How Did I Get Here? “How did I get here?

What am I doing here?”

I was standing before a hundred-plus, very emotional students in the free-speech zone of the University of Arizona. Just a moment before, we had arrived on these beautiful grounds, unpacking our Jesus banners and taking our stand for what I thought would be a somewhat quiet day of witnessing. But then, Bam! A student strikes a dialogue with Jim Webber, and like gasoline on a fire, the beautiful Arizona day explodes into a flurry of students with comments and questions.

As I watched, it was as if I was dreaming. My mind raced, remembering the journey that had brought me to this place.

Just four years before, as I was preaching in my church in Las Vegas, minding my own business so to speak, I noticed a new couple sitting in the back. They seemed like average folks and, after the service, I went to speak with them.

They introduced themselves as Jim and Toni Webber, and said they had just recently moved to Las Vegas. They told me they had come to Las Vegas to witness on the streets.

This caught me off guard and intrigued me. I had never heard of such a thing, that someone would move to Vegas just to witness. To hear more, I invited them to lunch.

At lunch they told me the story of over thirty years of campus and street ministry. I was amazed, particularly at the conviction in which they shared. These were not quacks; they were people who were outside the bounds of the average church but well within the bounds of the Bible. They asked me if my wife Kathie and I would be interested in going with them that night to Fremont Street in downtown Vegas to witness. Reluctantly we said yes.

That night we arrived at the Fremont Experience and Jim hoisted a banner that said, “Trust Jesus.” Toni wore a sandwich sign. They both wore sweatshirts that had a Christian message. One said, “Fear God,” and the other “Trust Jesus.” I thought to myself, Wow, these people are more radical than I am. But I also thought, There is no way I am going to carry a sign or wear some shirt.

That was just too much.That night the Webbers’ took their positions and began to simply talk with people as they came to inquire about their banner messages. My wife and I also had some good conversations. As we left the street a couple of hours later Jim asked if we had fun. We said yes, though it was somewhat unnerving for us. They asked if we would like to go out again next week, and we agreed.

Though I was not excited about what seemed the foolishness of sandwich signs or banners, there was something about it all that was grabbing me. I just couldn’t get a handle on it. And who is this guy, Jim Webber? I would ask myself.

We had some difference of doctrine but there was something so real and authentic about him. I was often left musing over him and how it was I was becoming connected with him. Yet it all seemed strangely sane and the providence of God. Little did I realize though that I was coming into a new season of ministry, and the Lord had brought me into the Webber orbit to teach me. Within a short while, my objections to banners came down and I hoisted a banner myself that read, “Fear God.” My wife and I also began to wear Christian shirts. I want you to know that this was no small thing for us.

We were respected pastors. I had three degrees including my doctorate and was known in the community as a balanced man of God. I also had a ministry in Africa, preaching mass evangelistic crusades and feeding over 10,000 orphans a week.

Now here I was on the streets, of all places. Something was happening to me. As I think back on those days I know now what had happened. I was delivered from the fear of man and shame of the gospel.

What many would consider ridiculous and foolish was now something precious to me. But I saw the pleasure of the Lord in what we were doing and I credit this revelation to Jim Webber. He really believed in proclaiming the gospel in the public square. I saw this in him one night when he asked me to hold his newest banner creation.

As he stepped off to admire it from a distance, like an artist admiring his painting, I saw that he was really getting into it. I wondered, is he on an ego trip? It’s only a banner. As he walked up to me he said, “It’s beautiful.” “What’s beautiful?” I asked. He said, “Those words.” The banner he was flying said, “Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead.” I thought, O.K., that’s good but really, it’s only a banner. Then it hit me.

This man esteemed the raising of the Word of God in public.

He honored the Lord. This was not ego. This was only about the Lord. He saw something and now I was seeing it too, a revelation about exalting Christ’s name. Jim has a passion to proclaim the Word of God, and to exalt the Lord Jesus. So do I.

Over the next three years we went with the Webbers’ two and three times a week

to witness, particularly in front of the Bellagio Hotel Casino. We had some marvelous encounters and saw many people touched by the Gospel. As we grew in our relationship, I also asked Jim to teach in my church. I found him to be an excellent teacher and equipper.

Last year Jim said we must go to the university campuses and preach. We had discussed doing this often because before I had even met Jim, I had wanted to preach on university campuses. I just didn’t know how to get started.

Our first trip out was to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Then, we went to the University of California at Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, Irvine, and Davis. Now, here we were at the University of Arizona in Tucson, submerged in the midst of students inquiring about our message. Into the day we preached and shared. At four o’clock the crowd subsided somewhat and it was as if the dream was over. With young people still clamoring for answers, we dismissed ourselves and walked back to our car. In classic Webber style, Jim asked, “Did you have fun?” - Tom Griner

Sin City Preacher_Tom
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