Unexpected Loss: The Gravity of Evangelism

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We have this retired next door neighbor named Debbie.

She’s from New Orleans and is in her sixties. She always wears crocks, jeans that are about three inches high-water, the same ratty blue pullover sweatshirt, and often, a large blue bathrobe. Recently, she got her mop of curly hair chopped off in a short buzz. Her normal speaking voice is a shout, so when you visit with her, the whole block can hear her side of the conversation.

We first started to get to know Debbie last fall.

We would visit with her on our way back from the mailboxes or as we left the house. I invited her to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, and she seriously considered coming, but in the end, decided not to because she knew how “different” her wardrobe is from most. But on Resurrection Sunday, she was sitting in church with us. Gradually an acquaintance has blossomed into what we think is for Debbie, her closest friendship. She’s started ringing the doorbell just to visit multiple times a week and sometimes more than once in a day. She is trying to sell her house and move back to New Orleans, but nothing is going right for her. Most of our “conversations” are Andrew or I listening to her complain. “I don’t got nobody,” she often says.

Andrew and I were both able to share the gospel with Debbie on separate occasions.

The last time, I sent her home with a New Testament and encouraged her to read it. But her frequent visits are sometimes annoying, especially since we work from home, and it usually means (for me) pausing my timer for 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day and chatting. Andrew noticed that she only comes when the blinds are open, so I have started working with the blinds closed some days to avoid the distraction.

Yesterday, it dawned on Andrew and I that we hadn’t seen Debbie over the last week, which is very unusual. Last night around 11:30 PM, we noticed two police officers walking in and out of her house. We got really concerned. Was she doing drugs? Had she died? Finally, Andrew walked over and asked the officers if everything was okay, mentioning that we hadn’t seen Debbie for a few days. “Everything’s fine, there’s no threat,” he responded. “She actually passed away.”

Over the next hour, we waited in shock as a coroner arrived with a body bag and gurney, and Debbie left the house next door for the last time.

I cried and cried and cried.

I had no idea I cared that much about this homely woman from the south. All I could think was, I should have kept the blinds open more. I should have been a better friend. Besides a niece in New Orleans, Debbie didn’t have any family that I know of. She had no job and no church. I could have loved her better. I shouldn’t have let her visits annoy me. I didn’t have to close the blinds as often as I did.

You never know.

I’ve often maintained that we should all be quick to share the gospel in our relationships, and not just rely on “friendship evangelism” to save our acquaintances, because you never know when it will be their last day. Here’s my first real example of that truth. We couldn’t be more relieved and thankful that God gave us both opportunities to witness to Debbie. We are confident that she died knowing what it meant to be saved. Perhaps God rescued her in her last days…we’ll never know.

I guess the moral of this heartbreaking story is, seize chances to share Jesus with the people around you, and love them like He does.  Love them in your actions and in your prayers. Love them so much that you don’t have any regrets if they pass away. I have regrets with Debbie. But thank the Lord one of them is not a failure to share the Good News with her.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Cor. 2:14-17)

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