8 Habits of Evangelism authors say fellowship is the vaccine for ‘that’s not my problem syndrome’
by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — As a college student, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri remembers feeling judged by Christian friends who asked, “Have you repented?”
“I was constantly being evangelized because I hung out with sinners,” Cintrón-Olivieri said. “These were my friends, but I wanted to be more Christ-like — loving [sinners] the way Jesus did.”
Years later, Cintrón-Olivieri said this memory was part of her inspiration in writing about fellowship as one of 8 Habits of Evangelism.
“This resource on evangelism [produced by Theology, Formation & Evangelism ministries] leans towards being Christ-like as well,” she said.
The Rev. José Manuel Capella-Pratts, who co-authored the lesson on fellowship with Cintrón-Olivieri, his wife, encouraged participants at Wednesday’s webinar on the 8 Habits to go back to Jesus’ witness in the gospels.
“Every time you see and hear Jesus pronouncing a word of judgment, who is it for?” he asked. After a long pause, he said, “The words of judgments were not for the sinners, but for religious people like us.”
Capella-Pratts, pastor of First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Miami, acknowledged the multiple pandemics that are right in front of us. For him, COVID-19 has exposed many others — like racism, poverty, inequality, misogyny and homophobia — which he said are dangerous and lethal.
“But today we want to call out the pandemic of apathy, which is a lack of concern for the well-being of others,” he said.
Calling apathy the “that’s not my problem syndrome,” Capella-Pratts believes that fellowship is “the vaccine for this kind of heinous illness.”
“We are to love one another, to look after one another, to care for one another and to enjoy our togetherness, in the presence of God’s perfect love, which takes form in the person of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We should watch Jesus and [then] do the same.”
When Cintrón-Olivieri, a ruling elder and co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was very young, her mom took her to the beach in Puerto Rico with her sister.
When they arrived, there were three small children alone on the beach, with no adult supervision.
“My mother was very worried,” she said.
While details of how the small children got to a home are fuzzy, Cintrón-Olivieri says she’ll never forget the lesson she learned that day, talking with and listening to the children — and learning from her mom how to care for them.
When she and her sister finally were alone, her mother, who was in medical school at the time, asked them to gather some things in their home to give to the children, with specific instructions.
“’Don’t look for things you don’t want,” she said, “but for things you like.”
As a child, Cintrón-Olivieri was angry wondering why she had to give good things to children she didn’t even know.
“We didn’t have a lot at that time, but Mom was showing us what it meant to be what we said we were,” Cintrón-Olivieri said. “You’re a Christian, you love others, your neighbors. When I grow up, I want to be like her. She learned it from her own faith community.”
From time to time, Capella-Pratts says he gets migraines — huge, nasty headaches. When he takes acetaminophen, his migraines laugh at it. But two tablets of naproxen sodium work wonders for him.
“If I’m in a public place and someone says to me, ‘I have these horrible headaches,’ what do you think I’ll say?” he asked. “Here, have an acetaminophen?”
Of course not, Capella-Pratts said. “I’d say, ‘Hey friend, wait, I have these two tablets with medicine that works for me.’ Because I personally know my own experience and I want to share the benefits of not having a migraine with everyone I know.”
His point: experiencing the grace of God is much, much better.
“Fellowship, evangelism is witness. It is what every disciple of Christ is called to do with their life,” he said.
To hear and read more about how the fellowship — being in relationship with God, each other and the world — draws people to Christ, go to Cintrón-Olivieri and Capella-Pratts’ lesson here.
The next 8 Habits of Evangelism webinar will be at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, Oct. 20, with the Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger discussing the habit of teaching.
Go deeper with each of the 8 Habits authors who will be featured at the REvangelism Conference from Montreat Conference Center Nov. 1–3.
The first 200 people to register save up to 40%. Individuals receive $30 off the $100 registration fee; those who register in a group of up to five get $40 off.
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