A Remarkably Tragic Childhood

sharing faith

Alone, by Camilla Nilsson – Creative Commons (This image is not of Francis Chan)

Read John 4:16-42

Last post we saw what the woman at the well did (and what you and I do) when she was confronted with her sin. Today we’ll see that what she does next is truly amazing. But first I want to look at a man who reminds me of the woman in our text.

A Remarkably Tragic Childhood

This  man’s childhood is remarkable to me because it was so filled with tragedy. It’s hard to imagine a childhood worse than his.


His mother died while giving birth to him.

His father remarried but when he was 8 years old his stepmother died in a car accident.

Then when he was 12 his father died of cancer.

Without his biological parents he became close to an aunt and uncle. But in yet another tragic turn of events, when he was in high school his uncle murdered his aunt, and then took his own life.

So as a teenager he had already experienced multiple sudden deaths among those closest to him. His childhood was profoundly tragic but God used those tragedies in a profound way. Because while he was still in high school this teenager came to Christ. And because he experienced those deaths he held a unique perspective, one that helped him recognize the fragility of life, and one that compelled him to share Jesus with an urgency similar to that of the woman at the well.

Just in case you haven’t guessed already, the man’s name is Francis Chan, and we’ll learn more of his story a little later.

What The Woman Does Next

We left off where the Samaritan woman tries to engage Jesus in a discussion about the religious controversy of the day. But after speaking with him for a few minutes it’s becoming more and more apparent that Jesus is more than a man. Early in the conversation she calls him a “Jew.” And one imagines that as a Samaritan, she says that word with derision, because the Samaritans hated the Jews as much as the Jews hated the Samaritans. But after Jesus describes to her certain intimate details of her life she says, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”

Now, a little further into the conversation, she says, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

And then Jesus says, “I who speak to you am he.”

Then look what she does next: She doesn’t say another word to Jesus. She abandons her water jar, goes to town and says to the men there, “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

Now some translations say she went to the men in town, and some say she went to the people in town. But remember, she’s led a promiscuous life. So one imagines that if she did go to the men, some level of panic is going through the minds of some of those men when she says, “he told me all that I ever did.” But more importantly we see that she’s filled with such urgency to spread the news of Jesus, that just as soon as she hears the words, “I who speak to you am he,” she’s compelled to leave immediately and tell others. After she does, a crowd gathers. Jesus stays for two days and talks to that crowd and many were saved.

So it turns out, a promiscuous Samaritan woman is one of the great evangelists in all the New Testament.

What Happens Next, To Francis Chan

In high school, with the sudden deaths of two mothers, one father, and his aunt and uncle imprinted on his mind, Francis evangelized as the Samaritan woman did: with enthusiasm and excitement. He couldn’t imagine not sharing the gospel with his high school classmates. He loved his fellow students and he knew that even as his parents, step mother, aunt, and uncle died suddenly, so could anyone. So he started a Bible study on campus. He brought as many as 50 friends to his Wednesday night church youth group. After graduation he went through the year book and called every senior he knew and told them about Jesus. He shared with bosses at work. He shared with neighbors. He shared with everybody.

But then something happened. While he loves the church and is committed to the church, it was when he started working for the church that his enthusiasm waned. And he became even more deadened in Bible college. And then he became yet even more removed from evangelism in seminary. Later he planted a church of his own, but it became easy to share the gospel with a group that was predominantly Christian. His heart was empty of desire to evangelize on a personal level to unbelievers, the way he did during and after high school.

(If you’re interested, you can learn more about Francis in this video)

The thing is, he was so invested in studying the Bible, he had nothing left in the tank to apply what he was studying in the Bible. That’s a dangerous place for anyone who desires to follow Jesus.

In Chan’s own words, “We should be studying the scriptures vigorously. But studying so much you have no time to apply it is a very dangerous habit to develop in your life.”

In Romans 9: Paul talks about the pain in his heart for the souls of the unsaved: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart,” Paul says. And he marches forward with the message of Jesus in the face of huge trials. He’s stoned and left for dead, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and snake bit–to name a few. But he carries on. He recognizes that people will push back when he shares Jesus. He recognizes he’s evangelizing in a war zone.

What Jesus Said About Evangelism

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

I get how awkward you feel about this because I’m writing this to myself as much as anyone else. I mean, Jesus’ words are pretty direct. But I’m like you, I fear rejection, and I’m reluctant to evangelize.

I need to be reminded of Jesus’ instructions for us.

I need to be reminded that, like Paul, my life is a war zone and when I share Jesus, I can expect pushback. Your life is a war zone too. Expect to be shot at. But carry on and remember, love is your weapon–use it at every opportunity.

Share Jesus by loving God with everything you have and loving others. Pray for God to bring people into your life who you can share Jesus with.

I pray God will fill us with His Spirit and help us to follow Jesus’ words.

The image used in this blog post is not of Francis Chan. Image via Camilla Nilsson – Creative Commons

One Comment on “A Remarkably Tragic Childhood

  1. Pingback: 7 Reasons You Can Relax About Evangelism | God Running

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: