NES 2019 – Genesis Mission helps Catholics overcome fear of evangelizing

Genesis Mission co-developer Michele Thompson spoke at the New Evangelization Summit (NES) 2019. - CCN photo

By Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

[OTTAWA -CCN] —The Genesis Mission offers practical tips on how Catholics can overcome the obstacles preventing them from sharing the Gospel.

“Why is it so hard for us to proclaim?” asked co-developer Michele Thompson, who with co-developer Fr. John Bielawski spoke at the New Evangelization Summit May 4. “We have the best news, news that can transform lives and save souls.”

The Genesis Mission began in the Plymouth diocese in the UK where only four per cent of Catholics go to church regularly. It’s a place where every kind of modern ideology holds sway except the Christian view, Thompson said. “We don’t want to impose on people or make people feel awkward, or feel awkward ourselves,” she said. “The good Lord has equipped us perfectly; we have to uncover what He’s given us.”

The Genesis Mission has caught hold in the diocese and now 50 per cent of its parishes “have the explicit intention to evangelize through words and actions on a daily basis,” Thompson said.

Thompson encouraged the 4,000 people either attending the Summit in Ottawa or watching the event via video streaming at one of 56 host sites across North America (including two sites in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon) to “gather up the people with a relationship with Jesus, who want to evangelize but don’t know how to get started.”

“These people are a treasure in every parish,” she said. “You are the people who, with encouragement, will pick up the mantle and we’ve seen the most astonishing and unexpected fruit.”

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“Evangelizing evangelizes the evangelizer,” Thompson said. “We see in them a new hunger for scripture, deepening prayer lives, and a deeper desire for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

They have “learned to trust and surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit,” she said.

“We have this lovely saying ‘Act and God will act’ and everything will flow from that,” she said.

Fr. Bielawski pointed out how Jesus’ ministry was “full of encounters” in which “many people were transformed and became disciples.”

“Look at the Master and see what He does,” he said. In Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, told in John 4, the woman “starts out quite cynical.”

“Jesus isn’t put off by her reaction; He is interested in her soul,” he said. “He draws her into deeper conversation.”

“She is attracted by his warmth and empathy and by the end of the conversation she is a different person, a transformed person,” the priest said. “All she wants to do and run off and tell people she’s met the Messiah.”

Bielawski gave an example of an encounter he had with a man behind the counter at a kiosk when he went to pay for gas. He noticed the man seemed a little down. “Have you had a heavy day?” he asked.

The man replied he had had a “heavy week.” That prompted the priest to ask him why, and the man explained he had driven a 600 mile round trip to visit a 35-year old friend who is sick with ovarian cancer.

With listening and paying attention to promptings of the Holy Spirit, he asked the man if he could have their names and if he could pray for them.

“I was then able to pray for her healing and to thank God for his loyalty and friendship for the woman,” he said. “I could see by his face he was touched by this.”

Thompson gave another account of encounter. She said she had prayed before heading to her town centre: “Come Holy Spirit, bring me someone who I can bring the Lord to today.”

She noticed a shop run by volunteers for charity; went inside and noticed one person behind the counter. In conversation, she discovered the woman had lost a seven-year old son to cancer, and now her other son was leaving home to go to university. “I feel like I’m going through a second bereavement,” the woman told her. As Thompson listened, she prayed, “Holy Spirit, I need your words. I sent this right up to you.”

Thompson was able to share with the woman how much God loves her, about His death on the cross for us, so that “death is not the end,” and one day she could meet her deceased son again. “I saw a light of hope go on in the lady’s eyes,” Thompson said. “She looked as if she had a new resolve.”

The name of the mission comes from the Book of Genesis, because in the beginning, the Holy Spirit “hovers over the chaos and brings order, meaning and purpose. Evangelization brings the same,” Thompson said. “The consequence of sin is fear and vulnerability, two of the biggest things that stop us from evangelizing.”

The Genesis model involves being intentional about connecting. “We have got to connect with as many people as possible, create opportunity and act on opportunity,” Thompson said.

“We spend a lot of time in our own heads and don’t notice people around us,” she said. In England, people are very private and often avoid interacting with strangers.

“This has to change. We have to become more outward and seeking,” she said. “We have to create new habits.”

“When I realized this was so essential, I started to challenge myself to do this. I started to notice who was around me; I started to notice details about them.”

She noticed she herself was “quite a bit of rude person” who would wave her receipt at a person behind the counter, grab her coffee and go.

“I started to really look at people, to smile at them and engage them,” she said.

“Before you do any of this, you have to pray, ‘Lord bring someone to me today,’” she said. “If you don’t specifically pray for it it’s not going to happen.” Thompson added that she was a shy person, but developed confidence by being intentional and challenging herself.

Ask questions and learn to listen without formulating a response, she said. “Evangelization is always about the other person.”

“It’s really hard to do,” she said. “It’s soul listening, listening to what’s behind the words, what’s this person’s experience.”

When people are listened to they feel trusted and respected, she said.

Make it a ‘Spirit-led encounter,’ she said. “The more you evangelize, the more your spiritual antennae become sensitive to what Holy Spirit may be saying” through a “nudge” or a “whisper.”

“Once you have acknowledged a nudge from the Holy Spirit, it becomes a three-way conversation,” Thompson said. “You are listening to the person and silently praying, ‘Holy Spirit, help me! Tell me what you want me to say.’”

“Don’t try to fix anything,” she said. “You don’t have to answer, just surrender to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants to breathe life into people through us.”

“It took a while to pluck up the courage, but it was only my own fears of rejection and vulnerability,” Thompson said. “We know the Risen Lord has been working in their lives form the moment they were born.” Prayer opens up the space for the Lord to work, so “use the names of the people, the situation and pour God’s love” into the relevant circumstances specific to them.

Fr. John Bielawski, who co-founded the Genesis Mission with Michele Thompson, spoke along with her at the New Evangelization Summit (NES) 2019 held on May 4.

“Every day is opportunity for mission,” said Bielawski. “Life becomes a living apprenticeship. Imagine if get together with a group of people with same explicit intention. The benefits are massive. Everything gets multiplied so many times more.”

“You’ll learn to grow together,” he said. “You start to build each other up in faith.”

He suggested developing parish evangelization teams that start with a period of formation.