wonderful Bible study led by Ryan. It is a review of the seminary course he and I took in the spring on sanctification. For me it was a review, but one I need everyday.
The weather is perfect today, and God brought many to hear our preaching. A good number of fellow believers came by to encourage us, especially Max, my nephew. Every time he preaches, someone comes up and says, “It’s so nice to see a young person out here serving the Lord”. It’s true, but we are to the point now that we are waiting for that comment when he finishes.
Several members of the group that mocked us the first night came by, and oddly, they didn’t seem to remember us. I don’t know if they were under some other influence that night, or this night, but we were polite and they quickly moved on. Ryan had a very serious conversation with a man named Dillon who hoped he was a Christian but was having doubts about the existence of God. Ryan was able to use the Word to instruct and correct, and gave him the Answers in Genesis website as a resource to answer his science-related questions.
Usually, there is a “turning point” in our paint board message where we go from the natural to the spiritual, and we see several in the crowd leave. Usually it is when the word “God” or especially the word “Sin” is first introduced. Yesterday was a first. I was preaching and several young people were walking past us, and when I said the word “Sin”, one young man stopped dead in his tracks, turned and listened with a smirk on his face. I just knew he was going to be a heckler, but as I preached, the smirk was replaced by a sober look. Some of his friends came back and asked him to leave and he told them “You need to stay and hear what this guy is saying” in the most serious voice. He had to go as I was wrapping up, but I pray that what I saw was the Holy Spirit taking the Word of God and grabbing this guy’s heart. He took a tract that detailed the gospel and how to be saved. Pray for him.
God has been so gracious to us and has given us some of the most beautiful weather to preach in this week. Day four was Paul’s last day with us, but we had a good friend Mandi who came to the boardwalk just to hear us preach and be a support for the team. We also had a surprise when, out of the blue, Pastor George Lawson of Baltimore Bible Church stopped by. He is one of our professors at The Shepherd’s Institute, and pastor of one of our sister churches. He encouraged us and prayed for us. We had several good conversations and many stopped to listen. I had never preached like this before this week and today it dawned on me that I am most effective when I stop trying to copy other street preachers and just be myself. I have always been conversational in my preaching. It’s how I communicate best, so I started leaning into it, and God used it to sober up a group of teens who stopped by.
I had just started preaching when a group of 6 or 7 teens stopped to listen, and I felt they might be there to mock or at least investigate the odd curiosity. But by the end of the message, they took information, talked a while, and shook my hand and thanked me as they left. They weren’t believers, but they were, if even for a moment, caused to think about the reality of the brevity of life. I pray, in the solitude of their hotel, that they read and seriously consider the word of God in the tract I gave them, and the the Holy Spirit would save them from their sins.
One more day to preach here in Ocean City…
This is our last day. My sister’s family went home and so did our friend, Paul. On the bright side, My wife, Karen, and daughters, Siri and Shannon, are coming as well as Ryan’s wife and baby daughter, Tasia and Sofia. My cousin Curtis and his family who support our ministry took us to dinner before we went out to preach and were a great encouragement to us. A couple from our church, Job and Marianne Guevara also met us on the boardwalk, handed out tracts, and counseled several people. Things have calmed down a bit since our first day’s run-in with the hecklers. We assumed that would continue through today. We were wrong.
My 20 year old nephew, Max was preaching when two girls, one of whom was wearing far less than should be legal, even in Ocean City came up, stood right in front of him, and began to flaunt, both verbally and physically, their bisexuality. Max kept on preaching and didn’t waver from the message. It got so bad though, that I felt like I need to step in, but just before I did, a lady from the audience told the girls they needed to stop and move on. Fortunately, they did. The rest of the night was better and many, both young and old, stopped to hear the clear gospel.
Things have changed in Ocean City, Maryland. So much so that I’d have to really pray and seek godly counsel about taking a group of young men down there again to preach. And yet, this week, we were able to hand out over 2000 tracts with the clear gospel, had dozens of in-depth gospel conversations, and preached to almost a thousand people who stopped to listen, let alone the countless souls strolling by. We know the world is going to get worse, and people will become more and more emboldened to act like their father, the devil. Yet, we also know that God’s elect are in the world, even in Ocean City, even in Las Vegas, even in San Francisco, even in Sodom and Gomorrah. We aren’t called to the easy places. We are called to go to the uppermost parts of the earth. God is faithful, and our singular goal is to be faithful too.
Thank you for your prayers for us. Please continue to lift us up before the throne of grace daily as we continue in our Lord’s work. If you would like to partner with us, please check out our website at BKMinistry.org.