I abhor "evangelism", "witnessing", and whatever else people call proselytizing for Christianity. Now, in my late 40s, I am much more confident striking up conversations with strangers than I ever was growing up in Evangelicalism, but I'm also much less inclined than ever to sell someone an ideology they likely don't need and definitely weren't looking for before I crossed their path. I had my fill of the guilt trips for being a preacher's daughter who'd never "brought a soul to Jesus" and who couldn't work The Four Spiritual Laws into my conversational gambits. I'd had my fill of the guilt and subsequent doubting of my own worthiness and my own salvation long before I actually gave up the practice, though. Peer pressure, I guess.
But the real reason I stopped trying to "advance the Gospel" directly was my experiences as a summer missionary working the local beer fests for the annual evangelism push of a church in Dusseldorf.
Given no training or advice beyond a pick-up line ('Can I talk to you about love?") and a stack of church literature, I was sent out to the streets during the day and into the festivals in the evening. Not surprisingly, women didn't want to have anything to do with someone pushing religious literature at them and turned away before I could even get my line out.
Men, however, especially with a liter or two of lager in them, were delighted to "talk about love". And to fondle me, grope my breasts, and press their leering, beery bodies close to mine. The conditions of love they suggested didn't involve attending church the next Sunday.
Given my upbringing in the church, I was sure that there was something I was doing to entice them, that I led those men into thinking I was offering something besides Jesus. I was also trained that no price was too high, no insult too much, not when it was the Gospel. So I continued my duties, night after night at the fairgrounds, feeling ever more like I'd totally failed God.
Finally I broke down at a street theater evangelism at the end of the week. I walked away from my assigned task of working the gathered crowd. I sat down on a bench across the plaza, sure that I was cheating God--despite the fact that I was shaking, my teeth were chattering in my effort to hold myself together, and I could barely stand anymore I was so weak from the strain. I let myself cry for about five minutes, wrote in my journal about how unsuited I was for the Lord's Work, and worried that someone from the church would "catch me playing hooky."
It wasn't until two decades later that I realized how traumatized I'd been by the sexual assaults to which I'd been subjected, and that what I'd experienced had actually been sexual assault. Twenty years until I got pissed off that any young woman (or girl, we had teens on our team) should be sent out alone into partying crowds, that women are taught that we have to accept such insult, that it is our fault when men act disrespectfully. Twenty years before I realized that it had never even occurred to me, nor to my fellow team members (male or female), to inform the evangelism organizers of my experiences; much less to expect that I be given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.
But after that summer, I never again felt guilty about not "living for Jesus today".