Pentecostal Dave Delgado discusses his missionary story with Mennonite Church Leaders Betty and Marg
Betty: First let me say thank you for sharing your story with us.
Marg: Yes, thank you. I’m still amazed that you took your children to such a hostile country.
Dave: Well… when God says, “Go,” you don’t say, “No.”
Marg: But weren’t you afraid? You talk about overcoming fear—
Betty: Every church you go to, you’re asking for prayer—
Marg: —but you don’t seem afraid of the people, or what will happen to you. Why is that?
Betty: You’re not afraid of people at all, are you? The first so many chapters, you’re not even in Zalam. You’re here, out preaching on the streets in…
Dave: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C.
Betty: But why start your story with street preaching?
Dave: Lots of reasons. One of my main reasons for telling the story is that we need a book that doesn’t teach Christians to fear Muslims!
I mean, we have one—the Bible—but we are so wound tight by media and the news that our hearts have become afraid and we’re not looking at Jesus.
Street preaching puts Jesus front and center again. Jesus conquered the grave and, “Whosoever believes in Him” means just that! Anyone can come to Christ and receive eternal life! Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, atheists—“whosoever!”
So then, who’s our true enemy? It can’t be the people themselves.
Marg: Spiritual darkness.
I also wanted to show the compelling love of Christ—even for total strangers—as our primary motivator. It’s one thing to say, “The love I feel for people is from God.” That sounds nice. But it’s another thing to show that love under pressure, being tested.
So, what’s your take-away on street preaching? Or street evangelism?
Betty: Evangelism is a loaded word. We need to unpack that.
Dave: Being out there on the street doesn’t mean you have to have a bullhorn.
Betty: But still, street preaching terrifies me. I don’t think I could be called to it. The first time I read your story, I had to try to get around it.
Marg: Me too. There used to be a guy who stood in the center of town and preached, “Repent, the end is coming!” And I would cringe and walk by. But now I think of myself with some embarrassment.
Dave: Because you walked away?
Marg: Well, yeah.
Dave: But in the body of Christ we’re all different parts, right? I’ve heard Christian blanket statements, even from the pulpit, that need to stop because they make parts of the body feel… devalued for not being a part that they’re not made to be.
Like, “Listening is the new speaking. We shouldn’t speak, we should just listen.” Or, “At all times preach, when necessary use words.”
Well those are two great statements if God made you to be an ear—which He does, some people are gifted listeners—or if He made you to be hands or shoulders serving people—some are gifted servants.
But an ear shouldn’t tell a mouth, “No more talking! We don’t do that anymore!”
No. If God makes something natural for us, we should do it. If it’s unnatural or awkward feeling, maybe we should ask Him why. Maybe the reason is we’re just not that part of the body.
Betty: I think street preaching has pros and cons. Often you don’t know if street preachers are credible. They’re up there saying, “Here’s my experience and you need to come to Jesus because I say you need to—”
Marg: “Repent! The end of the world is coming!”
Betty: —or that, yes. But who are they really? We don’t know.
Marg: But I like what you did. You handed people scripture packets and you read scripture.
Betty: Yes. That was the turning point for me. When you stood there and read the whole Book of Mark, I thought, “Why would we not want to proclaim the Word of God?” It’s like saying to the people, “This is God’s Word. Do what you want with God’s Word.” And then it’s up to God to do what He does with His Word. It’s not a personal argument.
Dave: Personal argument… My wife still thinks, “Why would you want to street preach? You’re imposing yourself on people.”
But I look at it like this: It’s New York City. There’s a performance-art culture. To step into street preaching in New York City is to be yet another street performer.
And it’s not all argument.
Sure, you put a person on the mic to draw the crowd. Then everyone else on the team scatters into the crowd to do one-on-ones or to pray for—or even with—the crowd. Sometimes street preaching is just offering to pray for people until someone says, “Yes, please!”
It’s about engaging people with the message. If you’re not on the mic, you walk to the people at the far back and find out: What’s their story?
My friend Aaron is a great listener. He’ll do one-on-ones where he’ll sit and chat and get to know people and their life stories and then he’ll get around to fishing out why they think a certain way. Atheists will sit with him and have a friendly debate for an hour without anybody getting angry or screaming and yelling at each other.
But that’s not me. I’m not a debater. I’m a presenter.
The first summer I went on one of these trips, I was under-prepared. I didn’t know my verses like I should have. One guy walked away disappointed because the things he wanted to know about Jesus fulfilling prophecies I couldn’t answer. So I spent the next year, reading through the Bible, praying, “Alright, God, show me verses.” And I made those scripture packets I could present or give away.
Marg: I could do that. I could hand someone scripture pages I’d copied out of the Bible.
Betty: Me too. And I think we’d both be good listeners—
Marg: And we could pray with people.
Betty: Yes. I think I’d like that.
Marg: I read your book and I felt like I had a much better understanding of what people had to go through in order to go to another country.
Betty: You had a little bit of prep ahead of time going with this agency, but it didn’t seem like a whole lot. All of your preparation seemed focused on fundraising and not focused on…
“What’s it going to be like when I’m there?”
“What kind of spiritual battles am I going to have?”
“Am I going to be ready? Am I going to have a support group there?”
You were getting people to pray here, which is a support group, I guess…
Dave: Prayer is key.
My initial opener featured a family that came to our church for this prayer breakfast we threw together for them and they fielded questions for nearly an hour, talking about where they were going. Their country was one of these “sensitive countries” so people were super interested in all kinds of trivial stuff.
At the end, I couldn’t stand it anymore, I had to ask, “How can we pray for you?”
Poof! All the facade dropped. All the showmanship was done. The wife’s face melted in tears because they hadn’t yet been asked that question—not anywhere they’d gone. No one had ever asked them, “How can we pray for you?”
And here was this family—wife pregnant, kids going to end up in a school where they wouldn’t speak the language—facing huge stressors just in what everyday life was going to be, and they were bearing that burden silently and alone.
So that’s how I initially wanted to start our story. Missionaries really need prayer. Funds? Yes, they need funds. But we found that funds followed prayer. Once the prayer was there, then the funds would come. But without the prayer, the funds weren’t coming.
Betty: It makes me think, ‘How well do we engage with our missionaries? Do we have any idea what it’s like? They come back and they do a blurb, but do they have the day to day support they’re going to need when they’re there?’ I’m not sure.
Marg: I was angry when I read your story. I kept thinking, ‘This isn’t right. This isn’t fair!’
Betty: Honestly, I was humiliated as a church. I felt like we let people down. We have to find a different way. We’re putting families out there to raise funds in a way that is just really hard.
Dave: I understand. It’s easy to stay detached as an audience member. I’ve been there myself.
Betty: Not anymore. I don’t think I will ever look the same at someone who comes to our church fundraising to go to the field. I will stop and look at them as people—as people with families and kids, that have struggles, that are having to live this…