On our way home from vacation on Labor Day weekend, we stopped by the WVU campus in Morgantown, West Virginia and ran into Elise, a college Freshman and former Catholic, with whom we shared the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. She is a lovely person and was very gracious to us. She seemed appreciative of our efforts and open to reevaluating Christianity by reading the Gospel tract and Bible we gave her. Please pray that God would reveal Himself to her.
Lately, I’ve been considering going to local colleges and universities in Charlotte to hand out gospel tracts, open-air preach and invite students to my church. While the public university I attended in Virginia twenty years ago was very open to having street preaching and canvasing on campus, times have changed, and religious expression has been steadily regulated and suppressed throughout the country.
So, what are the free speech policies on college campuses today? Are all public institutions for higher learning required to follow the same rules?
Below are the free speech policies of three state-funded schools in the Charlotte area. Generally speaking, the more rules there are, the less free speech there is on campus (when speech is relegated to specific zones, times, etc.).
So, for future reference, here are the evangelism-relevant policies of three universities/colleges close to where I live, work and worship in Charlotte, NC and Rock Hill, SC…
I. Distribution of Pamphlets and Written Materials Both Affiliated and Non-Affiliated Groups may distribute written materials in any open, exterior campus space or in the Cone Center Main Entrance Lobby. When charitable donations are to be accepted at the time such written materials are distributed, the provisions of Section II of this Policy shall apply. In expressing a policy of open distribution of written materials, the University does not assume any obligation or responsibility for the content of the materials distributed. Furthermore, the University reminds any organization distributing written materials to be aware of the current laws concerning defamation, obscenity, fair labor practices, defacement or destruction of State property, and other applicable laws. (University Policy: 601.9)
Central Piedmont Community College
III. Speech and Assembly for Non-College-Affiliated Individuals and Groups
CPCC places reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner in which non-College-affiliated individuals and groups may exercise rights of free speech, petition, and peaceable assembly on College property.
The College has designated certain areas for free speech, outdoor public assemblies, and distribution/petitioning and requires non-College-affiliated individuals and groups, without regard to the content of their activities, to confine such activities to these areas. The College reserves the right to relocate any assembly to ensure that the activity does not interfere with the normal operation of the College.
IV. Registration and Regulations
Participants exercising their rights of free speech, petition, and peaceable assembly must follow these regulations:
A. Registration: Non-College-affiliated individuals and groups must register with the Student Life Office at least 3 business days, but no more than 30 business days, in advance by completing the Registration for Use of Designated Area form. The Student Life Office will notify Campus Security, the Campus Dean, and the Public Information Officer regarding any registration. A separate registration form is required for each day and site. Upon request of a College official, non-affiliated individuals and groups will be required to provide proof of registration for use of the designated area. College students, staff, faculty, and affiliated groups who have chosen not to register must be able to show current and valid College identification.
B. Time Restrictions: The designated areas are available for use between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays when the College’s general curriculum classes are in session.
E. The Right to Dissent: The right to dissent is the complement of the right to speak, but these rights need not occupy the same forum at the same time. A speaker is entitled to communicate his or her message to the audience during his or her allotted time, and the audience is entitled to hear the message and see the speaker during that time. A dissenter must not substantially interfere with the speaker’s ability to communicate or the audience’s ability to hear and see the speaker. Likewise, the audience must respect the right to dissent.
F. No Public Address System: Use of public address systems or amplified sound will not be permitted.
G. Dissemination or Display of Printed Material: Participants may petition and/or distribute pamphlets, booklets, brochures, and other forms of printed material within designated areas on the condition that such material is designed for informational (not commercial) purposes. Any parties interested in pursuing commercial activity must be in compliance with Policy 6.33. The participants must provide a receptacle for the disposal of such materials. The College does not assume any obligation or liability for the content of such distributed material. Any signs used may not be larger than three feet by four feet in size. Signs must either be held by participants or be freestanding signs that do not stick into the ground. No signs may be mounted on buildings, trees, or other College property.
Winthrop University (Rock Hill, SC)
As a state university, Winthrop also acknowledges the right of individuals and groups who are not affiliated with the University to peacefully assemble on campus. These individuals and groups may assemble on the Campus Green B (closest to the Amphitheatre) and the Amphitheatre and MUST notify the Assistant Dean of Students (803.323.4503) at least two days prior to assembling. Any and all sound equipment used must be cleared through the University. (2017-2018 Student Handbook)
Evangelist Billy Graham’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Early in our relationship, my wife and I engaged in street evangelism, handing out tracts and witnessing everywhere we could — from the streets of Washington, DC to the mountains of West Virginia. This was, in fact, what most attracted me to Megan — her willingness and enthusiasm for evangelism. We’ve experienced few things in our marriage that gave us as much joy as being used by God to deliver the good news of Jesus Christ to others.
While I continued to serve God in different ways prior to moving to Charlotte last year, it had been quite a while since I engaged in street evangelism — and by “a while,” I mean seven years.
When we moved to Charlotte, Megan and I tried to get involved in a number of social justice ministries. While Megan found a pro-life ministry she loves, I kept running into closed doors (prison ministry, anti human trafficking, etc.). I told God I was ready and willing to go wherever He asked.
So He led me back to street evangelism.
I’ve always believed that God called me to be an evangelist, but I would often serve only in areas where I was comfortable — where my talents lied and where there was little risk of looking foolish. I equated feeling comfortable with being in God’s will and never thought God would ever call me to do something I wasn’t good at or didn’t personally want to do. It took a while for me to learn that God almost always calls people to step out of their comfort zones into areas where they are weak. He wants us to be willing to look foolish and rely on Him for our strength and success — so that He alone gets the glory.
In order to jump-start my evangelism ministry in Charlotte, I wanted to attend the Ambassador’s Academy in Los Angeles. The three-day training is put on once or twice a year by Living Waters and features inspirational teaching and on-the-street training by evangelist Ray Comfort and the rest of the Living Waters team, using a system called The Way of the Master (based on Jesus’ examples of evangelism in the Gospels).
Not only would the Ambassadors’ Academy provide me with support, encouragement and confidence to engage in street evangelism again, but it would also provide training and experience conducting open-air preaching on the streets of Huntington Beach and Santa Monica. My main goal for attending the Academy was to learn to do open-air preaching and step up on the box for the first time in my life.
The Lord Provides
The only problem was that we didn’t have the funds to send me to Los Angeles. My wife suggested I do a fundraiser to raise the money, to which I reluctantly agreed. I hate asking for money (or asking for favors in general), but we believed that, if it was God’s will for me to go, He would supply the funds — and He did just that through generous donations from our friends and family!
In the week leading up to the trip, I went through a gauntlet of physical attacks. I was in bed with a fever one day, followed by a severely sore throat the following two days — I could barely swallow. Then two days before my flight, I suffered a gout attack in my ankle. It didn’t go away, and the night before my flight, I mentally prepared to cancel my trip. I could barely walk.
So I asked for prayer.
The next morning, the pain in my ankle was nearly gone, and I could walk with a cane. I wasn’t pain-free, but at least I could travel. I was headed to L.A.!
On the first night of the Academy, we heard from two speakers — Emeal “E.Z.” Zwayne and Mark Spence. Afterward, attendees divided up into assigned teams and met with our team leader for introductions and prayer.
The following morning, we heard from two more speakers — Allen Atzbi and Ray Comfort — followed by a short Q&A with all the speakers. After that, we piled into two charter buses and headed out for the first time.
First, we visited the Living Waters headquarters for lunch and a tour. After that, we went to Huntington Beach.
After watching Ray, E.Z. and Mark Spence preach from the soapbox and draw a crowd, it was the students’ turn. While I waited patiently for my turn to preach, I stood around the speaker circle and helped draw and keep the crowd. Because we were a bunch of beginners, we usually ended up with a very paltry crowd. The hardest part, it turns out, was finding a willing volunteer to stand on the second box to receive the Gospel message.
When my turn arrived, I quickly encouraged a young man to take the box and went through the good person quiz with him (which concludes with the Gospel message). I wasn’t nervous, and for the most part, I spoke clearly, loudly (this is important), and confidently. Ultimately, it’s not my eloquence that has the power to save, but rather the Gospel itself.
Pray that God will make the seed I planted in Mario’s heart (and in the hearts of those listening) grow.
Me and Allen Atzbi
Teams 1&2 with Ray Comfort
Ray Comfort open-air preaching in Huntington Beach
Michael Tolosa open-air preaching in Huntington Beach
The final day of the Academy was exhausting! We spent 6 1/2 hours open-air preaching in Santa Monica — first in the Promenade, then on the Pier.
While on the Promenade, we encountered a heckler with a bullhorn, which caused all sorts of mixed emotions on my part. On one hand, a heckler helps draw a crowd, on the other hand, one with a bullhorn makes everyone annoyed. Instead of getting frustrated, though, I saddled up next to a young man watching the train wreck named Evan and asked him what he thought of it all. He said he wasn’t sure what they were talking about, so I told him they were talking about God, then easily transitioned to the Good Person Quiz (a series of questions based on Jesus’ method of evangelism). Following our conversation, I left him with a gospel tract.
Please pray for Evan, that he would understand the Gospel, repent and put his faith in Jesus.
I did this several times when the other guys were preaching. One time, I went to a nearby Starbucks for a drink and muffin, then sat outside and watched from a distance. After I was done with my muffin, I turned to the guy next to me and asked him what he thought of the street preachers. He said he was a Catholic, who believed anyone can believe what they want. I started to go through The Way of the Master, but was cut short when my team started packing up to leave. Instead, I left the man with a gospel tract.
Floating in the background allowed me to see who stopped by to listen to the preachers, and when they walked away, I engaged them. I asked two girls if they were offended by what one guy was preaching. They said no and were very appreciative when I gave them tracts to take home and read.
Pray for these girls and the man at Starbucks, that they would read the tracts, repent and follow Jesus.
When I finally got up to preach, I decided to wing it and add more to the typical WotM presentation. I told the people listening that I would answer the biggest objection to Christianity for them: If a loving, all-powerful God exists, then why is there evil in this world? (If you want the answer, let me know.)
The words came fluidly out of my mouth, and I articulated the answer more coherently than I could have if I prepared what to say ahead of time. It was definitely the Holy Spirit speaking through me.
After lunch, our group moved to the Pier, where I was able to preach two more times — both times walking someone through the good person test. One man, Patterson, expressed his gratitude, and we took a selfie.
Pray for Owen and Patterson, that they would forsake their sins and turn to God for forgiveness and salvation.
After the outreach, we headed to CrossPoint Church in Huntington Beach for dinner and the closing ceremony. Then it was back to the hotel for goodbyes and a final team debrief.
Thus ended the Ambassadors’ Academy in Los Angeles.
Now it’s time to use what I’ve learned on the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina!
Michael Tolosa open-air preaching at the Promenade in Santa Monica