Five students from Midwestern Seminary’s main campus, and eight more of the school’s online students, descended into New Orleans’ Mardi Gras festival on Feb. 20-23 with the intent of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In all, the group handed out 4,775 gospel tracts, 1,100 follow-up wristbands, engaged in 238 gospel conversations, and saw 18 festival-goers repent of their sins and believe in the saving truth of Christ’s salvation.
Since 2014, Thomas Johnston, professor of evangelism, has taken students from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College, and dropped them into the proverbial frying pan in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
He explained that students are placed into the heat of spiritual battle, proclaiming the good news of the gospel during an event known for its extant debauchery. The goal of the trip is to confront the lost—who are in the pits of sin—with the gospel message.
Preparation for such an event is key, according to Johnston, when dealing with the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual warfare which takes place upon trying to reach the lost in such a place like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Not going it alone is a primary strategy Johnston picked up from David Cobb, a local who has been sharing the gospel in New Orleans for over 35 years.
“It is important to have a wingman,” Johnston said, “so you are not doing it alone. Built into the trip is the requirement that everyone needs to have a wingman. This means you have to build a spiritual bond with somebody else. You meet with them, pray with them, pray about spiritual needs before you go down there.
“You talk about spiritual things; you talk about life, and you talk about sharing the gospel. You ask each other how life is going, how well you are loving your family, are there any spiritual needs or issues which need to be worked through? We want to be very guarded with the people going down there because the evil hits hard. The sexual promiscuity is so thick that we need to be guarded from that.”
For wingman accountability, residential students met several times for breakfast, while online students met with Johnston via video conferencing before the trip.
Two of the group’s members, who got acquainted through taking online classes at MBTS, are Eric McDonald and Josh Storey. Both are emergency room physicians with Storey hailing from Bellevue, Neb., and McDonald living in Florence, Ala. They have become so connected through their studies that they now take their family vacations together and have undergone the process preparing their families for deployment to East Africa as career missionaries with the International Mission Board. Naturally, McDonald and Storey became each other’s wingman for the New Orleans Evangelism Trip.
McDonald said the trip went really well and that “God really showed out,” working in even greater ways than they were praying for. He added that his and Storey’s relationship is quite providential, as their skillsets complement one another.
On the trip, “It seemed when I was at a loss, Josh (with the work of the Spirit) picked up right where I left off and vice-versa,” McDonald said. “It was quite fun to be a part of. I think it made both of us really excited for what God will do over the long term in Africa.
“The trip was an evangelism boot camp of sorts,” McDonald explained. “We were left with great friendships through Christ, a great deal of experience sharing the gospel through different techniques and opportunities, and a spiritual high that can only come from God.”
Once on the ground in New Orleans, the group noticed extreme resistance to the message being proclaimed. Many in the group encountered common questions about the seriousness of their sin, of being judged by believers, of God’s forgiveness, about Jesus’ love for them (or if Jesus loves/hates those who are gay), why God allows bad things to happen, and what proof there is of God’s existence.
Harper Roderick, an MBTS Accelerate student said, “Everyone is a theologian on the streets. We were on Bourbon Street every night from 6 p.m. to midnight and you are trying to tell people about the good news of the gospel, about how they can be reconciled to God through what Jesus has done on the cross, and about the hope of the resurrection, and they wanted nothing to do with it. Instead, they come to you with a weird universalist theology and try to explain to you why you don’t know anything, and why the gospel isn’t true.”
Roderick added that the New Orleans Evangelism Trip was unlike any mission or evangelism trip he had been on before due to the extreme rejection and opposition they faced. After the first day, he admitted feeling discouraged, but he mentioned receiving encouragement from reading 1 Corinthians 1-2, where the apostle Paul detailed his own opposition with the Corinthians. The passage speaks of how the gospel is foolishness to the world, which struck Roderick as he too proclaimed the gospel to those who saw it as foolish. Finally, the encouragement of Johnston stuck out to him during the trip as well.
“It was such a cool experience,” Roderick said. “Dr. Johnston loved on us so well. He was constantly encouraging us, praying for us while some of us were getting discouraged by the environment and the sin around us. He always had a smile on his face, telling people Jesus loved them and they could be reconciled to God through Christ.
“Seeing his calmness and joy helped us to proclaim the gospel with that same joy. Being in a group of people, all of them sharing the gospel, was encouraging. It would be pretty easy to get discouraged being alone in a crowd of thousands, who want nothing to do with the gospel, but the camaraderie was a huge plus. I definitely recommend the trip to students. It is a good way to overcome some fears in evangelism because you are getting thrown out into the deep end and that is good.”
John L. Inman, III is a Ph.D. student and special contributor to the office of institutional editor at Midwestern Seminary