Who would have imagined that one of the banners we use in our open air preaching ministry (to which I devote 4-9 hours weekly) and that I had made while in the U.S. in February would have such an impact? First, I met a brother in Christ from one of our supporting churches - Pine Valley Bible Church - who has a sign shop. I asked him if he'd be willing to make me three banners in Portuguese, to which he replied, "Of course, Bill. That's what I do!"
I sent the text over by e-mail and Bro. Mark made me three banners. After, he expressed to me some reluctance on his part over the text on two of the banners despite not knowing any Portuguese. If one knows Spanish, however, he can usually figure out the gist of what is being said in Portuguese.
You see, one of the banners boldly proclaimed, "YOU DESERVE HELL." with Rev. 21:8 on one side. On the other was written, "The God of the New Testament says, 'It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God' (Heb. 10:31)." Now, I realize this is very confrontational, but the open air preacher should use whatever he ethically can to arrest the attention of those passing by in their spiritual blindness. To be honest I, along with at least two other North American preachers, have yet to find a more "arresting" phrase than "YOU DESERVE HELL." Frankly, the reactions we get are always interesting.
This past week three reactions stood out. The first was by a 40-something man who quipped, "God doesn't even exist!" as he passed me while I preached. I replied, "God doesn't exist? How convenient! You think that by denying God's existence you'll be free from hell? Let's say you firmly believe that the sun will not rise tomorrow and go around telling people this. But will your belief that the sun won't rise change the fact that the sun will rise? Of course not! In the same way, just because you don't believe that God exists doesn't change anything if He does exist. And if he does exist, just because you don't believe in Him won't change the fact that you're headed for hell!"
The second reaction that stood out was a 20-something guy who flashed the finger toward the banner as he passed by. I told him that he'd give an account to God one day for that, to which he replied with the same obscene gesture directed at me. As negative as his reaction may seem, you have to remember that someone reacting so strongly is obviously experiencing some level of conviction by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, they would just brush off the hard truth of God's Word.
The reaction that made our week, however, was by another 20-something guy who stopped to talk to my Brazilian colleague, Ednilson - who was holding the banner while I went on campus for a meeting. Ednilson told me later that this guy wanted to "testify" to the effectiveness of our very confrontational banner. Two weeks earlier he had planned to buy some drugs and wine to get stoned and drunk. As he walked through the Largo da Carioca in Downtown Rio he spotted our banner - the Hebrews 10:31 side - from a distance. Instant conviction fell upon him! Ednilson wasn't sure what this guy's spiritual background was, but he was carrying a bible around in a bag under his arm that day and squirmed when he read Heb. 10:31. He told Ednilson, "I knew at that moment that what I was planning to do was sin and that I had better not take sin so lightly. After all, your banner says that it's terrible to come under God's judgment."
As he passed by us that fateful day he said he didn't want to turn around and look at the other side of the banner, but curiosity got the better of him. When he saw "YOU DESERVE HELL." he said under his breath, "Yeah, and if I do drugs and get drunk that's where I'll end up!"
As this guy continued walking, he was suddenly overcome with God-produced sorrow. Second Corinthians 7:10 says, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." He squatted down against a fence and put his head in his hands. Then he decided he should open his bible, and guess which verse he just happened to open to? Hebrews 10:31!!
He wanted to "testify" to Ednilson that day how God had used His written Word - on a banner, of all things - to convict him of his sin, to show him he was nothing more than a false convert and that he needed to repent of his sin and place his trust once and for all in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. He wanted to "testify" to us that God had saved him as a result of our very confrontational banner!