Several factors determine where we go to hand out our Jews for Jesus gospel tracts. Sometimes we carefully plan tract distribution around a special event. A parade, the opening of a large department store in a busy downtown district, the evening rush hour foot traffic or a sporting event are all broad siding opportunities. At other times a sudden opportunity might arise, or it might just be a matter of coordinating a weekly schedule as to time and place.
Coordinating opportunities to evangelize involves a number of vital components. The time, the place, the gospel tract that will be used and the gathering of staff and available volunteers are all necessary ingredients that must be carefully planned in order to achieve the utmost effectiveness.
Several years ago, the Major League baseball All-Star game was being played at the Oakland Coliseum in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was excited about the opportunities to broadside. We already had a special All-Star broadside printed, which would make this an even more effective outing. As part of the planning, I went to the stadium ahead of time to scout out the area. This would help me determine how many volunteers we needed and where we could stand to distribute our literature.
That is when our problems began. Shortly after arriving at the Oakland Coliseum, my partner and I were confronted by a security guard. He told us in no uncertain terms that we would have to leave. After speaking with the head of security at the Coliseum, I agreed to leave, not wanting to provoke a further confrontation at that time.
In Jews for Jesus we show respect for authorities and officials, but we know that these officials are not always right as they administer the laws of the land. Sometimes they tell us that we should not hand out our literature in a certain location, when in fact we have the legal right to do just that.
When we are within our rights and the occasion to broadside is ripe we are guided by our principles. In this case, it meant that I and a team of volunteers and staff would come back to broadside the All-Star game. We would do this not to provoke a confrontation, but to stand up for our constitutional rights and to proclaim the gospel.
First we launched a series of phone calls and registered letters to the Coliseum officials. We wanted to make it clear to them who we were and what our intentions were. With all of the preparations made and with much prayer, seven of us set out to share the good news in tract form to the anticipated crowd of 52,000 baseball enthusiasts.
It was a perfect summer afternoon for a game. The sun was warm in a clear blue sky, but storm clouds loomed on the horizon. The clouds that hung over the stadium were not harbingers of rain, but a tense air of confrontation between us, the team of evangelists, and the harsh authorities in charge of the stadium.
Forty-five minutes after our arrival, Coliseum security guards forcibly took away our literature. They told us to leave or face arrest. At this point I called the police, hoping they would come to mediate the situation, but they refused to intervene.
I feared further aggression against us by the burly security guards who menacingly encircled us. Our option just to leave was gone, for at stake was more than our mere desire to exercise our constitutional right of freedom of speech. At this point, our obligation was to preach the gospel, though it was sure to bring about either more violence or actual arrest.
A co-worker and I were arrested for trespassing at the Oakland Coliseum. When the case finally went to trial, the victory was all ours and the glory all to Jesus. The attorneys who represented us were skillful and dedicated. They belong to a ministry appropriately called CASE (Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism) that defends Christians who are stopped from evangelizing in public places.
Not only were the charges dropped, but a federal court judge told the Coliseum officials that their regulations were unconstitutional and they must be changed. Later, the Coliseum officials contacted our attorneys and had us draft reasonable regulations for the expression of first amendment rights at their public facility.
Several months after this whole incident was settled, I received a phone call from another Christian ministry that used to go to the Coliseum during rock concerts to try to share the gospel with young people who attended. The leader told me how they had been harassed and intimidated by the Coliseum’s burly security guards. Finally, not wanting to get arrested or injured, they had stopped trying to evangelize there.
With a real sense of victory, I told him that they didn’t have to stay away any more because the law was with them. Jews for Jesus had pioneered and won, but the victory was not ours alone. It affected all Christians who wanted to proclaim the gospel at that place.
Once again, as in days of old, the Christians had fought at the Coliseum. We had faced the fierce "lions" who sought to destroy us, but this time we won!