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At Gunpoint for Jesus

by Benjamin Baker

My freshman year of college I decided to dedicate the week of spring break to spreading God’s Word through literature evangelism. A team happened to be going to a city where I had spent part of my childhood, so I quickly signed up with them. I was excited at the prospect of sharing Christ in the city where I spent my early years.

Upon arrival, our eight member team was greeted by chilly weather, the temperature would remain in the low 20s all week long. Some in our group trekked up and down neighborhood sidewalks in three and four layers of clothing for our 10-hour workdays. We gave our spiel at the doors of thousands of homes while snowflakes cascaded from the sky, white puffs of air coming from our mouths.

But God blessed, as He always does with young people who sacrifice to share the gospel with others. Each person in the group was experiencing record highs in sales. The dozens of boxes we brought with us soon emptied, and we had to call the school for more to be shipped to us midweek.

Because of my size—six feet four inches, 240 pounds—and personality—outgoing and bold—the group leader had a habit of placing me in the roughest areas to sell books. In fact, I don’t remember ever being assigned to sell in a suburban neighborhood; I was always in urban spots. The city we were selling in was among the top 25 most dangerous cities in America then, but because of my youth and a belief in God’s protection, I was oblivious to any sort of danger around me.

Toward the end of the week I was dropped off in a housing project infamous for violent crime. I filled my bag with Steps to Christ, a devotional on how to know Jesus, and The Desire of Ages, a Christian classic on the life of Christ. This wasn’t a cookbook-type area. I maintained a rapid pace through the vast project, meeting with some success and a lot of rejections. I took it in stride, though, remaining positive.

By the afternoon I had probably knocked on several hundred doors. I came to a bunch of row houses on the north side adjoining the project that looked particularly war-torn. I pushed on through the cold, my knuckles so red from knocking that I began to rap with the sides of my fists. I had worked halfway down a block when I knocked, or maybe lightly pounded, on a door. 

“Who is it?” a gruff voice demanded.

“Benjamin,” I responded. 

“What you want?” The voice was angry and impatient.

Then I said something I probably shouldn’t have said, or perhaps should have worded a little differently. As literature evangelists, we are taught that if we unveil our purpose for visiting before the door is opened, then the person on the other end will probably think we are salesmen and say they don’t want to buy anything. So we don’t say we are selling anything, but sort of keep our presence mysterious—that turned out not to be so smart in this situation.

But I really didn’t want to be outside shouting back and forth with this person anymore. He was either going to open the door or he wasn’t. I had to keep moving. The cold will give you that attitude. “I want to show you something,” I called. 

The next thing I knew the door flew open, and I was staring down a double-barrel sawed-off shotgun. I admit, I really didn’t notice who was behind it for a couple of tense seconds; the weapon looked that mean!

“What you wanna show me?” the voice growled. The house was dark, and all I could make out was a seated figure. Then I realized it was a man in a wheelchair. 

I spoke slowly but confidently. Paul told the young evangelist Timothy that God hadn’t given him a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a calm mind (see 2 Timothy 1:7). As a young evangelist, I had all three. I don’t recall being scared for a second; startled maybe, but not scared.

“I want to show you a book about Jesus, sir.” Despite my words, the gun was still leveled at my face. Its two barrels looked deep and dark.

“Get it,” he said. “Slowly.”

Well, I was going to go slowly anyway. I removed a Steps to Christ with a picture of a smiling Jesus on the cover from my bag and held it up.

“Leave it right there.” The man made a slight motion with his gun to a stand just inside the door. I slowly placed the small book where he indicated.

“I think you’ll like it,” I said.

He mumbled something. I didn’t ask him for a donation.

After I was through selling the area I went to the project’s office. Three ladies were inside working in cubicles. I told them what I was doing, and 

they greeted me warmly and asked me what I thought of the complex. They did this with mischievous smiles, for they knew the place was run-down. I replied that a lot of good people lived there. They agreed.

Then I related my experience with the armed man. When I described him, they immediately knew to whom I was referring and said that he had shot two people (that they knew of). He was violent, mean, and irredeemable. The ladies were surprised when I told them he had accepted a Steps to Christ. I sold them each a book, and we said goodbye. I radioed my leader, told her I had finished the area, and soon I was gone.

The story doesn’t end there, though. A decade later when I was in my hometown again, a curiosity about the fate of the man who had held me at gunpoint led me back to the old projects. I approached the man’s row house. The door looked the same, though the paint around it had chipped and peeled more. I knocked softly this time. No answer. I knocked again. No answer. Then I hoofed it to the main office where I had met the three kind women. None of them worked there any longer. I asked one of the employees if the man in the wheelchair still lived there.

“That man died about two years ago,” he said. He knew right off who the man was just as the ladies had 10 years before. He chuckled. 

“I first started working here three years ago. Everyone told me that he was a demon . . . never came out of his apartment . . . shot at people . . . he was infamous. Since I was new, they sent me over there to collect the rent a couple of times when he was past due.”

“Yeah,” I said, eager to figure out where all this was going.

“But I didn’t have any problems with him whatsoever. He was always kind to me. Invited me in, offered me coffee. Talked a lot about Jesus. I’m not much into that religious stuff. He always had this little book with Jesus on the front by his wheelchair.”

Benjamin Baker writes from Rockville, Maryland. This story was first published in Insight in 2011. Reprinted by permission.

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