Working with God for the Conversion of the World to Jesus Christ and His Church
The SPSE Story
At age 30, Steve Dawson had hit rock bottom. With a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand, he fell to his knees in a field of grass behind his parents’ house and prayed his first real prayer of his life: “God if You are real, You’ll have to show me.” God broke powerfully into his life and within a month, Steve went to confession for the first time since second grade. As a testament to the kind of life he had been living up until this point, his confession took an hour and a half, and his penance was to say 30 rosaries!
Soon after his dramatic conversion, Steve had a hunger to share with the world the treasure he found in Jesus and His Church. And he lamented the fact that he never saw any Catholics evangelizing. He had seen Bible-waving Protestants, bicycling Mormons, and smartly dressed Jehovah’s Witnesses, but no Catholics. He became determined to do something about it.
He heard about Saint Maximilian Kolbe who evangelized strangers by offering them a blessed Miraculous Medal. St Maximilian called the medal, “Our Lady’s Silver Bullet” because it was a channel of grace, and God oftentimes used it to bring about a conversion in someone’s life. Steve decided to begin evangelizing using this medal. The method was simple. He would start a conversation by asking someone if they would like a free Miraculous Medal. Then He would tell them about it and ask if they were a Christian. The conversations happened supernaturally from there.
Steve, his wife Maria, along with another couple began to evangelize at Portland’s Saturday Market. The Saturday Market is a large art fair that takes place every Saturday and Sunday, April through December, in a park in downtown Portland on the banks of the Willamette River. The area has lots of foot traffic, as well as street performers and food vendors. Many people come for the fair itself, and others are out jogging, dog-walking, or biking on the paved path along the river. The atmosphere is busy but relaxed. No one is rushing off to work, and folks seem content to while away an afternoon. The foursome spread out a picnic blanket on the concrete, erected their “Catholic Truth” sandwich board sign, and set out Miraculous Medals, Rosaries, pamphlets, and prayer cards. They prayed a Rosary, and waited for people to approach—and for the Holy Spirit to do His work.
Over the weeks, they slightly modified their approach. Instead of just waiting for people to walk up to them, they began to offer free medals and rosaries to the people walking by. This technique was helpful in that it drew people’s attention without being too obtrusive. If someone declined or ignored them, they didn’t push the matter, they remained positive and said “God bless you!” or “Have a great day!” This approach also broke the ice for those who were interested but too hesitant to talk to them on their own. Steve was amazed at how receptive and open people were to talking about religion—and especially Catholic Christianity.
Steve wanted to share their experience with others, so he started a Facebook group and posted “stories from the street”. Soon he was being contacted by people from all over the country asking how they could do what Steve and his friends were doing. By the end of that first summer, there were already ten evangelization teams formed in ten different cities.
After graduating with a degree in business from Portland State University in March 2013, Steve and his family moved back to near where he had grown up outside of Detroit, Michigan. Soon after, he formalized the SPSE ministry by filing for, and receiving non-profit status.
Just under ten years later, SPSE has grown from a small team of friends in Portland, Oregon to an international network of over 200 trained street evangelization teams and a world class school of renowned evangelists teaching average Catholics how to take the gospel to a world starved for the good news. The various distinguished advisors and instructors within this organization include Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, Steve Ray, Mary Healy, Peter Herbeck, Tom Monaghan and many others.
St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE) is a grassroots, non-profit organization, dedicated to responding to the mandate of Jesus to preach the Gospel to all nations by taking the Catholic Faith to the streets. Christ’s call to evangelize was made to every Catholic Christian, and the Second Vatican Council reiterated this need, urging each of the baptized to bring the Gospel, found fully in the Catholic Church, to a culture that has largely reverted to paganism. As an on-the-street Catholic evangelization organization, St. Paul Street Evangelization provides an avenue for people to share the Person of Jesus Christ and the truth and beauty of the Catholic Faith with a hungry culture.
St. Paul Street Evangelization provides the tools and resources for Catholics to engage the culture in a simple, non-confrontational method of evangelization which involves making themselves available to the public to answer questions about the Faith and to pray with those who request it. SPSE has had tremendous growth and now has teams throughout the United States and internationally.
But a person might ask, “How can lay people share the Catholic Faith so publicly? Isn’t that the job of priests and bishops?” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, ‘that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.’ For lay people, ‘this evangelization acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world’” (CCC 905). As a lay organization, St. Paul Street Evangelization works in fidelity and obedience to the Catholic Church and her Magisterium.
What an SPSE Team Looks Like
Armed with a simple sign, pamphlets and Rosaries, SPSE evangelists take to the streets, going wherever people are gathered – on a street corner, at a festival, or even at a football game. Our teams always begin in prayer. Unlike some forms of street evangelism which seek to forcibly proselytize those passing by (for example, by yelling, displaying confrontational signs, or preaching loudly at no one in particular), SPSE employs a non-confrontational method, maintaining a peaceful presence and allowing people to approach if they choose. Initial contact is limited to a friendly greeting and an offer of a free Rosary, but the evangelist never tries to force anyone to stop and talk.
St. Paul Street Evangelization has found this non-confrontational approach to be very effective at strengthening the faith of practicing Catholics, bringing back into the Faith fallen away Catholics, and clearing up misconceptions about the Faith held by non-Catholics. While it is the mission of SPSE to work with God for the conversion of the whole world to the Catholic Faith, SPSE evangelists recognize that it is only their job to plant seeds, and in the end, it is up to God to make those seeds grow.
The goal of St. Paul Street Evangelization is not to win arguments but to share the love of Jesus Christ with a hurting culture that is seeking truth. SPSE recognizes that to be an effective witness for Christ and His Church, one must seek to live a holy life. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangeli Nuntiandi, “For the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life … ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses’” (41). To this end, SPSE seeks a membership of evangelists who take their Catholic Faith seriously and are striving for personal sanctity.
When out on the streets, the evangelists of SPSE share the hope that is in them so that the world sees the salvation of God through the Church that He founded. They do not evangelize because they have done any great thing, but because God has done a great work in them, and for that, they are humbled. A person does not need to be a theologian or professional apologist to be an effective evangelist. He only needs to have a heart for Jesus Christ and His Church and be willing to share that with others.
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What We Offer to Our Teams
We offer a number of resources for Catholic individuals, parishes, schools, dioceses, and organizations.
Team Development and Coordination
Visit the Locations page to find a team near you. If there is not a team in your area, or if you would prefer to start a new one of your own, SPSE will help you coordinate your efforts with other local evangelists and provide all of the resources and information that you need to get started.
Our St. Paul School of Evangelization is an aid to help all Catholics learn the language of the Church and what she expects of her evangelists.
SPSE certifies its evangelists who have completed the training and have experience out on the street. Each local Team Leader is required to take these a number of these courses. SPSE also offers live workshops and events.
SPSE provides signs, rosaries, sacramentals, holy cards, business card templates, pamphlets, apologetic cheat sheets, online support forums, and hundreds of other materials to each local team.
Teams have access to more than 20 pamphlets on the Catholic faith that will help them with their evangelization efforts.
Every local team is provided with a free website to help the members coordinate their efforts and schedule events.
A team of evangelists writes on timely topics addressing issues related to evangelization, catechesis, apologetics, and the Church.
Evangelists can rely on the support of our prayer group of hundreds of Catholics who intercede for their intentions and their work on the streets.
Evangelists can sharpen their apologetics skills by joining thousands of other Catholics in the SPSE apologetics group on Facebook.
Mission, Values, and Patrons
St. Paul Street Evangelization is a grassroots, non-profit organization, dedicated to responding to the mandate of Jesus to preach the Gospel to all nations by taking the Catholic Faith to the streets in a non-confrontational way, allowing the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of those who witness our public Catholic presence.
St. Paul Street Evangelization exists for the salvation of souls. To that end, we seek to train, equip, and mobilize Catholic disciples for the urgent work of evangelization, and for the proclamation of the Gospel in the public square.
We are (1) committed Catholic disciples, (2) excited about the urgent work of evangelization, and (3) humble of heart. The following bible verses and descriptions explain how we understand these values:
Committed Catholic Disciples
Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NABRE)
We are committed to being disciples of Jesus as He reveals Himself in the Church — through His saving doctrine and personal guidance in Sacred Scripture, Tradition, Liturgy, the lives and teaching of the Saints, and our personal prayer. We are strengthened by daily prayer, self-sacrifice, regular reception of the sacraments, and consecration to Jesus through Mary.
Excited About the Urgent Work of Evangelization
I am eager to preach the gospel … I am not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:15-16 NABRE)
Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, and God is reconciling the world to Himself in Him. This work of God is all-important to us — and therefore bringing people to Jesus is all-important to us. We fully believe in the mission of SPSE and see evangelization as urgent. For us, evangelization is not a hobby; we strive to make it our main mission in life, in accordance with the duties of our work and states of life (married, single, consecrated, ordained, etc.). We look for opportunities to evangelize. We tell others about the call to evangelize.
Humble of Heart
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NABRE)
We acknowledge that we are weak and bear within us the wounds of sin; and that we must endure many trials in order to enter the kingdom of God. Therefore we offer ourselves, as we are, in trustful abandonment to our merciful Father, in reliance upon Him for everything. We are committed to learning from others, admitting when we are wrong, and forgiving others when offended by them. Jesus must increase; and we must decrease.
We are called to be (1) more docile to the Holy Spirit, and (2) more worthy instruments of salvation. The following bible verses and descriptions explain how we understand these values:
Called to be More Docile to the Holy Spirit
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. (1 Samuel 3:9 NABRE)
Through Faith and Sacraments, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the “down payment” of salvation, and we strive to cooperate with His movements within us. We want to be more docile to the Spirit, so we regularly ask God to renew His Spirit within us. We pray, “Come Holy Spirit!” and ask for His charisms to build up the Body of Christ. We ask God for the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the eight Beatitudes. We pray for the Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Called to be More Worthy Instruments of Salvation
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20 RSVCE)
Our apostolate exists, above all, for the salvation of souls. But God alone is Savior. Therefore each of us, individually and together in community, must dedicate our energies to making ourselves more worthy instruments of salvation in God’s hands. We do this preparation through training & education, and constant attention to the Christian spiritual life. As instruments in God’s hands, we carry out works of true charity in imitation of Jesus, especially the work of evangelization and intercession for the salvation of souls.
The patrons of SPSE are St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, and Servant of God, Fr. John Anthony Hardon, S.J. St. Paul Street Evangelization is consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, and renews this consecration each year.