... I have delayed writing this entry about last Saturday until after small group yesterday, when someone mentioned in this journal got to tell everyone the good news herself
Last Saturday was Alpha's Holy Spirit Day. It was amazing. Before I give a synopsis of what happened, I'll take some time to acquaint readers with what Alpha is and what Holy Spirit Day is about.
Alpha is a class taught at my church for non-Christians, new Christians, and people just seeking more knowlege about what Christians believe. It is a held once a week, for 10 weeks, and then there is one all day event sometime in the middle, called Holy Spirit Day. At Alpha, participants are served a yummy home-cooked meal, given a chance to make friends and chat with other participants and leaders, a 45 minute lecture, and an hour-long discussion section during which students discuss what they felt and taught about the teaching in a laid back setting. There are no wrong answers. There are no wrong opinions. There are no put-downs and no dumb questions. There is just time to sort through thoughts, ask questions, and bounce ideas about Christianity off the leaders and fellow participants.
The amazing thing about this completely non-confrontational, non-judgemental course, that just lays down the foundations of Christian belief and lets people discuss and accept or reject them at will is that thousands of people have become disciples of Christ through it at my home church alone (much less the hundreds of other churches around the world that are doing the same thing); Christians who later mature into functioning members of the Church. How can this be that people are attending a class where they are allowed to say whatever they want, and yet are willingly devoting themselves to Christ?
Well... the answer lies in community. Christian community is the most powerful evangelistic tool that I've ever heard of, whether used in Alpha, small groups, or just friendships. The people who attend Alpha are listened to, loved, prayed for, accepted no matter what place in life they are in, and eventually they come to respect the leaders and their opinions about the truths they are able to speak into their lives not as anonymous finger-pointers, but as loving mentors to them. At the very least, most of the participants are willing to let us pray for/with them.
Sometimes this happens early on in the course for an individual or two, but for most it happens on Holy Spirit Day, a day-long session with three hour long lectures, one mid-sized group discussion section, and one small group discussion section, along with several hours of fellowship through hiking, singing, volleyball, talking, eating, and general kindness. It doesn't happen for all participants, and those participants are still loved and cared for, sometimes to become Christians a few weeks, months, or years later, perhaps in a subsequent session of Alpha, perhaps in Chistian Community found somewhere else. That's ok. They weren't ready. A few people probably don't become Christians at all, but that number is so small I don't have accurate statistics on them.
So last Saturday was Holy Spirit Day for the session I am currently leading a discussion section for. It was a smaller group than previous sessions, around 80 attendees instead of 120, but still good. Of the 80 attendees, probably 40 were non-Christians, 20 were Christians looking to learn more and re-dedicate their lives, and another 20 were leaders and helpers. Probably 30 of the non-Christians became Christians. Almost all 20 of the Christians re-dedicated their lives. Almost everyone received prayer and were given experiential insight into the walk of Christianity. When people were prayed for, amazing things happened. One of the most adamantly anti-Christian males was struck by the power of the Holy Spirit when he was prayed for, he fell over, was speaking in tongues and acting wobbling as if drunk, and became a Christian on the spot. I was amazed.
A Chinese woman who has been attending my small group became a Christian. I am very excited about this because she has been searching and seekng out God very passionately since she met a girl who works at my office and also happens to go to my church. I don't even think that she knew that people sometimes have visions by the Holy Spirit, but when we were done praying for her (she just sat there peacefully while we prayed for God to bless her) she said she'd had a vision of Jesus on the cross with blood on his face, neck, and chest. That amazed me - the Real McCoy - because I know she didn't know that sometimes happens to people when God shows up. (I know that I should just get over it, but sometimes I have doubts, that the people are making things up, mass hysteria style, so my level-headed logical Chinese speaking electrical engineer friend's vision was a big confirmation to me that the things I see on HSD are genuine. Everyone has doubts, I know, it's just good to have mine on that subject put to rest.)
And that's all there was to it. We just pray for the Lord to bless the people we pray for on Holy Spirit Day, and every time, the Holy Spirit shows up and turns the place upside down. We leaders certainly don't do it - our church follows the teaching of the Apostle Paul very closely, and we do not practice public tongues because it isn't edifying to the Church Body. We did warn them about a few of the things that happen when the Holy Spirit touches people (can you imagine how scared people would be if they weren't told and then we started praying for them, and all of that stuff happened - warning them is important), but people having visions wasn't even something that was mentioned. It's just God showing up and touching those people - something that we spend a great deal of time praying that He will do in the weeks leading up to HSD. (Does that mean that the people should try to stop themselves if they're just getting prayed for to become Christians and they start speaking in tongues? I don't know for sure. I say no, because that's something that God is genuinely giving them at that time, but I think it's something they should be careful about for the future. I'm sure there are those who would disagree with me.)
So anyway, I'm really happy because I got to see a bunch of people blessed, and because a good friend of mine became a Christian, and I was there to see it, another woman in my small group was miraculously healed of something that's been plaguing her for over a year, and because God is good. Any of you that have the opportunity to take the Alpha course at one of the many other churches in the world offering it, definitely should. Holy Spirit Day especially, where God shows up mightily and through the feeling experience of Him puts to rest a lot of the logical thinking doubts that people have is worth it. (And it's good to know what it is that Christians actually believe, even if you don't end up believing yourself as a result of taking the course.)