When James Daymond and a team member turn up at a farmgate near Mudgee in the central west of NSW, people often assume they are Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons – or an unwelcome visitor from the energy company.
But as soon as they mention they are from Mudgee Anglican Church and chat in a relaxed, natural way, the barriers quickly come down, and they are very often welcomed.
“I generally find that people [on farms] are much happier to talk at length – it’s just a general rule of thumb, of course there are exceptions – but we’ve had lots of great welcomes from people,” says James, who is an evangelist in Mudgee.
“I just find it remarkable that not even knowing anyone, you can go and say hello to them. Sometimes you come out of it having sat down at their kitchen table having had a cup of tea. I remember one guy was playing a song for us on his guitar and I’m just going, ‘How does this happen?’ Because many seem to think this is the most difficult ministry to do, but people are very often welcoming us warmly.”
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After five years of working in this type of outreach visiting in the central west of NSW – first at Narromine and now at Mudgee – James has concluded that two things help open doors to God.
“Many seem to think this is the most difficult ministry to do, but people are very often welcoming us warmly.” – James Daymond
First is turning up without any prearranged meeting. “I think a little bit of surprise is a helpful thing because people have preconceived ideas about who you are and what it’s going to be like. And I love subverting any preconceived idea that people have by meeting in person rather than phoning ahead – if you even have their number, which is most unlikely,” he says.
Secondly, he sees a supernatural element at work. “So often when people have met us, the stereotype of who we are has been removed by God. He has somehow enabled us to communicate at a level where their fear is removed.”
James and his wife Brittany moved to Mudgee – one of the fastest growing towns in the state’s central west – from Narromine in January 2020. In partnership with Jono Williams, the Rector of Mudgee Anglican Church, Bush Church Aid, and the Anglican Diocese of Bathurst, they seek to share the gospel and aim to connect new believers to a new informal church service called Arvo Church.
COVID restricted their activities initially, but as soon as the opportunities arose, they along with a small team, visited the shopkeepers in town and fringe members of the church who were on the roll but not attenders. To James’ surprise, some of the latter group came to church. “I’m always reluctant to go down this pathway because I usually find people on the church fringe the hardest to evangelise because they think that they’re Christians and they’ve got everything right. And to suggest that they might not be clear is almost an affront or an offence to them,” he explains.
“So it’s a very delicate ministry, and I was a bit concerned it wouldn’t be a helpful learning environment for the evangelism team, but the team wanted to do it, and I needed to work with them. To my absolute surprise, ten people came along to church. So God effectively honoured our collective faithfulness.”
“They’ve received a Bible talk, but they haven’t even actually noticed it because it’s been in dialogue.” – James Daymond
But James was keen to get back to speaking about Christ to people with no church connections.
“We’re basically out there as Christian people just having a chat with people, but I’m sure we’ve preached to people without them even knowing it – just by the content and certain waypoints that I’m hoping we reach in a conversation. Effectively they’ve received a Bible talk, but they haven’t even actually noticed it because it’s been in dialogue. I just think that that’s a wonderful thing to be able to do,” he explains.
“I just think that’s a great privilege to witness that first time when people are able to share something of their experience.” – James Daymond
By being relaxed, loving and interested in people, James has discovered that everyone has a story spiritually to tell and have often never been encouraged to share it.
“I’m very vague and I just say things like, ‘Do you have any sort of belief in God or any spiritual interest, or do you go to church?’ It’s something very untechnical,” he explains.
“When we enter into a spiritual conversation with people, we ask things that they’ve often never, ever articulated – they’ve never, ever put these words together in even one sentence. When you just tap that and give them a smile and encourage that – effectively, you’re saying ‘It’s a safe space, we want to hear more’ – then they’ve got stuff to share. And I just think that’s a great privilege to witness that first time when people are able to share something of their experience and we’ve got the time and we want to listen to them.
“There’s lots of confusion and error in their thinking very often, of course, but that then gives you something to be able to work with and to engage – it gives you some material there on the table to be able to continue the conversation.”
James and his team spend a few hours on as many days as possible doing outreach visiting. “I deliberately avoid doorknocking as a term because of the baggage that that term entails.” And he says they rarely come back without at least one “thrilling” conversation in the bag.
“They might not be converted when we come back, but at least we’ve had a conversation about Christ and it’s usually somewhere between one to five conversations. If it’s three, that’s fantastic – four and five conversations, well, that’s getting to the amazing level. If it’s not such a good day, so to speak, it might just be one and very, very seldom would it be none.”
He gives a recent example of visiting a woman who was teaching her six children how to pray at dinnertime, but did not go to church or read the Bible. James and his fellow team member left her a copy of The Essential Jesus, and she was happy to think about coming to church.
“We don’t have a children’s program yet at Arvo Church, but if she came to church, we’d have six children! And she’s just really open to all of this.”
On another occasion, he drove up a potholed driveway, wondering what lay at the other end, and met a woman from overseas who was new to the area.
“We asked her whether she believed in God, and she said, ‘Yes.’ Did she know about Jesus? No, she hadn’t heard about Jesus. And we asked if we could tell her. And she said, ‘Yeah,’ and she was happy to hear about Jesus. To have that opportunity to be able to share Christ is just fantastic.”
Having five years of experience in this ministry in the central west of NSW, James has decided against following people up unless they ask for it as it became a huge logistical challenge in Narromine, which was a much smaller community where he had a much bigger team.
“So what we try and do is make our first meeting hit home. It’s like we’ve hit the ball across the net, and then we trust that if God’s going to work in their life, they’ll express some interest back. Now, this is a challenge because the only way they have to express interest back is to come to our church, which is a big step, and at the moment, I’m just working on trying to make that not as big a step. I’m thinking at this stage that just having some sort of introductory course or something like that’s less in your face is going to be the way. Ministry is always a work in progress.”
“I do think ministry requires me to speak more boldly to people, to give them the strength actually to take a step.” – James Daymond
The new Arvo Church service is designed to create continuity between the outreach visiting and the church.
“It’s all very relaxed in terms of manner but content-wise, it’s like a church service. And that’s important because people need to hear good stuff,” he says.
“We haven’t had many people come yet from the outreach visiting, which I am surprised about from the quality of the conversations we have had. And this is a bit of a personal challenge for me. As I grow in confidence, I do think ministry requires me to speak more boldly to people, to give them the strength actually to take a step but without pressuring people. I do think that we need to speak the word of God boldly into a world that is not guiding people correctly and saying ‘anything goes’.
“We want to be loving and caring, we want to engage with people, but I also think we want to give people very clear guidance from his word and to give people a pathway forward and to say, walk in that way. Be bold and strong for the Lord without being a Bible basher.”
James believes the biggest barrier to the gospel is apathy.
“The barrier is just a lack of desire. I think that the only thing that changes that is prayer and the ministry of the word. So you pray that God would open their hearts. You then go and proclaim the gospel. And as the gospel is proclaimed, the word brings life.
“If there’s a bushfire that comes through here or a major emergency, what happens with the SES or the police? They go door by door, warning people of the danger, and giving them guidance on what to do. Well, it should be no less for the ministry of the word of God, the gospel being shared. Actually, the consequences are more dangerous, and guidance is much more needed. So we want to turn over every stone and make sure everyone has that opportunity to hear the gospel.”