Aug. 18 event will explain how to evangelize like the apostles

Saint Paul Street Evangelization gives away rosaries as a way to initiation a conversation with strangers. (Courtesy photo)

We can’t keep Jesus to ourselves, says Steve Dawson.

“If we really believe that Jesus is who he says he is, that he’s the Lord of the universe, our creator, that he founded the church, died for our sins, that he is the way to salvation – if we really believe that, we must not keep it to ourselves. We have the key to eternal life as Catholics.”

Dawson, the founder and president of the Warren, Michigan-based Saint Paul Street Evangelization, will share his message at a Transformation Night Friday, Aug. 18, in the old gymnasium at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wichita. The theme of the evening is “Evangelizing Like the Apostles.”

He wants to convey a sense of urgency at his presentations, he said in a telephone interview last week with the Catholic Advance. “If we have the treasure of infinite value, we must not keep it to ourselves. Then, the question is: How do I evangelize?”

Several ways to evangelize

That can be done in various ways, Dawson said.

“There’s relational evangelization, where we evangelize the people that God brings into our lives. This is like Jesus in the bible with his Twelve; he lived with them, he formed them, he catechized, he evangelized them over time.”

The second type of evangelization is direct evangelization, evangelizing people you’ve never met before, he said. That is highlighted in the scriptures and throughout the history of the church.

Dawson cited examples such as Jonah going through Nineveh proclaiming the kingdom of God is at hand; John the Baptist in all the public places; Jesus when he’s talking to the woman at the well or peaching the Sermon on the Mount; and the work of the disciples, Peter and Paul, and the many great missionary saints of the church such as St. Francis Xavier and St. Francis of Assisi.

Direct evangelization, once an integral part of the faith, has been lost among Catholics, he said. It’s seen as something done by Protestants, Mormons, or Jehovah Witnesses.

Evangelize directly

“One of my goals is to try to reawaken that, bring that back,” Dawson said. “At St. Paul Street Evangelization we do relational evangelization, but we can’t exclude direct public evangelization. I’m not talking about standing on soapbox and preaching to no one in particular. It’s more like the Woman at the Well story where you’re out and about and you encounter somebody, like Jesus did with the woman. And then you engage her and you’re very intentional.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says disciples of Christ should be “on the lookout” for opportunities to evangelize, he said. “We need to have our radars up.”

Sacramentals are one way to begin a conversation when an opportunity arises. “It’s definitely something that we encourage at St. Paul Street Evangelization because they are icebreakers. If you encounter someone on the street, it’s very easy to just say, hey, can I offer you free gifts? Here’s a Miraculous Medal. Have you ever heard the story of the Miraculous Medal? Here’s a rosary. Do you know what the rosary is? And then you move on from there and say, oh, are you a Christian? Are you Catholic, etcetera, etcetera.”

How to start a conversation

Sacramentals can initiate a conversation, he said. From there you can ask questions, pray for them, give personal testimony, whatever God is calling you to do at that moment.

Dawson said his evangelization is developing after over a decade of work and is adding prayer for healing as part of the ministry.

“In the early church evangelization and healing when hand-in-hand,” he said. “It’s throughout the scriptures. Jesus says, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ and they grumble: ‘Oh, who is this man that he can forgive sins?’”

A healing ministry

Jesus responds by asking if it’s easier to forgive sins or heal a lame man. “The healing and miracles and other extraordinary charisms that God gives us are for the building of the church and for evangelization. That’s their primary purpose.”

God is concerned about us but he is most concerned about our eternal life, Dawson said.

“We really could use that today because people are far from God or indifferent to the message of the Gospel. I’m feeling more and more called to start praying for people for healing.”

That aspect has been added to his ministry as the result of actual healings and other experiences, he said. “Not all of our evangelists do healing ministry, but it is a it is a component are those who feel called.”