by Laurie Gudim
The Feast Day of William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale
Jacki, our Children and Youth Minister, who is also a school teacher, told me once that when she was trained by the local police department in how to respond if armed assailants were to come into the school environment, the officers told her she was exceptionally fierce. She grabbed one of the foam bats they had provided and ran full tilt toward the actors with the guns. She whaled and whaled on them. “I couldn’t stand that they were attacking my kids,” she said. “I think that’s how I would act in real life. I just can’t stand that they attack innocent kids.”
It was just after the Orlando shootings, and she went on to talk about the shooter. “The poor guy,” she said. “He didn’t know that Jesus loves him. That’s why I do what I do”(meaning the Children’s and Youth Ministry.) “I want to teach all the kids here that Jesus loves them just the way they are. I want them to really know it!”
It was a conversation in the hallway, each of us on our way to our different duties. But that vignette offered a breathtaking window into Jacki’s soul – how she is profoundly called by God. She loves the kids she teaches. And she wants everybody to know they are deeply loved by God.
William Tyndale, whose feast day is today, had a passion with a similar root. He wanted people to know Jesus. He wanted to translate the New Testament into English, so that all who spoke that tongue, no matter what their station in life, could hear the Good News for themselves. Because this calling put him at odds with the King of England, he lived out his life as a destitute fugitive and died at the stake.
As Episcopalians we often don’t know what to do with the idea that we need to be evangelists. The very word calls up images of glittery TV preachers – or missionaries like the character in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, woefully inadequate in an understanding of the people they are trying to convert. The church universal has done a lot of damage in the name of bringing people to Jesus.
But I think Jacki is on to something. Really knowing that God loves one makes a huge difference in one’s life. It doesn’t take away mental illness, and it doesn’t all by itself end debilitating isolation (though having a sensitive and aware faith community can help with that), but it unites a soul with its true purpose.
And there are probably as many ways of practicing evangelism as there are Christians. Whether it’s through story telling or song writing, painting pictures or knitting shawls, serving lunch or preaching, we each have a way we can express the passion for sharing God’s love.
As St. Augustine mused, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. They really are. We are hardwired to need our fundamental connection with The Holy One. And God desires us just as much as we desire God. What could be more important, then, than helping people who yearn for their own relationship with God to find the God who yearns so desperately for them? No matter what the cost in personal comfort or dignity, what could be more valuable?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Tyndale Bible – Gospel of John