In 1934 a young farm worker called Albert McMakin (great name!) invited one of his friends to hear a travelling evangelist (Mordecai Ham – ditto!). The friend had turned down several invitations from other friends before, but this time he accepted.
Something about the preacher’s words caught his attention, and he went back the next night to hear more. Then he went back the next night. Then the next. Every night for a month, this sceptical farm boy drove out to hear what the oddly-named preacher had to say, and on the last night he followed the call to the front and gave his life to Christ.
The farm boy’s name was Billy Graham.
I first heard this story in this outstanding message by Newfrontiers evangelist Adrian Holloway. I highly recommend listening to it. He begins by telling the story of his own Albert McMakin. His was called Caroline Payne.
Caroline was one of Adrian’s school friends when he was 15. One day, as a group of about twenty of them were hanging out in the town centre, Caroline asked, ‘How would you like to come to church with me this Sunday evening?’
I can’t imagine the courage that must have taken, can you? I invited a number of my friends to church during my school days, but privately, in odd ones and twos, not boldly in front of a whole crowd of twenty of them.
Somehow, though, Caroline found the courage, and, amazingly, they all said yes!
As a direct result of that invitation, Adrian gave his life to Christ, and is now one of the most effective evangelists I know. He preaches all over the country and sees hundreds of people each year give their lives to the Lord.
He didn’t start out preaching to thousands, though; he started out talking to one friend at a time. In his message, he tells about how he wanted to share the excitement he had found in following Jesus with his friends, so he prayed that God would bring one specific person to stand next to him in the lunch queue that day, so he could tell him about Jesus. Sure enough, as Adrian stood in the queue that lunchtime, the boy he had prayed about came and stood next to him, and they had a really good conversation about Jesus.
A few days later, Adrian decided to try it again, so he prayed in the morning for another specific friend to stand with him in the lunch queue, and again, that friend came along, and Adrian had the opportunity to tell him about the excitement he had found in following Jesus.
“Every time I prayed a prayer like that for a specific divine appointment to speak to a particular person about Jesus,” Adrian says, “every time, for two years, it worked.” By the end of two years, twenty of the 120 boys in Adrian’s school year had become Christians.
Three things strike me about Adrian’s story.
The first is the simplicity of his method: he prayed for a specific opportunity and God gave it to him. It seems that God likes it when we pray specific prayers – they often seem to be answered more quickly than the vague ones, or maybe it’s just that we notice the answers better. The more he asked and the more God answered, the more his faith grew and the more he felt able to ask.
The second thing is that Adrian was entirely reliant on God in his evangelistic efforts – he didn’t go out and try to engineer situations, he didn’t just randomly walk up to people and start telling them about Jesus – he asked God for the opportunity, then was ready to take it when God answered.
Third, I am struck by his motivation. He wasn’t telling people about Jesus because he knew he ought to, but he was compelled by the excitement he felt in having his life transformed by relationship with Jesus. To put it in the language of our vision statement, he cherished God’s presence so much he wanted to commend Him to others.
But you know what I’m also struck by? Twenty boys became Christians in those two years through conversations with Adrian. Thousands more have become Christians in the three decades since, through Adrian’s private conversations, Alpha courses, church services and evangelistic events. Hundreds of thousands more have become Christians through the ministry of Billy Graham. But none of them would have heard the good news had it not been for a brave girl called Caroline Payne and a persistent farmer called Albert McMakin. All those saved souls will be credited to their accounts.
I’m never going to be an Adrian Holloway or a Billy Graham. If I learn from Adrian’s example, though, maybe God could use me as his next Caroline Payne or Albert McMakin. What an honour that would be!