Bill Welzien and His Easel
Calvin D. Keller
Have easel will travel"that's what the newsletter said.
For about two years, I had been thinking about starting open-air preaching here in Santa Cruz, California. So when evangelist Bill Welzien from Key West, Florida, advertised his willingness to travel, I couldn't refuse. The session of Living Hope OPC invited Bill Welzien to come out here for the week of the Fourth of July, when Santa Cruz would be teeming with vacationers.
The First Day
After much prayer and preparation, we began our week of evangelism on Tuesday, July 2. We set up for our first open-air presentation along the wide sidewalk between the wharf and the boardwalk. (The owners of the boardwalk were unwilling to grant us permission to be on their property.) This seemed like a pretty good location, since many people would be walking along there.
We began with prayer, a very real awareness of our own inadequacy, and, speaking for myself, a bit of fear. Bill preached the first message while I watched as people gathered.
Watching the response to Bill's preaching was fascinating. There were the mockers who passed by and didn't hear a word, sneering at what they thought we were doing. Some other young Santa Cruz rebels with pierced noses, pink hair, etc., jokingly shouted, "Satan rules!"
But there were others who stopped and listened. A group would come by, and one or two people in the group would be visibly interested while the others would try to pull them away.
During the presentation, there were certain key words that clearly brought reactions. One, of course, was sin.
At the end of this first presentation, we met several Christian people who were vacationing in Santa Cruz and appreciated this straightforward presentation of the gospel. They prayed with us while I got ready to begin round two.
There is nothing like open-air preaching to drive home the words of the apostle Paul when he spoke of "the foolishness of preaching." I was thankful that God used the foolishness of preaching to save me, and so I began "in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling." I felt like it was the first sermon that I ever preached. But I believe God honored the preaching that week.
When I first talked with Bill Welzien about having him come out here, he told me about his first trip to Santa Cruz. He had visited the city some twenty years ago when he was a hippie. The only thing he remembered about Santa Cruz was the name of a bar (the Catalyst) he had visited before his conversion.
He shared with me his thoughts about coming. He would not be doing evangelism for our church. Rather, he would be teaching us (namely, elder Mike Shields from the Salinas mission work and myself) his open-air presentation method. That was what I wanted, although a part of me, I must admit, simply wanted to sit back and watch Bill while he gave his presentations.
Bill sent us a video of three multimedia gospel presentations that incorporated a painted background and lettering techniques to engage people's attention. We were very impressed with the content of the messages. I believe that learning to communicate the gospel in public places today requires considerable thought.
The thing that I really appreciate about these presentations is their simple, straightforward explanation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Bill Welzien has put a lot of thought into these presentations, and you can really see how they have been perfected over ten years of open-air use. Bill has a gift for communicating the gospel to a biblically illiterate generation. The messages present a biblical understanding of sin and explain the finished work of Christ in a clear and God-glorifying way. They conclude with an explanation of repentance and faith.
Mike and I studied Bill's three presentations, and then we each chose one of them to learn. I chose "The Two Religions," which compares the uniqueness of the Christian faith as a relationship with the living God through the finished work of Christ with all other religions, which are only man's feeble attempt to lift himself up to God. Mike chose "The Two Ships," which uses the analogy of ships, a harbor, and charts to speak about heaven, the Bible, and the good news of the gospel. One ship represents you and the other represents Christ.
As the week progressed, both Mike and I became more free in our preaching. We took our messages downtown in the evening and had many opportunities to speak with people about Christ after each presentation.
The highlight of the week for us was Friday evening. We set up across the street from a theater (not too far from the bar where Bill had been twenty years earlier) and had a captive audience.
The later we stayed, the more it seemed like people gathered to watch and speak with us. It was exciting to know that in this town of New Age spirituality and occult activity, the gospel can be preached in public. Many people in Santa Cruz like to speak about religion and spirituality, but we were able to reason from the Scriptures about the person and work of Jesus Christ and commit the results to our sovereign and gracious God.
Waiting for Fruit
As of yet, we have not seen any visitors come to our church as a result of this activity, but we have had opportunities to encourage professing believers to be faithful in their Christian walk and in their local church and to think more seriously about the implications of the sovereignty and holiness of God.
I highly commend Bill Welzien and his work to anyone who has thought about doing some open-air preaching. We are thankful that we called him out to Santa Cruz.
We recognize that the work of the Great Commission is not to go out and get people to make "decisions," but rather to "disciple the nations." Using this medium, we believe we have an open door to present the gospel in the public places and engage people's attention so we might discuss with them the message of the Scriptures.
We plan to continue these presentations on Friday evenings across from the theater in downtown Santa Cruz. It enables us to speak to many people who have never set foot in a gospel-believing church.
Mr. Keller is the pastor of Living Hope OPC in Santa Cruz, Calif. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 1997.