Editor’s Note: In the series “Encounters with Evangelists,” UFC Women share stories of people who have influenced their walks with Jesus. Today Ginny Riley, who was instrumental in the discipleship of many UFC women during her years in Eugene, writes about how her parents consistently shared with her the good news of faith in Jesus. It is an honor to welcome her to this little online corner.
By Ginny Riley
Having grown up in the church, I have encountered many evangelists. Some stand out to me, like my high school youth pastor, who walked the streets of inner-city Pittsburgh sharing the gospel with gang members, drug dealers, and other at-risk-youth. I think of my friend and college mentor, Carrie, who led countless Ohio State students to Christ as she faithfully approached students on campus and asked the simple question, “Would you like to have a personal relationship with God?” I even had the privilege of attending a crusade several years ago, where I heard Reverend Billy Graham share the simple truth of Jesus’ love and sacrifice and watched while dozens of people responded to his invitation to know Christ.
However, when I think about the evangelists who influenced me the most, I think of my parents. I remember being nestled on my dad’s lap as a four-year-old, while he read the Easter story to me. I had heard the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection before, but this time my dad asked me, “Do you know how to invite Jesus into your heart, Ginny?” I told him that I didn’t, and he explained the simple truth of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation to me. That night, with my mom sitting next to us, my dad led me in a simple prayer of repentance, and I invited Jesus into my heart. My parents did not stop sharing the gospel with me that night. Instead, they continued to demonstrate grace, love, and forgiveness toward me, and they opened my eyes to the need for the gospel in the world around me.
I think that my parents best lived out the gospel for me and my sisters through regular repentance and forgiveness. I remember seeing them ask for and extend forgiveness to each other when they had argued and hurt each other. I remember my mom coming to my sisters and me after she had lost her patience with us and asking for our forgiveness. When I fought with my sisters, my parents walked us through the process of asking and for and extending forgiveness. Most importantly, when I disobeyed my parents, they forgave me.
“I think that my parents best lived out the gospel for me and my sisters through regular repentance and forgiveness.”
One particular instance of their forgiveness toward me stands out in my memory. I was in seventh grade, and I was invited to the birthday party of one of the popular girls at school. It was the first party that I was invited to that included boys, and I wanted to make a good impression. I had heard that we might play spin-the-bottle, but I was hoping I could make it through the party without having to kiss someone. In the end, we did play spin the bottle. I caved to the peer pressure, and I kissed a few boys, some of whom I did not know. I went home that night feeling ashamed and dirty. I knew that if my parents found out about what happened they would not be pleased. The weight of my sin was so heavy, I couldn’t bear it, so I told my parents what happened and confessed. They were not pleased. They grounded me. But they forgave me, and they told me that there was nothing I could ever do to make them stop loving me.
“But they forgave me, and they told me that there was nothing I could ever do to make them stop loving me.”
I think it was my parents’ regular modeling of repentance, forgiveness, and unconditional love that caused me to better understand God’s forgiveness and unconditional love toward me. An atmosphere of grace paired with words of truth about God’s love, grace, and forgiveness were fertile ground for the mustard seed of faith that was planted in my childhood. Years later, when I first read, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), I believed it. I had experienced it.
Not only did my parents talk to my sisters and me about our own need for Jesus, they also talked about the need for others to know Him. We regularly prayed for family members, who were not saved, to know Jesus. My parents introduced us to missionary friends, many of whom were friends from their college years. Mom and Dad would tell stories about how these missionary friends had come to first know Christ themselves and then followed God’s leading to go to other countries to tell people about Jesus. When I was in high school, my parents encouraged me to invite my friends to youth group and church outreaches and gave up their Wednesday nights to drive my friends and me the one-hour round trip to and from youth group.
Perhaps the most memorable way that my parents opened my eyes to the need for the gospel was by sharing their own stories of how they came to know Jesus. My dad was a college student when he first came to know the Lord. Another student in one of his classes shared the gospel with him, and he responded to the invitation. I used to wonder — and still do — what would have happened to my dad if that student had not shared the gospel with him. Would he have married my mom? Would I know Christ? His story motivated me to want to share the gospel with others, knowing that future generations were going to be changed because of one person’s faithfulness to share the good news.
“His story motivated me to want to share the gospel with others, knowing that future generations were going to be changed because of one person’s faithfulness to share the good news.”
I don’t think that either my mom or my dad would call themselves evangelists or say they have the gift of evangelism. I do not consider myself an evangelist either. However, through their example, I am encouraged to share the gospel faithfully through words and to demonstrate grace, truth, and love to my family, friends, and others around me, knowing that when one person comes to Christ, generations are changed.
Ginny Riley grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., with her mom, dad, and two sisters. Now she is all grown up and lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband Andy and two daughters, Charis and Miracle. She had the privilege of living in Eugene for three years and being part of the UFC community during that time. While she has come to love the Texas sun and Tex-Mex food, she will always have a special place in her heart for towering fir trees, misty mornings, and the sweet women of UFC.