Mahria and I were understandably a bit nervous as we made the 180-mile drive to hear a young woman’s testimony.
In God’s Magnificent Providence
My plan was to lead Brandon and six members of my church family on an evangelistic excursion to Chicago. However, that was not God’s plan.
Waiting as long as I could, I had to make the decision to cancel the Chicago trip. The forecast for Chicago was for a wintery mix (rain/snow) and temps in the low 40’s.
I decided to spend a few hours outside our local Costco this afternoon. I was joined by Brandon, Donnie, and Matthew.
I brought the half-mile hailer to my spot outside Costco, for the first time. Brandon and I preached to long lines of motorists at the Costco gas station. Donnie, Matthew, and Brandon held gospel signs. I carried the cross.
Due to road construction on 53rd, traffic was slowed and long lines of cars frequently stopped in front of us. This allowed an estimated 1,000 motorists to see a series of gospel signs, as they passed by.
And I met Andrew.
A young man walked toward me, presumably from the Costco gas station. As he walked past Donnie, he received a gospel tract.
“I know I’ve seen him before!” Andrew exclaimed to Donnie as he continued walking in my direction.
“I’ve seen you on YouTube,” he said after we exchanged greetings.
“Really?” I asked with genuine surprise.
Andrew, a resident of Chicagoland and a junior at Augustana College, saw the video of my morning on the campus three years of go. He was not yet a student at the school.
You can watch the video, HERE.
Andrew said he was moved by the level of hate and disgusting behavior I faced while handling it without getting angry. This opened the door for me to testify about how God has changed me from an angry street preacher to an evangelist who is angry no more.
Andrew (raised Roman Catholic) started reading his Bible when he entered college. He said that was when his faith became real. But he admitted he is still confused about the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.
I used Scripture and an analogy to explain the doctrine of Sola Fide and proclaim the gospel to him. He smiled and said it made sense to him, now.
I posted the above story on social media.
A Mom’s Story
Someone made a comment on the post.
Here’s our exchange:
Kim: “My daughter attended Augustana for nearly two years before the pandemic. She remembers you preaching there and all the hate you received. She was quiet back then, my husband and I prayed daily for her. The Lord, being gracious, saved her and plucked her out of that blaspheming school. She will be baptized next Sunday. God is good! Thank you for all you do to share the Gospel, you affect more people than you know.”
Me: Wow. “Was she there that day?”
Kim: “Yes, she was there that day. She called to tell me that a street preacher was at the school and students were acting disrespectfully towards you. Of course, I already was aware of who you were and had been following you online for some time. I told her, ‘That’s Tony Miano. Your dad and I follow him and he used to be a police officer, just like your dad.'”
Me: “Wow. Praise the Lord. It is so humbling to hear this testimony. With your daughter being baptized next week, and that day on the campus happening three years ago, did the Lord use the preaching that day to somehow impact your daughter–to have her consider her own spiritual condition and move her closer to Christ? I so wish I could watch her baptism?”
Kim: “Oh, it impacted her because you were saying the very same things we would talk with her about. She was disgusted at the way many of the students acted toward you, I knew the Lord was working on her. She was a very sad girl in those days, not wanting to bend her knee to the Lord, but He indeed saved her. She is now a new creation. And she isn’t that same sad girl anymore. Praise the Lord!
Kim and I exchanged several private messages. During the conversation, I learned that her daughter expressed a desire for me to come to her baptism.
The Drive to Chicagoland
I conferred with my pastor, sharing with him how God in His sovereign and divine providence had orchestrated an apparent wonderful opportunity to encourage and be encouraged. We agreed that I should attend the young lady’s baptism.
Her name is Faith.
The day of the baptism soon arrived. Mahria and I got an early start to drive the 180 miles and arrive in time for Faith’s baptism. I love long car rides with Mahria. They are wonderful times of undistracted, uninterrupted fellowship with my bride.
During the drive, I expressed to Mahria my slight nervousness about attending the baptism.
We didn’t know faith. Faith was present that day at Augustana–a day that resembled the stories of Whitefield and Wesley preaching to angry mobs while dodging pieces of a dead cat–a day that the Lord apparently used as another seed tossed on what I was told has proven to be good soil. While the thought of being used in even a small way in another person’s coming to faith in Christ, I was still a bit hesitant. I explained to Mahria my concern about being in a church I knew nothing about and what a disappointment it would be if we heard a testimony from a young woman that was devoid of the gospel. How uncomfortable and awkward it would be if I came away from Faith’s testimony wondering if she was truly born again.
In my heart and mind, I wrestled between hope and hesitancy.
Arriving at Church
Mahria and I parked in the church parking lot and walked toward a door we saw other people enter. We entered and were immediately and warmly greeted by a nice lady. She had thought she had seen us before. I assured her it was our first time at the church and that we had come to see Faith’s baptism.
A man standing nearby overheard our conversation. He introduced himself (another friendly person) and showed us to a lounge area where he introduced us to Faith’s dad. A soon-to-retire police officer, we immediately had a connection. That connection, as important as it was, was soon replaced by a more important connection–our fellowship in Christ.
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, and you add to that the many years I have been on the streets talking to true and false converts (mostly false), you grow to have a sense about when you are in the presence of another actual Christian. There’s no hocus-pocus involved, here. No sixth-sense. No special gift. Just a sense in your heart and mind that you are in the presence of a brother or sister in Christ–even if you’ve only known the person for a few minutes. Such was the case when I met Faith’s dad. And that sense was doubled when we soon thereafter met Faith’s mom. While our conversation focused on Faith and her story, our conversation included theology, favorite pastors/teachers we had in common, and talk of Christ. There was nothing strained about it. Nothing forced. No putting on of airs. Just simple talk about the things of God between people who knew each other for only minutes, but related to one another as if they had known each other for years.
Then Faith joined us. Diminutive in size, but a presence about her (along with her smile), that almost seemed to command the room. I could tell she was preoccupied. Who wouldn’t be? She was about to be baptized and give testimony in front of friends and family (saved and unsaved) and strangers (saved and unsaved). She thanked me and Mahria for coming, assured us we would talk later, and then soon rushed off to join the other people being baptized.
The interaction with Faith’s parents gave me hope that what I would hear from Faith, in her testimony, would be salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Hope, but no assurance. How could I have assurance? I believed Faith’s parents were saved. And my first impression of Faith was nothing but positive. But I had yet to hear her testimony.
The service began with a few songs and then the youth pastor took the stage. He began by explaining why today’s message would be shorter than usual. The plan was to baptize 17 people within the usual time frame of the Sunday morning service.
The youth pastor preached for about 15 minutes. He gave a biblical presentation of what baptism is and what baptism isn’t. In doing so, he communicated a biblical gospel. I was both blessed and relieved to hear the gospel.
Hearing the gospel from the youth pastor, coupled with the confidence I had that Faith’s parents are my Christian brethren, and adding to that that Faith received the gospel by way of a tract and heard at least a portion of the gospel as she stood nearby listening to me preach, I was confident that multiple genuine gospel seeds had been tossed on the soil of Faith’s heart.
The baptisms began. Faith was fourth in line. Again, each participant was only given a minute or two to share his or her testimony.
“Lord, please let this young lady be saved.” I prayed.
I held Mahria’s hand.
The pastor said a few words and then asked Faith to share her testimony. This is what she said.
If I shared my whole testimony, we would be here for hours.
Growing up I went to church; I went to AWANA; I went to Bible camp and I always thought I was a Christian. I knew John 3:16 and I thought an acknowledgment of Jesus was enough and I thought I was good enough.
Around the age of 13, my parents got saved. I saw how God had changed their lives. After my parents were saved, I went to high school. It was at this time I really started indulging my flesh, living for sin, and following after the world—all the while calling myself a Christian. I thought living for the world would satisfy me, but it never did. What mattered to me most was what my friends thought of me, and their opinions of me. I valued their opinion of me rather than God’s. I became so angry, so hurt, so bitter, so empty, and really just sad.
This pattern of sin continued when I went away to college. Although I saw what God had done in my parents’ and my brother’s lives, I didn’t want God to change the desires of my heart. I saw my sin as freedom and I was truly a slave to my sin and I was in bondage.
While away [from home] my freshman year, I had a really tough time being away. I went through some really unfortunate situations, which left me sadder, more hurt, and more empty than before.
God had brought really strong conviction upon me during this really tough freshman year. I really started to hate the sin I once loved, the sin I took so much pride in and found my identity in. I started to hate it and I knew the way I was living did not match who I professed to be.
I came home from school for a break during my freshman year and I just felt a really strong urge to meet with Pastor Brad. I shared with him everything I was going through. He shared the gospel with me. It had never been so clear as in that moment that I’m a sinner in need of a Savior, and I’ll never be good enough. And I can’t save myself. I repented at that moment and the Lord so graciously saved me. I was lost and God found me. He gave me a new heart with new desires. And my desire is to live for Him. My life hasn’t been the same since and I don’t recognize the girl I once was.
I’d like to share this verse, John 8:32, “And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Tears of Joy
I turned and looked at Mahria. Like me, tears were rolling down her cheeks. She noticed I was looking at her and turned in my direction. We shared a smile.
“Thank You, Lord.” I prayed.
Following the service, there was a small reception in a room off the worship area. Mahria and I walked into the room, saw Faith’s parents, and joined them. We picked up our fellowship where we had left off before the service started. We now had the added rejoicing of talking about Faith’s testimony and baptism. Faith soon joined us, as did her older brother.
I was able to hear more of Faith’s testimony–hearing about how she watched her parents’ lives change, and then her brothers, and asking herself, “Who are you people and what have you done with my family?”
We talked more about that day three years ago at Augustana College. A realization she had that day was that what I was preaching that day was the same message she heard from her parents, which was the same message she had heard from her pastor. What struck her was how much her fellow students, her friends, her peers hated the truth. Hated the gospel. Hated Jesus. As Faith would tell us, that day at Augustana College had an impact on her.
Mahria and I were so very blessed to spend an hour or so with Faith and her family. Before saying goodbye, I asked Faith if I could give her a hug. While doing a poor job to hold back the tears, I expressed to Faith how encouraged I was by her testimony and how the seed scattered that day at Augustana College impacted her. I told her that it is not often I get to see real, lasting fruit from my ministry on the streets and college campuses. I gave glory to God and testified to His magnificent providence–how God perfectly orchestrated so much time and so many pieces to bring our lives to the point that we were together this day, in this church.
It was hard to say goodbye to Faith and her family. The fellowship was so sweet. But we had to head home. We wanted to be home in time for our church’s Sunday evening gathering where we would experience yet more sweet fellowship.
The Impact on Mahria
Of course, the conversation in our car as we started home was consumed with debriefing the events of the morning.
Mahria started to cry.
“What is it, honey?” I asked.
My Mahria–often quiet, always thoughtful–took a few moments to gather both her composure and her thoughts.
“Today was more evidence for why we moved to Iowa,” she said.
“Isn’t it amazing that God would have us move to Iowa, in part, to be part of Faith’s life?” We moved here for Faith. It’s as if she’s the one.” I replied.
Our move to Iowa a little more than five years ago wasn’t easy. At times, it still isn’t. We’ve experienced, for the first time, the pain that distance from beloved family brings. We’ve faced our share deep, personal, sanctifying struggles. We’ve experienced the pain of God’s gracious chastisement. We’ve learned much (much more than we thought we knew) about the beautiful and sometimes messy life of true membership in a Christian community–the local church.
Over the last several years, God has shown us time and time again how sweet His sovereign providence has been in moving us from Southern California to Davenport, Iowa–to Grace Fellowship Church. The seeds scattered at Augustana College one day a few years ago, seeds that landed on at least one plot of good soil, is an example of God’s sweet, providential sovereignty.
Mahria and I stopped for lunch and then listened to the audio of our pastor’s morning sermon, as we finished the drive home.
Each Sunday evening, we end our worship time together with “Praise and Thanksgiving.” It is an opportunity for the church family to publicly express their thanks to God for His work and provision in their lives during the previous week. Mahria, who is more often than not slow to speak, raised her hand. When Pastor Mike called on her, Mahria testified of how God provided her, through Faith’s baptism, with yet one more reason why moving to Davenport and Grace Fellowship Church was the right decision.
“And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. And others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and were yielding a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.
And the one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the one who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty'” (Matthew 13: 3-9, 18-23, LSB).
“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7, LSB).
As I have so often said, the only time we fail in evangelism (presuming the evangelism is biblical) is when we fail to evangelize.
If you are engaged in public evangelism, in any of its forms, be encouraged. Even if you never experience what I did in seeing Faith’s baptism, even if you never see someone come to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as a fruit of your efforts, be encouraged. God is always working.
“But He [Jesus] answered them, My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working'” (John 5:17).
You may hand a gospel tract to someone like Faith, and never meet her.
You may preach the gospel in the open-air, with someone like Faith listening, and never meet her.
You may post the gospel on social media and someone like Faith reads it, and you never meet her.
You may have a conversation with someone like Faith and never see her again.
Or someday, maybe years down the road, you will get to meet someone like Faith. Maybe you will get to hear that seed you once scattered, having no idea on what kind of soil it landed, indeed landed on good soil. And God caused the growth.
Or, maybe someday when you get to heaven, you will meet someone like Faith and cry the tears I cried in a suburban Chicago church not long ago.
Be encouraged. Your labor is not in vain. It never is. It never will be.
Keep scattering seed!