Person-of-Jesus

Seeker Stories

 

People have begun studies in living rooms, churches, coffee shops, hospitals, lunch rooms, kitchens, and even prisons! New believers, old-timers, Gen-Xers, Millennials, Builders and Boomers, white and black, Korean and Latino, have rubbed shoulders together taking in the Person of Jesus.

Studies are crossing into cultures too: Spain, Chile, Ethiopia, India, North Africa and Britain.

To inspire you, delve into the stories we've collected. To help us, contribute your story – good or bad – we want to hear it! The more we learn, the more we help one another.

Would you like resources for leading a Person of Jesus study with seekers? Visit our Toolbox.

 

People have led the Person of Jesus study in a variety of venues. Check out the links below for ideas and encouragement. Please note that names have been changed in most of these stories out of respect for the participants’ privacy.

Work

An Ethical Dilemma: Larry’s Story subitted by Nance McCown

About a year and a half ago, Larry found himself in a difficult situation with two colleagues. They wanted to charge a customer for work the company had not done. Larry opposed this idea. His disagreement led to a heated discussion about ethics. Later, one of the business colleagues came into Larry’s office, and much to Larry’s surprise, said he appreciated the way Larry had handled the situation. They decided to chat further about the issue, and Larry sensed an opportunity. This particular business colleague was Jewish and quite open to all sorts of topics. So Larry suggested getting together on a weekly basis to look at the Person of Jesus. This man was so interested that he went back to the third colleague involved in the original ethics discussion and invited him to meet with Larry as well.

“They did all the recruiting!” Larry laughs.

Beginning right before Christmas, the three men met over lunches. “We only had 15-20 minutes to really go over things,” Larry recalls. “I got out the pertinent thoughts and used pictures from the Person of Jesus manual – or drew them myself ­– to open the discussions. We met once or twice and then stopped for the holiday. Then I figured it was going to die.”

He was wrong. The two colleagues came back after Christmas wanting to continue. After a couple of false starts, the small group met a couple of times a week for about 10 weeks.

“It was the focus on honesty and dealing with anger that really hooked these guys,” says Larry, “not so much Jesus himself. But He can be drawn into the discussion from that. Starting with the ‘golden nuggets’ of truth Paul included and expanding on them while keeping it simple (business people don’t like long, complicated things) was the key.” The group got about two-thirds of the way through the material, when the company merged into a larger company and the men went their separate ways. Though Larry still has contact with the others, it is limited due to their demanding work schedules. “I was disappointed about the company’s reorganization and my friendships being interrupted. We didn’t have the chance to go further with the study. But I know I’d like to do this again.”

For Larry, that means looking for more opportunities. “Now I notice more when people are open whether on a professional or a personal level. This is allowing me to overcome my fear and to share God with people just on basic, every day things. For me, it’s not a matter of rejection – you get a lot of rejection in the sales part of business, so you learn to deal with it and move on. But I worry about professional relationships. I don’t want to compromise my professional relationship with these guys, so I need discernment for the right timing. And I have been surprised at the timing.”


Everyone’s Nervous submitted by Paul Miller

A pastor and part-time phone rep started the study with some co-workers. Here is his description of their first study:

“This past Sunday I led a Bible study on the Widow of Nain with my friend, Tim, and his fiancée, Kristen. Tim has no familiarity with Jesus or the church. It was exciting to see him interact with Scripture for the very first time. Before the study Kristen was very nervous, but once we started she relaxed and enjoyed it. They both had incredible insights into this story. I enjoyed our time beyond words.”

Kristen’s nervousness is very typical. As Christians, we don’t often think of the fear of non-Christians because we are often afraid ourselves. It is helpful to know that many non-Christians are often scared. The study needs to be a safe place where they can enjoy themselves and gradually begin to talk about the deeper things of life. By taking the time to build a relationship, trust can be slowly built with Christians, Jesus, and the Bible.

Friends

Canasta Night… A Divine Appointment submitted by Chris Rodenbach

February

Jane is a grandmother and church-goer but she has NEVER in her life attended a Bible study and doesn’t even own a Bible. She is still trying to comprehend the simplicity of the gospel. Paula was my greatest challenge as she told me she doesn’t do Bible studies or have anything to do with church or churchy things... but she has been coming faithfully ever since we began in October. She is still seeking and assuming she is cool with God...She is very eager and it is a delight to watch her transform from, “I don’t know how long I’ll do this” to “What will we study after this is over? I want to keep coming every Thursday.”

March

Jane is a sponge in the Bible studies, but she had once stated that she wasn’t sure she was going to heaven. I talk about the gospel clearly every week, and after doing so last Wednesday, I asked her (after the other ladies had left) if she was still unsure. She can’t seem to let go of trying to earn her salvation. She said she just hasn’t had “that one moment” when she KNOWS that she trusts Jesus to save her. She asked me, “How do you know when you trust Him?” Her heart is tender and she says she’s learning things that she has never heard in the church...like Jesus being THE Lamb of God and what that means.

May

Bible study was great yesterday! I praise God that Paula is really coming along! She listened very intently as I shared the gospel, but this time, she said, “So what you’re saying is...” and from what she repeated, I think she’s got it... or VERY close to getting that we are saved by grace ALONE! She said she is still having a hard time understanding “grace,” though, so we talked about that some. Jane got a big smile on her face and said, “So that’s it!” I hope she “got it” as well. I so appreciate the encouragement Paul included in the lesson to group leaders to persevere with patience in presenting the gospel, giving the listeners time to absorb and embrace it.

July

Kathy and Ellen dropped out, so now the group consists of Paula, Rachel, Jennifer, Jane, Brenda, Liz, Judy and me. I continue to be blessed beyond words as I watch God soften hearts and enlighten minds with His truth and grace. My prayer is this: that I will not be distracted from ministry to these women, but instead, faithfully pray for them and do my utmost in making these weekly studies a priority and an offering to God and to them. Please pray for me for humility, wisdom, grace, and courage to speak the truth in love as we discuss each week’s lesson. Please pray for them to see Jesus, hear Jesus, believe Jesus, and follow Jesus. This is what I pray for them... that they will have one pure and holy passion: to know and follow hard after God. Would you pray that for them with me? Will you pray that for me, as well?

August

The Bible study didn’t happen today. But I am reminded that this is not MY study, and that God is perfectly able to rescue these women without me. I also must remember that some of these women do not go to church, so commitment to a weekly Bible study isn’t even on their radar screen. They come when they can, when they remember, when they’re not too tired or too busy... and I must be thankful for those times.

October

We covered lesson 18, Reconciliation today. I am so thankful for the evidence of God’s amazing grace at work in them and in me! Today Paula (the one who doesn’t do Bible studies) shared how she hates to disappoint God and how overwhelming the thought of Jesus’ death for ALL her sin is. I couldn’t hold back the tears from my eyes as I heard this from her lips, and then I directed her/them to Heb. 4:16, which so beautifully speaks to this issue...of how truth and grace are both ours thanks to the cross of Jesus Christ. Every time we go to our God who sits on His throne, sad as we may be over the reality of our sin, we can receive His mercy, lift our heads, and again and again discover anew His amazing grace.

 

Stalking the World submitted by Paul Miller

Much of the Christian life is not about mountain-top experiences but about hanging in there when you don’t feel like it. My dad, Jack Miller, asked Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, how he found so many talented people. He replied, “I don’t hunt for talented people. I hunt for obedient ones.” Watch the simple perseverance of Gwen, an obedient one.

In late 1998 Gwen told me she’d like to start a Person of Jesus study with some of her non-Christian friends. She was nervous, though, because her husband was opposed to her having the study. I told Gwen that she needed a partner. Not until late 1999 did a friend of Gwen’s, Penny, step forward and say she’d help.

At their first meeting in February 2000, no one showed up. So Gwen tried again in March. This time Lola, Nancy (Gwen’s sister-in-law), and Diane (her sister) showed up. Gwen said that their hearts were gripped by Jesus in the Widow of Nain story. Nancy in particular kept asking questions after the meeting. She asked, “What is love?” Gwen reflected later: “With the earthly fathers we all have had, it is hopeless to see the love of the Father through them. My heart breaks for them and me.”

In April no one showed up again. Gwen sent me an e-mail: “I feel so weak. I am beginning to understand the meaning of ‘without me you can do nothing.’ ARGHH. Please pray I would always be aware that it is not my power, my charm, and my persistence that is availing this group. All I want to do is snuggle up on the couch of this world, watch TV and sleep. The Spirit is reminding me that this is not my home.”

At the next scheduled meeting no one showed up again. I suggested to Gwen that she call the women and ask them if they wanted to keep meeting and if another night would be better. Friday night was better.

At the next meeting, only Diane came on time, and Nancy came after the study with her kids (ages 2 and 6) and asked Gwen to baby-sit them for the weekend. Gwen wrote me, “I baby sit her kids A LOT. Watching her kids feels like suffering. I am trying to minister to her, but I end up watching her kids all weekend. Go figure. Please pray for Diane. She has a very difficult marriage, but she is very self-reliant. I pray for her to open up about her need and suffering. I pray our setting would be a safe place for her.”

They met a second time and Gwen’s two sisters-in-law, Nancy and Jane, came. They had a good, free flowing discussion.

In June, Sandy, another non-Christian, told Gwen they could meet at her house. Sandy lives with Bruce Simpson, her cousin and Gwen’s brother-in-law. When Gwen asked Bruce to join them he snapped back, “No way! All Christians are hypocrites! I am not interested at all.” Then he began to curse at Sandy. Gwen e-mailed: “He was so close to her, I thought he might hit her. It was tense. [In the past,] Sandy has asked him to leave but he has threatened to turn her over to immigration since she got married to stay here.”

The next meeting, Nancy brought her friend, Stephanie. Gwen said about that meeting, “I am also thankful that God showed up. The other woman, Debbie Hines, whose husband is in prison didn’t show up. I found out later that she found her way to the casino with her mother on Friday so that is why she didn’t come. She refers to Jesus as the ‘Man Upstairs.’ God provided a baby sitter for an hour. Please pray that God would show up because I, we need HIM desperately.”

Nothing spectacular has happened to date with Gwen’s group. But Gwen is spectacular. The beauty of Jesus shines through her simple, loving perseverance. Look at the obstacles that she endured: her husband’s refusal to open up their home; her friend committing to help then never showing up; her sister-in-law taking advantage with babysitting; and nearly a third of the meetings nobody coming out even though Gwen was calling people to remind them.

Jesus is stalking the world through people like Gwen.

Church

Amy and Colleen submitted by Paul Miller

Amy and Colleen both responded to an invitation from their friend Meredith Long to come to a Person of Jesus study that I was leading at Line Lexington Church on Wednesday evenings. They have been best friends for over twenty years. During the study they both encountered Jesus like they never had before. Listen to their stories unfold as I interview them:

Q. What had your spiritual journey been like prior to coming to the Person of Jesus study?

Amy: As a child, I attended a Methodist church and sang in the choir, but as I became a teenager, I turned away from the church and from God. I was consumed with trying to be perfect for other people.

Colleen: I grew up Catholic, and I remember giving my life to Jesus in second grade, but as I got older I got lost along the way. I still attend the Catholic Church with my dad. He has always been an example to me of a godly man.

Q. Why did you come to the study?

Amy: I was at the end of my rope. I remember saying to myself while standing in the garage, “I’m going to walk out of here.” Deep down, I was also searching for something bigger than me. I felt a big void inside. I wanted to listen to the truth, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

Colleen: I was mainly focused on changing my husband. I thought that he might be able to learn from the study how to treat me better. But I also knew I was a mess. My marriage was a mess…there was no way out. I was so disappointed in myself. I remember at Easter, before I’d seen the invitation, just crying and crying. When I got the invitation I was struck by the question, “How do you love when you get no love in return?”

Amy: The same question was true for me. My whole life was in the toilet, especially my family. My husband thought I was certifiably crazy. He had no clue what my problem was. The kids weren’t happy. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

Q. Prior to the study, when was the last time you’d read a Bible?

Amy: I guess when I was about twelve in Sunday School.

Collen: We heard the Bible read on Sundays, but I don’t ever remember studying the Bible. We kept the Bible in a drawer in our house. My memory of it was that it was gigantic, but recently when I was at my parents, I found it, and it wasn’t that big.

Q. What is your memory of our first class?

Collen: I was struck by how Jesus looked at people, and then I realized that he saw me as well. I came out of there wanting to know more. I really didn’t know Jesus and this made the Bible so alive. The historical background made it come alive. It was like going to see a movie in 3-D color for the first time.

Amy: I didn’t know what the group would be like, but walking into the church felt so good—like I needed to be there. God had been talking to me every week for the past year on Sunday morning telling me to go to church. But I didn’t know where to go. It had been more than twenty years since I’d entered a church door (except for weddings or funerals). The teaching made Jesus real. You created an understanding of what His life was like and where He lived. The stories from your life helped me to see how I was living from a very different point of view. And I loved the people—we were all so different, but we grew to love one another as the group jelled.

Q. What was it like to be around Christians?

[Initially I’d been afraid that I wouldn’t get any seekers, but then we had more seekers than church-goers so I asked several people to join our group. Three men, all older, responded: Henry, Bill, and Al.]

Collen: When Henry would pray I felt I was right there with God. He was so deep and holy.

Amy: Yes, his voice was both authoritative and gentle. I hadn’t heard a voice like that since I was little. You wanted to listen.

Collen: The same was true with Bill. When he would look at me sometimes it felt like he was looking into me. There was a reverence in him. Al usually sat behind me. I felt his faith and love for God. I’d not met men like this before, except for my dad. I don’t feel that from many people. You could sense God’s presence in their lives.

Q. What was new to you? What surprised you?

Amy: It was a slow process, like waking up. In the lesson on how the people demanded that Jesus do a sign for them, I asked you about signs and if you could ask God for them. You told me to not hunt for specific signs but to begin to see how everything is a sign that points to God. When you said that to me—and we’d been in the study for six months by then—I had no idea what you were talking about. But now I see him everywhere and in everything. It is hard to imagine how depressing my life was at that time. It was gray, sad, and without hope. In the beginning it was like seeing a ray of light at the end of a dark tunnel. That light grew gradually brighter. The change in me was not instantaneous. Slowly, I began to see that God is in everything and that he really cares for me.

Collen: I went through a process of challenging some of the beliefs I’d been brought up with. I discovered that Jesus died for me. I lived with so much guilt the last twenty years. Discovering that Jesus died for me wasn’t just words now. I know that my name is written on the palm of his hand. I really feel his love for me.

Q. Week after week as you encountered Jesus, what was it like?

Collen: I couldn’t wait to go each week. I don’t think I missed once. As the weeks passed by my main thought was “Eyes off me and on Jesus—God.” The picture of “self” on the throne instead of God that you would draw really got to me.

Amy: Wonderful. Awesome. I couldn’t wait to go, it gave me a purpose. It was also an opportunity to go out, to be social, and to learn.

Collen: I came to the class in the beginning thinking that it would change my husband—since he came for the first couple of times. Then I began to slowly see that it was me who needed changing. I began to realize that I couldn’t change John. I was the problem. But I was seeing my sin in the presence of Jesus. He was loving me all the time. He was looking at me. So I really began to see my sin, but strangely at the same time I saw less of it because I was freed from guilt. There was so much hope that came into my life. Do you remember that one week when I started crying, and I couldn’t stop? I was so moved by the way Jesus was. The tears were rolling down my cheeks. It was the lesson on Jesus’ humility. People in the class saw me crying, stopped the class, and prayed for me. I felt so unworthy.

Amy: Each week you had the opportunity to deepen your understanding or have a “light bulb moment.”

Q. What was it like to attend church regularly?

[I had ended the Person of Jesus study after a year of weekly lessons and invited the class to come to a Sunday School class I was teaching on prayer.]

Amy: I stayed for the worship, and I was drawn in. The call to worship music was just the beginning. Hearing Pastor Lowell’s message and his passion for the Word was exactly what I needed.

Collen: After the Sunday School class, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. But now I go every Sunday.

Q. When we went out for coffee after our Wednesday class I encouraged you, Amy, not to get a divorce. What was your reaction on the inside?

[I had told Amy that what I was about to tell her would seem crazy and was the exact opposite of what the world and most counselors would say: I told her that I didn’t think she had biblical grounds for divorce and that God had done such a new work in her life that it was unwise to do major changes. She ought to give God time to work.]

Amy: I think I went into shock; I still go there some days. If I’d been paying you, I’d have fired you. We had just finished mediation, and all I needed to do was sign the documents. But I did wait to hear what your counsel would be.

Collen: My reaction was like, “What is he asking her to do? This is way too difficult to do.”

Amy: Your teachings on Jesus helped me to realize that I couldn’t run. Now I go around the house singing songs like, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine,” and “Be still my soul.” It has been a year and a half since that conversation and my family is still together because you helped to teach me that Jesus walks with me everyday and I am not alone.

Q. What changes have you seen in yourself?

Amy: I’d been so angry with God. Learning that God has forgiven even me of my sin, and that He loves me, has strengthened me. Now my journey finds God in all things, especially the small things. I now smile, feel hope and know joy.

Collen: The biggest change was realizing that no works could get me on the good side of Jesus; just believing Him was all that was needed. I never knew that. I was always focused on just being good.

Amy: Being quiet is a big change for me— the inner quietness creates an outer quietness. Instead of exploding at home with that push for control, I could ease up because I understood that God was in control, not me. I wasn’t alone and it was safe to be quiet. I feel that I can get up every day and talk to Jesus, going through each day with His peace in my heart. I love reading my Bible and often find it hard to put it down. It has completely changed the way I live. Outwardly life hasn’t changed much, but the inside is different. My boys see the changes in me, they ridicule me for it, but they see it. I see changes in them as well and know the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. Sharing the knowledge of God’s love with Colleen provides a new dimension to our dear friendship. When my sister Holly learned that I had accepted Christ as my Savior she thanked God for ten years of answered prayers. Sharing the love of God with those you love is what it is all about.

Church Planting

Eight People & a Bottle of Wine submitted by Courtney Sneed

In downtown Orlando, Ted has started a church using the Person of Jesus study. He calls it: “8 People and A Bottle of Wine.” People who come to the study call it Ted’s Party. They hang out for the first 45 minutes, and then for the last 45 minutes they study Jesus. Each week Ted alternates the study with a dinner. Lonely and hungry for community, people enjoy the time together. Ted says, “I’m constantly helping them realize what they’re feasting on: Jesus in the word, and community.”

“I love it,” says Ted, “Because each week I get taught. One week I was teaching on the wedding at Cana. I asked, ‘Why do you think Mary is pushing Jesus?’ A woman said, ‘Well, if people had told me I was a whore, I would have done the same thing.’ I had never considered the shame Mary suffered for Jesus being born out of wedlock.”

Ted, who was mentored by Tim Strawbridge, a seeJesus Trainer, says, “Helping people fall in love with Jesus is hard work. You can’t preach it. You have to let them discover it. To short-cut the process is to short-cut the romance. But because the process is all about Jesus, life together around the word gets richer and richer. It’s not whiz-bang in terms of results, but when the fruit comes, it tastes sweet. More than anything, I long for our leaders to run the distance, and persevere through the process.”


Planting His Fragrance in Ireland submitted by Sara Chiaro

We were studying the Person of Jesus, Lesson 21 “The Secret to Love.” It was a tough one because it’s about how to be completely dependent on Christ and not on our own “self-will.” We particularly discussed John 5:19 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” Jesus was always looking to his Father for everything. His dependence was the aroma that those around him smelled. That surrender to God led to a great freedom.

The next day, Sinead was sharing this with two of her closest friends. According to her, this is not something that she would normally bring up, but her friends were asking about her faith. They asked why she used God as a “crutch” in her life. Sinead told them what she heard from the study…that dependence on Christ brought great joy and freedom, whereas freedom from God led to self-will and bondage… …bondage to self and others. One friend was interested in hearing more...the fragrance of life…the other walked away in disgust…the smell of death! Sinead was amazed because it seemed after every study, God puts her in situations where she is able to talk about what she has learned!”


Café Y Algo Mas submitted via phone by Jan to Jennifer Wilson

Jan, a missionary in Madrid, Spain, has been doing the Person of Jesus study with a group of women for the past year.

Jennifer: What is it like to lead the Person of Jesus study in Madrid?

Jan: Evangelism in Spain moves very slowly, and building trust in relationships takes years. Further, in this culture Jesus is depicted as either a tiny baby or an emaciated man. In general, Spaniards don’t see Jesus as he really is. However, the response to studying the Person of Jesus has been an incredible gift. One woman said, “I’m seeing a different God here; I’m seeing a God I never knew about.”

Jennifer: How did you invite women to join?

Jan: We started with an evangelistic outreach called café y algo más (coffee and something more). This monthly breakfast outreach was geared to secular Spanish women. We continued building relationships by meeting in smaller groups for four weeks at a time. Then, any who were still interested kept meeting.

Camila came to know Jesus through this outreach. After having her third child, Camila slipped into depression. Her husband, a nonbeliever, suggested that Camila call me for support. Camila asked me to do a Bible study. I suggested that we team up to lead a Person of Jesus study. I said to Camila, “You pray to see if God puts anyone on your heart to invite.” Camila hesitated, “Jan, I don’t know.”

I was praying for God to give Camila courage about inviting other women and to bring hungry and open women to her. The next day, Camila called me and was so excited because she invited her friend Marcela. Marcela agreed to come and in turn invited her friend Elsa, a seeker. Camila was thrilled.

Jennifer: Tell me about Elsa.

Jan: Elsa is lovely and gentle. But, her husband treats her terribly, and her eight-year-old son is beginning to do the same. No one will visit Elsa’s home because her husband is so unkind. Because of his great suspicion and lack of trust, Elsa even has to hide her Person of Jesus study attendance from him. She said to me, “The only thing keeping me alive is the faith I have come to through this group.”

Jennifer: How have you reached out to other women that you’ve encountered?

Jan: Every time I saw my neighbor, Irma, she looked so forlorn. She was sad in appearance, speech, and even in the way she walked. She looked as if she was in mourning. So, I decided I would catch Irma’s eye, make eye contact, and give her a warm, friendly hello. After doing this a few times, Irma and I had a brief conversation. One day while I was weeding my yard, Irma came up and unloaded her troubles. Because Spaniards are generally very private people it was a huge step that Irma even came into my yard to talk to me.

With tears in her eyes, Irma shared that her nine-year old son said he hated her. I gathered that Irma was really struggling in relation to her children. Usually, I wouldn’t be as forward as I was, but I sensed it was okay to be open. I said to Irma, “I know the only person who can help you is Jesus Christ.” At that point I invited Irma to a Bible study I was teaching.

Jennifer: What did Irma say?

Jan: Irma, a lawyer, said “I’ll think about it.” She came back later and said, “I’ll come for three weeks and see how it goes.” She’s been coming ever since and is presently attending the Person of Jesus study I am leading.

Jennifer: What changes have you seen in Irma’s life?

Jan: Irma once said about studying Jesus, “This is the piece that has been missing for me.” I see her responding to the gospel. She does have faith in the Lord, and she understands grace.

Irma and her husband have recently invited my husband and me into their home for a meal—another huge step in our relationship. The following week we invited Irma and her family to a church picnic. They had a great time; it’s exciting to see what God is doing.

Jennifer: What struggles have you dealt with?

Jan: During one lesson I explained that we’re not all children of God and shared John 1:12 (NIV), “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Irma said, “You just interpret it differently than we do. I really like all of you, but this is where I differ.”

Jennifer: How has your study been going recently?

Jan: During one of our recent meetings, Irma said, “I’m seeing things that I never saw before.” And Elsa said, “I feel like something in me that I’ve been unconscious of is waking up.”


Into Peru submitted by Paul Miller

“It took me four days by boat (on a tributary of the Amazon) to get to the pastors’ conference.”

“Wow, did I hear him right?” our International Coordinator thought to himself, “I had never traveled four days by boat to get anywhere.” This staff member and former missionary to Latin America, was teaching the Person of Jesus study in January ’06 to village pastors in the jungle of Peru.

Our International Coordinator had been apprehensive about teaching the Person of Jesus study cross-culturally. He wondered if the mixture of Spanish and Indian pastors would engage with the dialogue method of the study. The inductive method is little used in the third world, and our staff member would be using an interpreter. He also wondered if they would be able to capture the heart issues raised in the study. Typical application in the third world often tends towards legalism...having learned it from the Western church!

Preparations for the trip included getting eight of the lessons translated into Spanish so pastors could take the lessons back to their churches, which for the pastor who traveled by boat for four days meant a village church of twenty-five people.

“Excitement” was this staff member's summary of the pastors’ response. “They found the interactive method engaging. Their responses were insightful. They even caught (Unit III Dependence) the depth of the relationship between the Father and the Son and how that plays out in our daily living.

Gabe Agostini, the head of the extension seminary that sponsored the conferences, said how much he liked not only the style, but the fact that it was not just theoretical, but probed into the lives of the pastors and what this means in their relationships.

By equipping one pastor, our International Coordinator, we’ve been able (by God’s grace) to equip 99 Spanish and Indian pastors to not only see Jesus, themselves, and their relationships in a new way. They’re also equipped with a whole new way of introducing their non-Christian friends and neighbors. Jesus works in any culture!


A Breath of Fresh Air submitted by Vicki Renaud

Two Irish women who have NEVER led a Bible study before have actually taught for the first time! Because the material is so detailed both women felt quite at ease and did an amazing job! This material is a breath of fresh air to so many who have been “religious” their whole lives in Ireland, but have never known who Jesus really is!


Report from Search Ministries (Baltimore) submitted by Jeff Douglas

I already had several outreach groups going and I was so impressed with your stuff I thought I would just try a few lessons. It went very well…. I thought it touched on two needs people have. First, most people want to know more about who Jesus is. Even if they are not interested in Christianity, they are interested in Jesus. I feel like your material does an excellent job of putting skin on Jesus and making him more of a real person to people. Second, people like to learn more about how to be loving. It is something we all feel inadequate about in some way or another. So, keep up the good work.


Downtown Garner’s Coffee Shop submitted via phone by Gordon to Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer: Why did you begin leading the Person of Jesus study?

Gordon: I planted a church in Garner, North Carolina in August 2005 as a scratch plant, meaning I started with no core group of people. To begin meeting people and building relationships in Garner, I started a Person of Jesus study in the city’s main coffee shop.

Jennifer: What made you decide to lead the study in a coffee shop?

Gordon: This coffee shop is Garner’s “nexus of the universe” for people aged 18 to 25. It’s the only place in town where they congregate, so I began going to them. I led the study weekly for about a year and interacted with coffee shop regulars and employees. About 50 people came in and out: some would come once, some would come for a month, and others stuck around.

Jennifer: Did you form any interesting relationships through the study?

Gordon: Aida, a coffee shop regular and a Muslim woman, often came to the study. She was always friendly and joked about being disruptive, though she never was. Sometimes she would sit near the study to overhear us. I knew she was sitting just close enough to steal details from our discussion.

Jennifer: What were your conversations with Aida like?

Gordon: We were able to strip away our religions and talk about Jesus. She was surprised by my sympathy toward her when she expressed feelings of mistreatment of women by both Christianity and Islam. She was quite surprised by Jesus’ interactions with the widow of Nain. She was surprised by his sympathy, especially when I described the cultural barriers between them. She listened eagerly to the story of Jesus’ loving interaction with the widow.

Jennifer: What kind of difficulties have you encountered?

Gordon: Many of the coffee shop regulars are post Christian or post church: they made a past profession of faith, are not in church, and may never go again. Many have been burned by past church experiences. the Person of Jesus study has been appealing to them. I have befriended about a dozen of these folks who are now considering Christ apart from their church backgrounds.

Referring to Jesus’ interactions with the scandalous woman in the home of the tax collector, they have said, “This is not the Christianity I have experienced. But that is Jesus, and I love it. I want to be part of a community like that.” Their fascination with Jesus sometimes fuels their disgust for the church. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for them to join a church body again, but taking the next step is hard for them.

Jennifer: Have you had any other interesting encounters?

Gordon: Regina, a barista at the coffee shop, sometimes attended my study. Regarding faith, she has visited many places but claims nothing. This week she asked me whether my church offers a mid-week service. In our current rental situation, we don’t have the means to offer one. But now, because of Regina’s question, we are considering doing a mid-week service at the coffee shop. This is yet another emerging opportunity facilitated by the coffee shop Person of Jesus study.

Neighborhood

In Ann’s Neighborhood submitted via phone by Ann Johnson to Jennifer Wilson

Ann Johnson of Virginia talks with Jennifer Wilson about the impact of the Person of Jesus study in the lives of her friends and neighbors.

Q: How did you feel about inviting people to join the study?

I invited several women from my neighborhood as well as old college friends to begin the Person of Jesus study over the summer. I was nervous about sending out the invitations, but my spirits lifted when Lynn, a non-believing friend from college, called and said, “I am so happy you are doing this. The study is exactly what I needed.”

Although we were never close, Lynn and I belonged to the same sorority in college. In fact, Lynn was one of the reasons I began the study. I thought that God must have a reason for her living just a mile away. I knew she had some heavy things in her background.

Q: So did Lynn come? What happened?

Lynn came. From the beginning she was an active and eager study participant; however, another Christian in the study, Sherry, wondered privately if Lynn knew that God could forgive her for things that had happened in her past. Then when the first part of the study ended in the fall, Lynn invited me to lunch to thank me for leading the study.

During our lunch, we began talking about sleep. Lynn said to me, “You must have a clear conscience since you can sleep so well.” I responded that if I do have a clear conscience it is only because of Christ. But I said nothing more.

I felt as though I had missed an opportunity to share more in depth with Lynn over lunch. I mentioned this to Sherry, and she encouraged me to write what I’d not shared in a letter. So I wrote her a letter and included several verses about God’s grace and forgiveness. Lynn told me later that she carried the letter around with her for weeks, just re-reading it. Her husband, a lawyer, is also a non-believer, and God has recently placed him in a working relationship with believers. I wonder what God is up to.

Q: What has most surprised you throughout the study?

I was quite surprised when Lynn and Jenny (another nonbeliever in the group) brought guests. Lynn invited three friends, and Jenny brought one. Jenny’s friend, after just one meeting said, “This fills a void that I’ve been looking to fill.” Jenny even hosted our study once. Jenny’s sister added a lot of sparkle to the group. I was also surprised when Jenny’s husband thanked me—several times—for doing the study with Jenny.

Q: What has been most difficult about leading the study?

When we studied the older brother in the Parable of the Lost Son, many women questioned what they understood about grace and salvation; they defined a Christian as someone who did good deeds—someone like the older brother. They struggle with the idea that Jesus’ grace to save depends on him and not on them.

It has also been difficult for the non-believers in the group to comprehend the Biblical perspective of a good creation marred by the fall. I like how the Person of Jesus manual captures that concept with the phrase, “Beautiful but Broken”. But all through school and on TV, they’ve had it drummed into them that people are basically good. In fact, these women are taken aback by the idea that they’re not naturally good, that they could be sinners. Oddly enough, one person whose relative was murdered is one of the most vocal about it.

Q. What has been the group’s reaction to studying Jesus?

One believer in the group was surprised that there has been no debate about Jesus’ existence. The non-believers take him as matter of fact and are willing to look at him honestly. I think what makes it work is that the gospels make Jesus so real and what he says and does just touches our hearts. Paul Miller told me that one reason the study works is because the stories of Jesus are internally coherent and externally consistent with our lives. In other words, they make sense on their own, and they make sense with our lives.


The Triple Ripple Effect submitted by Nance McCown

When it comes to Jesus, one thing often leads to another. Call it God’s “ripple effect.” He works through one changed life to change yet another. But for a group of women living in Maryland several years ago, the ripple tripled, and as a result, ladies in three different parts of the United States are today being transformed as they get to know the person of Jesus.

It all started with Julianne Baker and Lisa Hamby. A gifted Bible study leader, Julianne had been introduced to Paul Miller and The Love Course. At the time, Paul was working on the original Person of Jesus course material, and he asked Julianne to take a look. Meanwhile, Lisa, who was Julianne’s neighbor and friend as well as a participant in one of Julianne’s Bible studies, had befriended a new neighbor, Sharon Hoerichs. Somewhere in the process, Sharon became a believer. As a new Christian, she was yearning to share her faith with others. So she decided to host a Christmas tea for both believers and non-believers to share the true meaning of the holiday.

Soon after, Sharon was thirsting for a better understanding of who Jesus really is. That’s where Lisa’s gifts came in. “I was the ‘gatherer,’” she laughs. “Julianne loves to teach, and I love to organize and invite people to learn!” Together, the duo invited Sharon as well as two other women to come to a study using the Person of Jesus materials.

The group was geographically scattered and from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, but that only served as a catalyst for God to work. “One woman had a Jewish parent and a Protestant parent, but had been brought up Jewish,” Julianne recalls. “She had recently become more interested in spiritual things, and on week three, she came to the study and said, ‘I did it! I became a Christian!’ She asked a million questions, and the Person of Jesus study gave her great perspective. It helped put in the pieces that she needed.”

For Sharon, the study was more than just the basics of Jesus and His work. “I knew so little,” she says. “There were several lessons that really stood out powerfully to me, that showed me how Jesus focused on individual people. He didn’t care about what the crowds or other people around Him thought. I think that for me, it was the very beginning, the first inkling, of what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus.”

The study was short-lived, though, because just a few months later, Sharon moved to Milford, Iowa. And Lisa also moved, to a new home in Finksburg, Md. But before long, Lisa’s “inviting spirit” began itching to gather more women for another study. There was just one problem: she no longer lived close to Julianne, on whom she had relied to lead the studies she organized. “I spent two years waiting for God to provided a teacher. But then I felt God leading me to step into that role!”

Again, the duo teamed up, this time with Lisa as the study leader and Julianne as the long-distance prayer partner. Three women attended, and Lisa feels that God has broken through to regenerate one of them. The other two, already believers but who had never been deeply challenged in their studies, had the chance to look at Jesus in a new way.

As the group takes a summer break, Lisa reflects on her new role. “Teaching has been one of the biggest challenges of my life,” she says. “I have been totally dependent on people praying for the study. I feel totally inadequate and not spiritually strong—totally ill-equipped to do this. And though it’s been a large stress and a larger time commitment, it’s been a real growing experience. It’s very rewarding and I’m encouraged to keep going.”

Julianne agrees that prayer is crucial to undertaking these studies. She also has recently moved—to Chesapeake, VA—and is considering starting another study herself. But the proposition of doing that without Lisa to gather participants is frightening. “Prayer is the key, honestly,” she says. “As I bike around my neighborhood almost every day, I’m scared about who to ask to come to the study. I try to ask God for people to invite and for the courage to invite them! And I partner with other Christians to ask them to pray for me.”

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, Sharon had settled into her rental home, knowing she would move again into a more permanent home. But she had found a church and was getting to know several mothers with children the same age as her own. “I don’t know what came over me,” she laughs, “but I wanted to do a study and felt like I could do it!” She invited her new friends—several of whom seemed to be lacking something in their faith. More than a year after the study ended, one of the women was in the midst of caring for her extremely ill child. She shared with Sharon that it was during the Person of Jesus study that she finally understood the commitment to Jesus that she had made as a teenager. She felt that God had introduced Himself in a real way, and she knew that it was only her renewed relationship with God that carried her through this most painful time in life. “the Person of Jesus study was a place for her to meet God,” Sharon says. “The details Paul Miller includes in this study really helped.” Lisa agrees, adding that the Person of Jesus study’s “inductive questioning style is the key to drawing people in. You can’t sit passively in a study like that.”

And for Julianne, the tangents that sometimes come as the result of inductive leading are “critical in getting to where a person’s heart is. That’s more important than my agenda in leading.” Recently, Sharon’s inevitable move brought her to her new home in a rural area on the edge of her town. “I have all these new neighbors now that I know are not believers, and I really want to do another study! But I think God would have me focus on relationship-building first. I’m really into gardening and canning, and I’ve invited a neighbor to can tomatoes with me, so we’ll have lots of time to talk. And my kids will be back in public school this year after homeschooling for awhile, so that will be another relationship builder.”

Lisa understands that strategy, especially when she feels compelled to invite someone she knows a little bit but not really well. “You feel like you’re inviting them out of the blue. I end up saying to them, ‘I’ve got a crazy question for you. . .’ But when you have something that you want everyone else to have, too, you look for opportunities. Everyone ought to have this relationship with Jesus!”

Sharon and Lisa are in touch frequently, and share prayer times for their potential studies. But in addition to prayer, Sharon feels that she has another “weapon” in her arsenal as she considers leading groups of nonbelievers. “I was not a believer all my life,” she says. “It was such a great thing that God gave me my faith later in life, because I know that I don’t have to knock people over the head with faith stuff.”

“The lingo is really hard for me,” she adds. “I totally know what it means to think that ‘fellowshipping’ is not a verb! And people know that I’m real. I think that’s an asset—to be vulnerable and exposed. That’s very important for someone who wants to lead a study like this and try to reach non-Christians.”

The women agree that being real also includes being willing to make what they feel might be mistakes in their leading. “The huge thing I’ve noticed as a Bible study leader is that you always think it’s worse than it is,” says Julianne. “You just never know how God is using even a terrible experience. It’s amazing how God uses what we think are our failures, and we need to be open to that and even expecting it.”


Loved submitted by Sue Tomkins

One couple in our group were not Christians when we started two years ago. The husband was an atheist, and the wife wasn’t much of anything. He only came because his wife wanted him to come. After eight months he dropped out saying, “I don’t need this.” But then we needed a place to go that spring and the wife invited us to come to their house. So for three months we met every two weeks at their house. At the end of that time he and his wife said that he was no longer an atheist and was on his way to becoming a Christian. The reason they gave for the change was our love for them. And he has begun reading the Bible. But they are not yet attending church.


Pryja: Through Julie & Ruth’s Eyes submitted by Julie Courtney & Ruth Ann Irvin

Through Julie’s Eyes

Did God really want me to do this? I asked myself that question many times before I actually started a Person of Jesus study. Paul Miller led a seminar at the home of one of our Elders in Reston, Virginia. Six people were at that seminar, but none of us were really sure about leading a study. I thought and prayed about it that spring and into the summer. Finally in September I decided that I would start my own group, so I put out a few flyers in stores around the neighborhood and advertised it in the church bulletin. It met at our church on a Tuesday night and only three other women came, all from the church. When we met the next week, there were again three women all from the church, but only one “repeat.” Following that meeting I mentioned that I wanted to do this as an evangelistic Bible study and asked the women to consider inviting neighbors or friends to come. Later in the week I got a call from Ruth Ann Irwin, who said that she would like to place flyers in her neighbors’ mailboxes advertising the study and asked if I had one already made up. Did I? Paul had included one in the front of the manual, so I copied that, wrote in the date, time and place of our next meeting and made about 100 copies for her. We had decided to hold the study at Nancy’s home (one of the three women in the group), because she lives in Ruth Ann’s neighborhood and we thought that it would create a more welcome atmosphere.

Ruth Ann put these flyers in about 60 homes near her, and we waited and prayed. The next time we met we had added three more women! One was a Christian, another was from Pakistan with a Muslim background, and the third was a Catholic. I decided to start again at the beginning of the manual (for the third time—I had the Widow of Nain down cold!), because I thought it best to begin at the beginning even if some had already heard it. Before we got into the study that first night, I asked each woman why she was there and what she hoped to get out of the study. Most answered that they wanted to meet with other women and learn more about Jesus. The woman from the Muslim background (Pryja) said that she had been depressed for awhile, she had had some deaths in the family, and she hadn’t been out of the house for quite a few months. She told us that she had prayed just three days before she got the flyer for something to relieve her depression. When she went to her mailbox and found what Ruth Ann had put there, her first thought was “I am going; I don’t care what they are studying, I don’t care if it is the Bible or not. This is the answer to my prayer.” She came faithfully for the next year and a half.

During that time, the Lord was helping me through a very difficult personal relationship crisis, and there were many Monday nights when I thought, “I just can’t teach tonight. I am not strong enough, or I don’t have the stamina or energy to do this.” I did go however, and those were usually the nights when the Lord spoke through me the most: When the lesson I had prepared was for me especially, and when I could come home and thank Jesus for being with me and speaking through me.

At the beginning, Pryja was perplexed about what she was learning. Her English is pretty good, but there were times I wasn’t sure she was “getting it.” As the months passed, she would ask more questions about sin, Jesus being God, and the Trinity—and I could see that the “light” was coming on for her.

Nearly a year later, Paul Miller was at our church for a missions conference, and Pryja “happened” to be in the nursery that night watching the children. (She periodically came to the church to babysit, but had never been to a Worship Service). When Paul learned that she was there, he asked to be introduced to her.

We went upstairs and I introduced Paul as the author of the material we had been studying. She thanked him for all she had learned, and he asked her what she had learned the most from the study. Her response was that she knew who Jesus was and that she knew that he lived in her heart! What joy to hear that from her lips! That was the first time she actually admitted that she knew Jesus personally. With tears in my eyes, I quietly thanked God for using me to lead her into a relationship with Jesus.

We continued meeting for the next six months and I could tell that Pryja was growing. Her fears of being hurt were dissipating, and her openness to learn was apparent. She asked a lot of questions, had the group to her house a number of times for dinner, and openly talked about her faith in Jesus.

She continues to come to women’s Bible studies at the church, periodically attends a Home Fellowship Group at Nancy’s home, and seems much more content. Her life is by no means easy: Her husband doesn’t approve of her reading the Bible, though he doesn’t forbid her to go out. Her son has had some trouble with the law, and we continue to pray for him and her husband, that they would find Jesus to be their all in all.

Through Ruth’s Eyes

I saw a notice in the church bulletin that Julie Courtney had started an evangelistic Bible study for women. I had already missed the first two studies, but I felt that God wanted me to go and to invite friends. I invited a Catholic friend, Sally, who used to be a neighbor. I had talked to her about the Lord, and she and her husband had attended other Christian meetings with us, but I wasn’t sure if she had a personal relationship with the Lord. It was a small group the first night I went: Nancy, Betty, Julie, Sally, and I.

Nancy, who was new to our neighborhood, was thinking of hosting the study. I was very excited because I’d lived in this area since 1983, and since 1992 had participated in a local prayer meeting, during which we regularly prayed for the neighborhood. I suspected that the Lord was up to something, so I offered to invite the whole neighborhood.

I am shy, so it was easier for me to write invitations than call each neighbor in person. I bought some pretty cards, wrote a note on each, and enclosed the pink flyers Julie had photocopied for me. On each invitation I wrote: “Please join us to meet neighbors, enjoy refreshments, and participate in a study and discussion group for women.” I asked them to RSVP but added, “If you don’t get a chance to RSVP, please feel free to come anyway.”

I couldn’t imagine that the Muslim neighbors would attend, but I felt the Lord wanted me to invite them, so I did. One Muslim family had a high-school-aged daughter, Abdulla, whom I knew. She had Christian friends and attended some Fellowship of Christian Athlete activities. I had been praying for her for a few years. I did not know her parents, but I wrote to her that she was welcome to invite her mother to the study. (I hoped that I wasn’t getting her into trouble with her family by inviting her.)

I took my three-year-old out on some cold November afternoons to walk around the neighborhood and tape the envelopes to the backs of our neighbors’ mailboxes, so they would be visible from the house. (I had heard it was illegal to put them inside the mailbox.) We didn’t get to all 134 houses in the development, but we did at least 60, starting with the neighbors I knew by name and the ones closest to Nancy’s or my house.

The weather was very cold as I delivered invitations, so I found only one neighbor outside: Abdulla. She and her mother were doing yard work. I felt very tongue-tied, but I gathered up my courage and handed Abdulla the invitation. Abdulla is very friendly and outgoing, so it was easy to chat for a few minutes. Her mother smiled but said nothing.

To my amazement, Abdulla’s mother, Pryja, decided to come to the study. Truly the Lord had prepared the ground. Pryja’s parents were Muslim, but they’d had some contact with Christians: her mother had even helped missionaries in their native land to serve the poor. When Pryja’s mother was dying, she told Pryja, “You will never be alone; God will send someone to you.” It had been several years, and Pryja, who is extremely shy, was still feeling very alone, so she began praying that God would send someone to her. Not only did I come to her home right after she prayed, but she said my appearance and manner reminded her of her mother. She told me also that her daughter had been telling her about me, and from her description she could tell that I was a “good” person and that I cared about her daughter.

As we studied the Bible together, her wonder and amazement were priceless. I remember she asked at the end of the Widow of Nain study: “You mean Jesus raised her son from the dead?!?”

Julie always seemed pretty composed as she led the studies regardless of what was going on in her life. I would not have known anything was troubling her, except when she shared some things as prayer requests. Pryja was amazed that Julie had such peace.

In addition to the Bible study, we all spent time with Pryja. We played cards, went to a museum, drove her on errands, etc. I think that communicated love to her since she had been so isolated and lonely. Her husband worked very long hours, and there were many nights Pryja and I would walk or drive home from the study together and then spend an hour or two talking in the driveway at her home. We spent hours on the phone and visiting at my house or hers. She loved my children unreservedly and they love her like a second mother.

Soon after we met Pryja, Nancy found a Bible in her native tongue to go with the NIV she gave her the first night she came to the study. I noticed how she liked to read our children’s Bible stories, so I gave her a children’s Bible in an easy-to-read translation, too. Later she borrowed Ole Hallesby’s book on prayer and read it over and over. I am encouraged by how much she loves the Lord.

In addition to the changes I see in Pryja, I also see changes in my Catholic friend Sally. She has grown so much. After the Person of Jesus study was over, she wanted to continue to study the Bible, so she and her husband joined a Bible study which my husband and I lead. I also grew to know Jesus better through the study, and I would like to study it again with other Christian and non-Christian friends in the future.


Knowing God through Suffering submitted by Dave Loeb

You never wish for suffering, but throughout history, suffering has been a means of knowing God. This summer in our outreach study, a woman from a Catholic background who is in a difficult family situation asked for prayer to be able to love. Halfway through her request she stopped and filled up with tears. She was overwhelmed by her inability to love. After the study I asked her what God was doing, and she said, “I used to think that my problem was other people. Now I see it is me.” The following week she told us that God met her in a very special way when she cried out for help. That same week after our study another believer and I prayed with a man to make Jesus master of his life. God had used the collapse of this man’s company and some personal struggles to bring him to the end of himself.


“My Words Will Never Pass Away” submitted by Tom Waters

I’m leading a Person of Jesus study with 15 retired professionals (about half are believers). Last week we were studying Lesson 4 on Judging, the story of Jesus healing the blind man.

I didn’t want people to patronize Jesus by calling him just a “good teacher” so I asked a Harvard trained doctor, what he would do with a patient who said, “I am the light of the world.” He answered, “I’d call a psychiatrist.” I told them that Jesus was either a nut or he really was the light of the world. The doctor gently challenged me, “Does Jesus say the same thing in the other gospels?” In other words, “Did Jesus really say this?” I said, “No, but he says things that are equally astonishing. For instance, in Matthew, Jesus says, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.’ 2,000 years later, his words haven’t passed away. We’re studying them!”

The doctor became thoughtful. After the study he came up and told me that he’d had a patient, a former criminal, who, in his own words, “had committed every imaginable crime.” In prison, someone gave him a Bible, and he’d begun reading the New Testament. At the end of Matthew he had read the identical words of Jesus I’d just quoted and was converted instantly. He’d gone on to become a pastor and author. I asked the doctor if he’d share this next week, and he said he would. We didn’t continue our conversation because a woman, a life-long Unitarian, had some questions about Jesus. But I’m struck how Jesus brought light into this brilliant man’s mind. Jesus’ words had not passed away.


Sowing Seed Widely for One submitted by Nance McCown

Laurie looked for opportunities among people she had the most contact with. As a home-schooling mom, she spent a lot of time in her neighborhood. But she didn’t want to attempt a study alone. So she approached a few neighbors that she knew were Christians.

“We got together and prayed, and then did a prayer walk through the neighborhood,” Laurie recalls. “I wrote up flyers on my computer and hand-delivered them to the people living right around me, and to other neighbors friends recommended.”

The flyers contained information Paul Miller had suggested including: the Einstein quote, some of the issues to be covered, Laurie’s address, the date, time and location. But Laurie knew it really wasn’t the flyers that would get people to come. So she kept praying.

God answered, but not in the way she expected.

“I was thinking that the ones who would come were the neighbors who lived right around me,” Laurie says. “A number of them had said the study sounded good and that they might come.”

Three people came to the first study. “Most of them I knew as acquaintances,” she says. One came only to the first meeting. The second, a Nigerian woman who attends an Episcopal church, came for a while and then got too busy. But the third woman has been meeting with Laurie every other week for about two years.

“Sally was involved in church a long time ago, but went through a tough marriage and a divorce,” says Laurie. “She told me she’d been praying for something to get her back in with God.”

Laurie was discouraged when only a few people came. But, when the group dropped to just one leader and one member, she realized that this one woman was exactly who God wanted in the study. “Meeting one-on-one, Sally can tell me where she’s coming from,” says Laurie. “She says, ‘Whatever we talk about is speaking right to me.’”

Laurie’s advice to anyone thinking of starting a study: “Bathe it in prayer first,” she says. “And then don’t be discouraged when the people that you might have thought would be good don’t come, or when the numbers are small. You have to remember that God put those people in your path.”

The Word Incarnate in Us submitted by Paul Miller

A woman from an unchurched background who attends a Person of Jesus study wrote her small group leader last month:

“Jesus has always been somewhere in my being, now he is my being. I used to think of him on occasion, now he is part of all my thoughts…. You, through your testimony, your example, your life, and your kindness to me have led me closer to the Lord than I have ever been.”

I confess that I have been surprised at people like this woman making such a close connection between the Jesus they discover in Scripture and the Jesus they discover in the lives of Christians. I unconsciously expect that just the message of the gospel will do the trick. But I shouldn’t have been surprised because Jesus predicted this: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35). A missionary who was observing a Person of Jesus study said, “The participants are meeting Christ at two levels…in the Word and in the lives of the Christians.”

When I asked a Muslim woman attending one of the Person of Jesus studies what she had been learning, she said she had Jesus in her heart. In the same breath, she told me in broken English, “When I have trouble, my Christian friends are there but not my Muslim friends.” If the Word became incarnate to create the gospel, then it makes sense that the Word would become incarnate in us now to further the gospel.

University

Launching into the Deep submitted by Paul Miller

This spring, Manoj, an Indian-American from our church, approached me about starting a Person of Jesus study at nearby Montgomery County Community College. Community colleges are notoriously difficult places to disciple and evangelize because their “community” is so transient, but my wife Jill encouraged me to try it, partly because she had just finished her two-year degree there.

I hesitated because I’m so pressured—particularly with the need to spend more time on fund-raising. But as I reflected, the thought came to me that if I took care of God’s burdens, he’d take care of mine. If I went into “enemy territory,” he’d take care of the supply lines. That is just a paraphrase of “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Still I hesitated. It didn’t seem like good management. My job is to equip people to do this kind of work. I don’t want to be bogged down in doing studies when I need to focus on marketing. Otherwise, our work would only have a limited scope. And I groaned over the amount of work it would be to do even a short study—scheduling, planning, advertising, and preparation. You can’t do these things mechanically. It always means involvement in people’s lives. But Jill persisted: “Yes, but this is a place where Jesus would go. You need to see firsthand how the Person of Jesus study works with this generation.”

So along with Manoj, I contacted a small Christian Club (15-20 people) on campus led by a godly Nigerian math professor, Emenike Ukazim. Africa, Asia, and North America joined to lift up Jesus.

We had only one planning meeting, so when I arrived on campus for our first study I was apprehensive as to what I’d find. “Would anyone show up?”

To make matters worse, I had difficulty locating the room because the room number had fallen off the wall. By a process of elimination, I finally found the room, but I was early and it was occupied. To while away the time, I glanced at the bulletin board in the hallway to see if they had posted a flyer announcing the study. I noticed that April 9—that day—was National Day of Silence for Oppressed Gays and Lesbians. I wondered how many of the silent people in the halls were showing solidarity for oppressed gays and lesbians. It took several scans of the bulletin board to notice the rather bland black and white flyer advertising our study tucked away in the lower left corner.

I sat down on a bench to wait and began to notice how conspicuous my Bible looked. I’d taken my large study Bible from the office because I’d forgotten my smaller Bible at home. I covered its prominent gold “Holy Bible” lettering with my Cayman Islands baseball cap. I told myself that I was trying to be cross-culturally sensitive, but I’m not sure if it just wasn’t fear. My anxiety was building.

I began to pray. As I prayed, I reminded myself of how messy missions is and that God had directed me here. I began to look at the faces of the students and wonder about their lives. A group of kids came up, saw my hat over the Bible and my enormous flip chart, and asked if I was the speaker. They greeted me warmly and showed me the room. I inwardly grimaced as I saw a cold classroom with chalkboard and rows of seldom-cleaned desk chairs—just the place to develop a warm community! I helped them jerry-rig a sign to replace the lost room number, but we couldn’t find a way to attach it the wall. We made do by “borrowing” some scotch tape from another sign. When I mentioned I’d noticed their flyer they said, “Oh you should have seen the first one. We forgot to put down the time and location!” My confidence continued to build.

Once in the room, one of the first visitors didn’t reply to my greeting. I assumed he was mute and was beginning to tell him that my daughter was mute when he pointed to the badge on his chest announcing the National Day of Silence for Oppressed Gays and Lesbians. He wrote me a note saying that was why he was silent. I told him that showing solidarity would be a lot easier if he knew sign language or had a speech computer like my daughter Kim. It was one of those comments that you start and then try to throw the brakes on, but it’s too late—it’s a runaway train. He saved the day by indicating that he’d been interested in learning sign language.

People slowly wandered in, and I asked the faculty sponsor how I should start. He said, “Just introduce yourself.” I introduced myself to the now half-filled room, saying that I was the esteemed guest speaker. After a brief introduction to the Widow of Nain, I asked them to hand out the Bibles, at which point I noticed the leaders of the club exchanging furtive glances. They’d forgotten to bring the box of Bibles. In the space of several seconds, I inwardly panicked, asked them how long it would take to get the box, realized that I could start teaching the lesson while they scrambled for it, and then re-started the lesson.

The confusion of the Bibles was hardly noticeable though, because just as they arrived another group of kids arrived from some classes that ended later. That was to happen every week. It was a little like trying to have a Bible study in a bus terminal.

I showed everyone where the book of Luke was, so those that didn’t know where it was wouldn’t feel odd. I was inwardly delighted to see several kids opening the Bible for what looked like the first time. I could tell by their faces and our interaction during the lesson that they enjoyed the study. For some of them, this was the first time in their lives that Jesus became real.

One of the Christian Club leaders told me that about half of the 28 people were new and about half of those might not be believers or at least not familiar with the Bible. The leaders told me stories of the simple courage of the Christian Club in passing out flyers the week before on campus. Some had reacted to seeing Jesus’ name, “I don’t want that born-again stuff.” But others listened and wanted more details. The pizza line had been a particularly good place to hand out flyers.

After the study, I talked again with the “mute” young man. He used notes and finger spelling, and I showed him sign language. He didn’t return for the other three studies. That was true of others. They’d come once, enjoy it, promise to return, but then you wouldn’t see them again.

The next week the free pizza promised by the college didn’t materialize. So in the middle of the study on the Good Samaritan, I was scrounging around for a credit card. Our fourth and last week it was standing room only with our largest attendance of our four meetings. I was reminded of what Jill said: “Jesus would be there.” And he was.

And the young man? Several weeks ago when Jill and I were out for what seems like our daily visit to Wal-Mart, I thought I recognized him returning shopping carts. I introduced myself and after jogging his memory, he remembered me. I was struck by the loneliness on his face. He’s not an illustration in an article—he’s a person. I want to seek him out.

And the supply lines? The week after I finished the study, we got a completely unexpected check in the mail for $10,000. “Paul, you do my work, and I’ll do yours.”

Don’t be afraid to launch out into the deep. The one thing I can promise you is that it won’t be boring!


A Professor Drawn by God submitted by Bill Perry

When I first heard that we had a non-Christian coming [to our Person of Jesus study], it scared me to death. It startled me that I was so nervous. All of a sudden it was for real. I realized “this is serious,” so I prepared a lot for the lesson. None of us knew him ahead of time, however Libby found out about his home country so I boned up on its history.

As the evening started, I learned that growing up under communism this man had never been to a Bible study, but he did have memories of his grandparent’s Eastern Orthodox faith. But I began to get a little intimidated when I learned that both he and his wife have earned doctorates and are professors in their home country. He is a highly placed official in his country and is here on a scholarship to get a degree in constitutional law. I thought to myself as we were talking, ‘I hope this material is challenging enough for him. Is this going to be corny?’ But it wasn't. He was genuinely challenged by it. We spent an hour on the Widow of Nain (the first lesson). He followed the questions closely. He was fascinated by Jesus and drawn to him. At every point he was with me, often anticipating the broader points. For example, when I was talking about how Jesus’ reactions to two funerals were very different, he said, ‘Yes, it shows that Jesus is a real person.’ Early on it became obvious that he was really interested. He wanted to know about Jesus, and he was spiritually perceptive. It couldn’t have gone better.

I was able to relax and just enjoy him because I was confident that only God could draw someone to Himself. Ironically, that point was brought home to me when I heard an interview with Larry King. Larry said that he had been approached by the most articulate evangelists, but he had no faith. It struck me that if God doesn’t have His hand on you, you can’t believe.


Hungry for God at Hood submitted by Courtney Sneed

Debbie Ellington couldn’t get Hood College out of her mind. For five years Debbie had asked God to open a door at this small liberal arts college in western Maryland. As a seeJesus trainer she’d already led three Person of Jesus studies with non-Christians and thought that Hood was just the place where Jesus would go.

Then this past fall, Debbie met Natasha, the InterVarsity staff worker at Hood. Natasha wanted students to see Jesus too. In November she hosted an outreach. Right next door gay and lesbian students hosted a packed “Coming Out” ball. Natasha was thrilled, and emailed Debbie to pray.

Afterwards Debbie invited Natasha to a Person of Jesus study. There Natasha saw Jesus in refreshing ways, and knew the study would be a good fit for Hood students. So Debbie and Natasha planned to start a study after the term break.

In early February, Debbie posted the above “Who is Jesus?” flyer around the student center. From Woody Allen to Einstein, Jesus continues to be highly regarded. While we may not agree with everything these men say about Jesus, that they regard him stirs our wonder. And Debbie and Natasha wanted to stir the wonder of students.

On February 15th Debbie began her study a little nervous, unsure of who would come. That first day Vicki and Baguma (a Ugandan) and three other students came. Each had questions. After the study Debbie said, “God is on the move... it won’t be long before they will be part of the Family... I just know it!”

Debbie describes Vicki and Baguma’s encounters with Jesus:

After discussing where Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” Vicki so identified with the blind beggar’s helplessness and guilt that she blurted out, “All my life I’ve had a similar struggle. I’ve had my back to God. Now I am turning around and looking at him.”

At that same study Baguma said, “It’s really all about who is Jesus? If you see who He is, then you can see everything else.”

The following week, after the lesson on honesty, we talked about how to have God’s love in our hearts – what does it mean, how do we get it. After people left, Vicki told me the day before she had a long talk with God, “I can’t stop smiling. All my life I’ve tried to put the broken pieces of my heart back together. Yesterday I told God, ‘OK, here are all these broken pieces – you’re the only one who can put them back together.’” (Shortly afterwards Debbie led her to faith in Jesus.)

Retirement Communities

Trying to Shut Jesus Up submitted by Joshua van Beelen

This fall I’ve been leading a Person of Jesus study at a retirement community that has a significant population of cultural elites in it: a graduate of Harvard Medical School, an attorney, a former professor from Swarthmore, a former trustee of Princeton, etc. The response has been good…attendance has gone from an average of 15 in the Spring to about twenty in the Fall. Almost half are seekers.

Last week the director told us that we had to discontinue the Person of Jesus study because “they wanted to be neutral." God’s timing was perfect because just that morning I’d read Luke 6:23, "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man."

I started laughing when my friend called me to give me the news. I laughed, partly because Jesus tells us to. In the next verse he says, "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven." For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. It also struck me as funny that someone would try to shut Jesus down. The little kingdoms of this world are just that little. It reminded me of Pilate trying to tell Jesus in the middle of his interrogation of Jesus that he, Pilate, was in charge. Right.

Prison

An Interview with Lee submitted by Lee via phone to Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer: Why did you decide to include the Person of Jesus study in your prison ministry?

Lee: I have been doing prison ministry here in central Tennessee for five years. In the past, I have taught lessons through various books of the Bible: Luke, John, and Hebrews, for example. But I was doing all of the talking and ended up almost preaching to the men rather than teaching them something. So, I decided to try the interactive approach; I wanted them to be engaged during our weekly meetings.

Jennifer: What is the county prison like?

Lee: The county prison consists of four pods: each pod has about 25 jail cells, holding two inmates per cell. This prison is not like any portrayed in the movies. These guys eat in their cells, have no gym, no TV, and no outdoor time. They stay in their cells 21 to 23 hours per day. So, they have a lot of free time and most spend it reading. Those who do go outside are the rare few who get chosen to do highway trash clean-up.

Jennifer: Where do you meet to lead the study?

Lee: When I arrive, the warden escorts me upstairs and drops me off at a large empty room located between two of the pods. The men come in and have to sit on the floor. I am required to teach standing up, but the items I’m allowed to bring are very limited. I bring my Bible, the Person of Jesus lesson and giant adhesive note pages that I stick to the wall.

Jennifer: How many men come to the study? What are they like?

Lee: I meet with men from two of the pods. Often the pods are completely full, so 80 to 100 guys have the opportunity to come to the study. Weekly anywhere from 10 to 30 men show up, and each one brings a Bible. These men range in age from 20 to 60 and are all convicted felons. I don’t know what specific crimes they’ve been convicted of, and I don’t know the length of their sentences. Some men show up consistently every week, although there are always some who have just arrived and others who have been transferred or released.

Jennifer: What has it been like to do interactive leading?

Lee: I come to these men as one in need of the same Savior and under the same grace offered to them. Our common understanding really allows for open discussion. During the lesson on “looking”, we discussed what it means to have compassion with other inmates. One man commented, “Looking can be costly in prison, especially if someone doesn’t like the way you’re looking at them.”

Also, Sam, a man who is probably in his late 50’s, comes every week and has been very responsive. When discussing the story of the prodigal son, the men were surprised by the historical details that it was shameful for men to run and the significance of the ring and robe as symbols of honor. Sam was vocal about understanding the transfer of his shame to Jesus and Jesus’ honor to him. He said, “It really is true. It’s hard to believe, but I really do believe it.”

Addiction Recovery

Exposing Self-righteousness submitted by John Tracy

The men’s discussion is pretty amazing since so many of them have been literally living the lifestyles of the ‘sinners’ and prodigals in the stories. The lessons on self-righteousness and legalism have been especially powerful. Because of years of homelessness and addictions, the men naturally have huge issues of guilt and shame. However, when many of them convert, they quickly can become very self-righteous and judgmental of others. These lessons on Christ have really challenged those ways of thinking.

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