Wear a flashy sport coat to church next Sunday, something in a polyester plaid, and prepare to be called an evangelist. Maybe this stereotype began with John the Baptist and his coat of camel hair. Or maybe with George Blaurock, an Anabaptist and reformer whose last name means blue coat.
Southern Baptist evangelists don't much resemble John the Baptist or George Blaurock. Nor do they mimic all their habits. But evangelists' hardships are as timeless as their message. They may eat honey, but they don't eat locusts. And none of them break the ice on frozen rivers for baptismal services, as Blaurock did.
But Evangelist Carl Carrigan, of Shreveport, La., still breaks ice — the ice of indifference in a cold, hard world. Stationed on a street corner - maybe in New York's Black Harlem or the byways of Belize — Carl uses what he calls "visual evangelism" to get attention and share the gospel.
"This is what sin'll do to your life," he yells over the din of a hustling world, as he shreds and crumples a section of a local newspaper. For those who stop, he explains how repentance and forgiveness restores a life ruined by sin. All the while, he unfolds the mangled mass, revealing an identical newspaper section without tear or crease. As a "fisher of men," this slight-of-hand trick is one of Carl's hooks, a method he's used for almost 20 years.
Early on, Carl believed a business card and contacts with preachers would garner all the meetings he could preach. That failed. "And then I was naive enough to think that if I'd contact all the Southern Baptist preachers in a city, print and distribute flyers and air radio ads, I'd be a successful mass evangelist," he recalls.
His inauguration into crusade evangelism attracted six people and six dollars — in three nights. God kept closing doors until Carl developed, through study, what he calls "a biblically-based, doctrinally-sound theology."
"In the early years, I was overbalanced with zeal ... and separation from the world — a little too much on the legalistic side," he says. "I'm afraid I was ministering far too much death and not near enough life."
Carl didn't drop out of God's training school for evangelists. He forged ahead and looked for places to minister. On any day, he could go to the local street corner and preach for free. And since so few people were lining up to minister in prisons, Carl sentenced himself to the cage-lined hallways of America's jails. Soon, God replaced Carl's zealous expectations with a fervor for self-denial and a bedrock faith in God's design for his life.
This faith was soon tested as Carl planned one of his first meetings, calculating he needed $400 — money he didn't have. "The Lord impressed me not to share that with anyone, so I waited to see what He'd do," Carl says. Hours before 'do or die' time, three unsolicited checks arrived in the mail. The total? — $400.
"From then until now, I have, in reality, owned nothing; but I've had the blessing of distributing much." Carl gave away his three-bedroom house and thirty-nine acres, as well as several automobiles, jewelry, guns, and literally thousands of dollars. God responded by giving two cars, a pick-up, and an old school bus, which Carl converted into a camper, painted brown and dubbed, "Chocolate Thunder."
Though God has "intervened supernaturally in our finances," Carl says, the Lord's healing of his wife Carolyn from lupus is the most significant intervention of their lives.
"We knew the devastating and terminal effects of the disease because we had a friend who laid paralyzed for years in a vegetative state with lupus," Carl says. After battling the disease for several years, an annual check-up revealed a miracle had occurred: No sign of the killer remained in Carolyn's body. Carolyn still travels with Carl all over the United States leading women's conferences and holding evangelistic services with 5- to-10-year-old children while Carl preaches.
Now in 1996, Carl's preaching schedule resembles what he hoped it would in 1976. He reluctantly has to turn down invitations as he stays booked at least a year in advance. President of the Southern Baptist Evangelists Association, Tom Cox, says Carl represents about 20 percent of their 500 members. "Going on the road doesn't take as much faith as staying on the road, especially in our pioneer states," Tom says.
The greatest pressure is not from finances or family, he says, but from the responsibility of disciplining yourself and maintaining a devotional life, away from your church and pastor. "That's the reason some of our men have fallen," says Tom.
It's true, some things never change. God's message of hope is sweeter than honey and is often the only defense against insatiable locusts. Without an immutable God's care, His servants would be ravaged before they reached the fields "white unto harvest."