More Downtown

More Downtown

In this blog post by Mike Barko, he shares his recent experiences of sharing the Gospel over the past two weeks. Working alongside his friend Ben Varepa, they recount their outreach efforts at James Madison University (JMU) and various other locations. Despite challenges and rejections, the post highlights the moments of connection and impact they had, leading over forty people to respond to the Gospel and profess their faith in Christ. The post also introduces one specific story that occurred in early January, where Mike engaged in a meaningful conversation with a young man named Chris who was struggling with his beliefs and the recent loss of his father. Through patient dialogue, Mike guides Chris to a clearer understanding of the Gospel message, emphasizing the importance of salvation through faith in Christ alone and shedding light on the insufficiency of self-righteousness. The post underscores the power of a simple Gospel message and the transformation that can occur when individuals turn their trust toward God. It serves as an inspiring account of faith, persistence, and the profound impact of sharing the message of Christ's salvation.


Mike Barko

2/28/20219 min read

The last two weeks of sharing the Gospel has been blessed. Ben Varepa continues to share with me. We started back at JMU last week and we plan on going once a week until the semester is over.

We have seen over forty people respond to the Gospel and profess faith in Christ alone. As usual, I have many wonderful stories and pictures. Like last time, this time I will just share one story with you.

Before I share this one story, I want to thank the Lord for my new dear friend Ben Varepa. He has been faithfully helping me share the Gospel over the last month. When someone says 'no' to a bracelet and walks off, Ben likes to 'chase them down' and give them a Gospel tract. It is a joy to watch. He does it with love and grace, of course.

Sometimes, when I don't want to leave my post in front of the courthouse, I send Ben across the street to share with people in the gazebo or in a parked car. Ben is a 'tiger' and he really enjoys the opportunity.

Here is Ben sharing with a lady across the street...


The particular story I want to share with you this time goes back to the first week in January. Because it was a good one and I had occasion to write down all the details, I will share it with you now. Thank you to Anatoliy Makitrin for his help sharing with this person.

While I was walking through the parking lot on my way to the courthouse, I noticed a gentleman with a lady in the seat next to him in a parked truck. I almost shared then, but decided to go to our spot and set up.

Well, as I was setting up, this gentleman walked past me up the courthouse steps. I hollered at him...

"Would you like a bracelet?"

'No, I really don't have time for your 'spie...''

He meant to say 'spiel', but realized it wasn't the kind thing to say. So, he pulled the last part back in before the whole thing came out.

Then he told me that his dad had just died.

Well, as some of you know, my dad had been pretty sick in the hospital at that same time with the coronavirus. So, I responded...

"May I pray for you?"

'When I come out.'

Chris came out a little while later and began sharing with me. His dad had gotten sick with the coronavirus and then very quickly became seriously ill. In the hospital, his dad had told him that he loved him. These were words that Chris had never once before heard from his dad. When he finally heard them, the tears began to flow.

Chris told me that his dad's heart eventually stopped. He was the one that had to make the decision to provide life support or not. Because his dad had previously told him not to do so, Chris let his dad go.

Obviously, when someone shares something like this, your heart really goes out to them. This is even more true when you find yourself in a somewhat similar situation. I really wanted to help this young man.

I believe Chris told me that he believed his dad was in Heaven. So, I naturally gave him the bracelet and told him that he needed to be there too.

Chris told me that he believed in Heaven...'1000%'

What would be the reason that God would let Chris into Heaven? I asked him 'if he measured up'...

He told me...'Sure. All the time. As long as you try to do better everyday. The pastor of the ' ' church (he gave the name but I will leave that out) asked me if I had been baptized and I told him 'yes'. Then the pastor said, 'Great. As long as you ask forgiveness and try to do better everyday that is all that you need to do.'

So I responded...

"Yes God does forgive. Why does He forgive you?"

Chris replied, 'God forgives all.'

Here is a young man who had been baptized. He daily asked for forgiveness and was trying to do better everyday. Chris believed that God forgave all.

What was lacking?

The simple Gospel.

So I asked him...

"Do you think that you are good enough to get into Heaven?"

He replied, 'I think so. I'm doing better.'

"Well, let's make sure that you are good enough, because if you stand before Him and find out that you fall short, what is going to happen to you?"

Chris understood the alternative and it was not something he wanted.

I continued, "Chris, did you know that God has actually provided a test for us in the bible to determine if we are good enough. Let's take this test and see how you do."

So we went through the moral law, also known as the ten commandments. We went through five of them...liar, thief, adulterer (lust), murderer (hatred, sharp tongue) and blasphemer.

I knew the law had done it's work when Chris responded...

'I'm not 100% anymore.'

and then...

'Okay, I guess I'm going to Hell.'

"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." (Romans 3:19)

"But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:22-24)

After hearing the law, Chris now understood that he was not good.

Christ's words confirm this...'No one is good except God alone.' (Luke 18:19)

Then we talked about the just penalty for his sin: Hell.

Did that concern him?


Thus far, we have stripped away some of Chris' self-righteousness. He now knows that he is not 'good' and does not measure up to God's standards.

do we present Christ to him?


Why not?

Because, like most people, there is more self-righteousness that first needs to go. Read on.

We now use the electric chair to: (1) remove more self-righteousness and (2) set the stage for showing him exactly what Christ did for him.

"Chris, picture an electric chair with your name on it. If God gave you justice, He would put you in the chair and you would go to Hell. Me too. I am no better."

"What will keep you from that chair, Chris?"

He replied, 'I will stop doing those things.'

So I asked him if he had ever gotten a speeding ticket. Yes he had, in the amount of $250.

I continued, "Chris, if you told the judge that you would not speed again, but did not pay the fine, what would the judge say?"

Chris understood that he would still be found guilty. God's fine isn't monetary, it is 'spiritual death'. Chris understood that 'stopping the bad things' would not pay that fine either.

For emphasis, I added the mirror illustration...

"Chris, did you ever play in the mud? (Yes) What did the mirror tell you? (Dirty) How did you get clean? (Bath) Did the mirror clean you? (No) What was the function of the mirror? (Reveal your true condition)"

When people rely upon the law for salvation, they are trying to clean themselves with the mirror. How silly is that? The law is anything that 'I do' to be saved.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law (using the mirror) there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin (real purpose of the mirror). (Romans 3:20) (Parenthesis mine)

"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law (mirror), but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law (mirror): for by the works of the law (mirror) shall no flesh be justified." (Galatians 2:16) (Parenthesis mine)

So I asked Chris...

"What is going to clean you, save you from the chair, and pay your fine?"

Chris responded, 'I'll change.'

Again, it's back to what Chris is doing or wanting to do. We want to strip away as much self-righteousness as possible so that the person 'despairs' of themself. Our end is God's beginning.

I explained to Chris that changing was just relying on the mirror again. It was also telling the judge that you 'wouldn't speed again' without paying the fine.

Thinking he finally found the answer, Chris spoke up...

'He forgives! I'll ask forgiveness!'

Well, again, if you ask the judge to forgive you, but you don't pay the $250 fine, what does he say?

Chris got the point. Exasperated, he exclaimed...

'I don't know. You tell me!'

So, I said something like...

"Chris, remember when we started and you said...'I'm good enough' and then 'I'll stop doing bad' and 'I'll change'?

"Who is the person referenced in all those answers?"


"So, who are you trusting?"


"Who are you supposed to trust?"


"Yes, are you the Savior?"


"Can you save yourself?"


"Who can?"


"Stop trusting Chris, and start trusting God."

So I asked him, "What did God do for you so He could save you?"

Chris told me that God sent Jesus to die for him. Wonderful. Before we get into the work of Christ, we need to make sure he understands the person of Christ...a.k.a. that Jesus is God.

Chris knew that Jesus was the Son of God but he didn't realize that Jesus is God himself...God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us..." (John 1:1,14) (Emphasis mine)

Chris came to understand...'Jesus is God.'

" man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." (1 Cor. 12:3(c))

"Chris, who sat in your electric chair?...(God!)"
"Who took your judgment?...(God!)"
"Who is going to clean you?...(God!)"
"Who is going to save you?...(God!)"
"Who is going to change you?...(God!)"

I explained to Chris that God would save him if he placed his trust in God alone. In other words, in the courtroom, Chris must not try to justify himself with anything he was doing...his works. If he did, God could not justify him.

"But now the righteousness of God without the law (our works, the mirror) is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;" (Romans 3:21) (Parenthesis mine)

Chris needed to humble himself and realize there was nothing he could do to be saved. He needed to place his trust in Christ alone and let Him justify him on that basis alone...his faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.

Amen! Hallelujah!

"Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:" (Romans 3:22,23,24) (Emphasis mine)

I used the dessert illustration at the end to bring emphasis and closure. If I bought his favorite dessert and he tried to pay for it again, what would he be saying about my payment? (Not enough)

By Chris trusting in what he was doing to go to Heaven, what was he saying about God's payment? (Not enough)

So I asked him...

"Do you want to do that?" (No)
"Who do you want to trust?" (God)
"If you put all your trust in God, then how sure would you be?" (100%!)

"When we started, who were you trusting?" (Me)
"If you trust yourself, who is your savior?" (Me)
"And what happens to you?" (Hell)

"When do you want to put all your trust in God?"

His response blessed me...

'About 10 minutes ago.'

So I led Chris in a prayer transferring his trust to Christ alone.

Listen to his response when I asked him what God had just done for him...


"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3:28) (Emphasis mine)

Anatoliy in the middle of the picture.


Before he left, Chris told me the conversation he had in the truck with his wife Bridget before we spoke. It went something like this...

Chris said to his wife...'There is the man of God.'

Bridget...'Are you going to talk to him?'

Chris...'Yeah, I've been reading my bible.'

Bridget...'That doesn't mean you're saved.'

Chris told me that really made him think. Then he ran into the guy in front of the courthouse with that 'spiel'...

That simple Gospel...'spiel'.

Praise God for that SIMPLE GOSPEL!

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith." (Romans 1:16,17) (Emphasis mine)