On a sticky summer’s day, two men take to Brisbane’s busy King George Square to meet people, and start conversations about Jesus. Despite being involved with legal proceedings about what they are allowed to share in public, these men remain upbeat and committed to a cause they firmly believe in.
The younger man is Ryan Hemelaar, a team leader for Operation 513, an international organisation of Christians committed to the public proclamation of the gospel message at the heart of the Christian faith.
“We’re here to share the good news of Jesus with Brisbane City,” Hemelaar tells Eternity, in between his conversations with passersby. “We do that by handing out gospel tracts… We try and stop them, have a chat with them, and point them to Jesus: the only way of salvation.”
Hemelaar has been street preaching for more than a decade, and goes out to Brisbane’s King George Square and Queen Street Mall every Wednesday and Saturday to start spiritual conversations.
“I believe courage comes from God himself…” – Alan
As you would expect, rejection is a big part of the job. But Hemelaar and his co-preacher Alan are adamant that it’s not a waste, and they don’t seem fazed by people ignoring them or walking away.
“We’re here presenting the gospel to everyone we can,” says Alan, who’s been involved with Operation 513 for about one year.
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel.’ All the world is everywhere,” says Alan, with a smile. “Here, in this city.
“I believe courage comes from God himself … [and] we’re filled with the Spirit to do his work.
“Even if they say they don’t want to hear it, or whatever, we know that it’s not been a failure. At least they’ve got that question now in their mind that they might be pondering as they walk down the street,” says Hemelaar.
“Hopefully, by God’s grace, we’ll get a favourable judgement…” – Ryan
In the 12 months to December 2016, Operation 513 in Queensland were issued with 26 fines amounting to more than $10,000 for sharing the gospel in Queen Street Mall.
“Over the past year or so we’ve had members of the council try and drive out any sort of Christian witness from the whole of Queen Street Mall,” says Hemelaar.
Appealing the fines has seen the group appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court and the District Court of Appeal, both of which ruled against the evangelism organisation. But Hemelaar is resolute, and is appealing the decision in the Supreme Court.
“We understand though that the law is actually on our side, and so we’ve been challenging these fines in the Magistrates Court. It’s now gone to the District Court and now we’re appealing it to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, where three judges will be looking at this matter.”
This is not the first time Operation 513 has had legal troubles.
“Hopefully, by God’s grace, we’ll get a favourable judgement that will provide great precedent for us to be able to continue evangelising in the busiest street in Brisbane City.”
This is not the first time Operation 513 has had legal troubles. In December 2015, a street preaching team of ten people assembled in the Surfers Paradise Cavill Mall on Queensland’s Gold Coast. After a drunk man approached the group and started yelling at one of the members, George Youssef, a police sergeant asked the group to leave. He suggested the preaching was offending members of the public.
When Youssef refused to leave, he was arrested and charged with disobeying a police direction.More