THIS CHRISTMAS WHY NOT GIVE CHRIST?
Last Sunday the most remarkable
testimony was given in my church by a man whose life had been transformed by
coming to know Jesus Christ. Why is that remarkable? Isn't that what the
church is all about? Not usually. We forget, as a former pastor used to say,
''The church is one institution which exists for those not yet in it.''
The young man who spoke was Chris
Perreca, who attended a 15 week course called Alpha, which has proven to be
a powerful evangelistic tool. What's the evidence? First, a half million
people have attended Alpha in 12,700 churches. Second, more were organized
by Episcopalians than any other denomination. Have you ever met an
Rev. Nicky Gumbel, a British
Anglican priest who is not a natural evangelist, developed Alpha for people
like himself. Alpha groups begin with dinner in a home, during which there
is no talk about religion. Then a video of Gumbel speaking is shown on core
concepts of Christianity. The opening talk is ''Who is Jesus? The historical
evidence for his life, death and resurrection.'' Next is ''The Cross: Why
did Jesus die? Why read the Bible? Why and how should I pray?''
After the video there is informal
discussion. This is ''friendship evangelism.'' Friends invite friends to
introduce them to Jesus. And it is life-changing, as Chris Perreca
He confessed that he had attended
church only sporadically -- ''one of the people who sneaks in'' at Christmas
or Easter, ''a fair weather participant.'' He was raised a Unitarian. ''My
mother was a Presbyterian, my dad, a Catholic and I was very much confused.
I knew that Jesus was an important person. But I had little understanding of
his significance. My relationship with God was nonexistent. I did believe in
God. I thought that by being a good person I could avoid sin and troubling
situations. I thought I could face daily challenges on my own and without
the help of anyone else. And I was wrong.
''Before become a Christian my
relationship with my parents and other individuals that I love was torn and
fatigued. The relationship with one women who I had learned to love, was
very difficult as well because of my own spiritual emptiness.
''Without God I was incomplete and
often felt alone. Oftentimes I made poor career decisions. Often I was faced
with frustration and had moderate anger. I directed it at strangers
the sales girl in the Gap store. Very seldom was I mean to colleagues or
loved ones. These are people I cherished. But they were aware of my
impatience with others and were very much disturbed that I was often abrupt
with compete strangers. I struggled to find happiness.'' he said.
''Joyfulness was nothing I expected
to find. What made the difference was the participation in the Alpha course.
It was the support of Alpha course leaders and participation of other
individuals. During our interaction one time a week and during the weekend
retreat, even the silliest spiritual questions were entertained. There were
two of us who had some of the best questions out there. I was raised a
skeptic. My background as a chemist major and engineering major at the Naval
Academy and veteran naval officer offered difficult questions.
''By attending Alpha and by
allowing God to enter into my heart I have become a contented and a peaceful
person. My loneliness has eroded quickly, and has been replaced by different
convictions and a heart full of energy and warmth.''
He said that his father, John
Perreca, attended the Alpha course three years ago and underwent a
''transformation into a more joyful and caring person. As a Christian my
father's efforts to love his family have become more sincere and sensitive.
He was a good guy before but he is now a better husband and father.'' Yet
Chris resisted his dad's invitation to attend Alpha.
How has becoming a Christian
affected Chris? ''He has helped me heal many of the hurts and pains I have
had. He has most recently helped me to have patience in my career pursuit.
His results, however, are not prompt. They have to be ones we have to be
''The greatest changes I have seen
within myself are that I care for people more, I have greater inner peace
and contentment. I live each day with vigor and abundant energy. I am more
patient with loved ones, strangers, parents. I have now the willingness to
reach out to others to care and help them. I prayed for the first time
during the Alpha session. Before, prayer was one thing I did before a
dinner. Though My relationship with Christ, I have a greater accountability
and greater strength to resist temptation. Before I had limited power to
behave differently,'' he confessed.
This Christmas, why not make a
decision to give Christ to others, through Alpha?
As Chris concluded: ''I ask of you
today, if you would like to reach out to others in the community who may be
skeptical like myself, this is a great opportunity.'' (Web: alpha.na.org)
Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.