In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new kind of evangelism arose in the United States. It took a number of forms, but it was collectively referred to as the “Jesus Movement,” with strong influences from the hippie movement. It was characterized by street evangelism, one-on-one interaction, and musical performances. On film, nothing captured the Jesus Movement better than the play (and movie adaptation) of Godspell; the play debuted off-Broadway in 1971 and the movie in 1973.
In the early 1970s, Steven Stiles was a young man active in his church in Santa Cruz, California. But he wasn’t a typical member of a rather traditional church. He had a heart for reaching his own generation, and he had a heart for reaching those caught in addiction to alcohol and drugs. And rather than waiting for people to find the church, he went out and found the people.
The story of that outreach is his book Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles. Reading it is like taking a journey back to my own youth and becoming a Christian.
Stiles emphasizes the traveling bus ministry he was part of led for several years. Young people from his church would board a bus and head to other parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and points east. They would do street outreach, perform with their band, hold Bible studies, and other activities. They opened their arms to all who would listen, including hippies, drug addicts, alcoholics, and other “undesirables.”
Their growing numbers at their church, rising faster than traditional members, inevitably led to conflict. A new pastor, backed by the elders, ended the ministry.
So, it moved to new quarters.
|"Greenie," the first ministry bus|
When Stiles talks about miracles, you have to wonder what he saw here. While not in the same class as healing lepers or the blind, things happened in his ministry that can’t simply be explained away as coincidences or lucky breaks. Like finding a building that had already been sold to another group, and the building becoming available; being led to walk in an open field miles from nowhere and discovering an industrial belt that would exactly replace a broken fan belt on a bus; being led away from one area to another, and discovering a national park staffed by Christians who were praying for a music outreach group to visit that very day.
It’s about miracles, and it’s about trusting God. But more than anything, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles is about people’s lives being changed.
|Dr. Steven Stiles|
Stiles’s years in his outreach ministry became, in a sense, his professional career. He taught addiction studies for 10 years at Western Seminary in San Jose, California, and for 30 years at Bethany University in Scotts Valley, California. He served at the Clinical Director at New Life Community Services in Santa Cruz, California. He’s also the author of Thorns in the Heart: A Christian’s Guide to Dealing with Addiction, Recovery for Codependency, and Gotchyaa: Con Artists in the Church. He received his D.Min. degree from American Baptist University of the West.
Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles is a good reminder of what it means to trust God, even when that trust looks misplaced or downright crazy in human eyes. It’s also a story of people in ministry being used to reach people, including many considered “irredeemable,” and what happens in the lives of all concerned.
Top photograph by Cassie Boca via Unsplash. Used with permission.