By Michael C. Mack
After our wedding in 1990, Heidi and I moved into a 40-unit apartment building in Cincinnati. We wanted to lead an investigative Bible study to reach out to people who lived there, so I asked Glen, a minister at our church, to tell me how to start.
“I don’t think you should do a Bible study . . . at least not yet,” he said.
The tilt of my head and subconscious furrow of my brow must have given away my concern; I was eager to start this study right away and allow God to use us to reach lost people. Why wait?
Glen smiled. “Take some time and build friendships with people first,” he responded to my silent question. “Pray for the people there, ask God to prepare the way for this and to make their hearts receptive.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“You wait. Wait until the time is right.”
“How will we know when the time’s right?”
“I don’t know. Just pray. The Holy Spirit will let you know,” he said.
That wasn’t the answer I was looking for. My pragmatic nature wanted a specific date and time and a 10-point list of action steps. But we did what Glen suggested—making friends, praying, watching for the Spirit to move. We found out where people liked to gather, and we hung out with them: at the swimming pool, in the front lobby, in one another’s apartments. We looked for opportunities to start and build friendships as we rode the elevator, did laundry, and helped people who were moving in. As we got to know people in the building, they invited us to parties and game nights and we gladly accepted. We drank water and soft drinks while they drank beer and shots (and went to a separate room to smoke joints)—and we found we got much better at the games as the night progressed! We asked them about themselves, listened, loved them, and didn’t judge them. But we lived as Christians before them.
A year and a half later we were still befriending, praying, and watching. I thought Glen was crazy. We wondered if the Holy Spirit would ever “let us know.”
One evening Sherry, the apartment building manager, stopped me. She told me that Sigma, who lived in the building with her boyfriend, Vic, had been approached by a member of a cult and invited to attend their Bible study. Sherry asked me to talk to Sigma about this cult.
Sigma and about six other people from our building were sitting around a table by the swimming pool. I answered Sigma’s questions about the cult and warned her about the dangers of getting involved with them, even in their Bible study. In the midst of our conversation, Marty interrupted. Marty was a longhaired guy who wore black AC-DC T-shirts, and I’m pretty sure he was the pot provider for the apartment building. At least he smelled like it.
“So, Mike,” he asked, “why don’t you think Sigma should attend a Bible study?”
I started to reply, but Marty cut me off again.
“Why don’t we just start our own Bible study here?”
“I would do that,” someone else said. “We can meet in my apartment. . . . And I’ll make food!”
Another person chimed in, “How about if we meet at different people’s apartments each week? Whoever hosts can provide food. We could invite other people from the building too!”
I sat and listened as they planned the whole thing.
Then Sherry looked at me and said, “This sounds great, but we need someone who knows the Bible to teach this thing. . . . Mike, would you lead it?”
A week later we started a study on who Jesus is. The first week, Vic asked, “So, how do you become a Christian?” The group gathered the next morning as I baptized Vic in the apartment building’s swimming pool. Vic woke up half the building and gathered a larger crowd when he let out a whoop as he entered the cold water. Sigma gave her life to Christ after we studied with her for about a year. Eventually everyone in that group turned their lives over to Jesus; many did so after Heidi and I had moved from the building.
Glen knew something I didn’t know at the time but that I’ve learned many times since: nothing of real significance will be accomplished apart from God’s leading and power. I may have lots of plans and ideas, but God’s purpose always prevails, and his timing is always perfect.
Michael C. Mack is editor of Christian Standard. After serving churches in Ohio, Indiana, Idaho, and Kentucky, he and Heidi now live in Pewee Valley, Kentucky.