I’m a high school kid in 1990, the height of enthusiasm for short-term missions, with youth group buddies in Mexico City. We’re passing out tracts in a town square, speaking irreparably broken Spanish. Our career missionary host sees the evangelistic tracts we’re distributing and quickly curtails the day’s activity. Very patiently, she explains that deceiving passersby with tracts that look like US $100 bills may do more to harden hearts than to make disciples.

A few years later, I’m an eager college student, hoping to win souls for Jesus by the old Chicago Water Tower. No tracts this time. Just friendly conversations starting with, “Can I talk to you for a moment about Jesus?” After several freezing nights, it becomes clear that the only folks willing to chat are Moody Bible Institute students curious about life at Wheaton College.

Next it’s knocking on doors in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, trying “friendship evangelism” in an apartment complex full of refugees and other immigrants. After months, as we’re about to knock on another door, my partner turns to me and sighs. “This feels wrong,” she says. “We’re interrupting more than we’re serving, taking more than we’re giving. I’m out.” We leave.

Suddenly I’m 45 and in line at the grocery when the guy in front of me very loudly starts a “conversation” with the cashier. “Do you know Jesus?” Yes, in fact I do, she politely responds. He’s skeptical. “Do you have a saving relationship with Jesus as Lord?” he insists. I can’t hear her response, but I can see she’s working very hard to be polite. I’m ...

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