Steve Dawson, founder of Saint Paul Street Evangelization, wasn’t intending to start his own international apostolate when he began handing out Miraculous Medals to strangers.

He was only trying to respond in his own way to the Church’s call for all baptized Christians to spread the Good News.

“It’s not optional,” Dawson said of evangelization, citing Paragraph 1816 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that witnessing to the faith is “necessary for salvation.”

Dawson realized that he could be doing much more, but wasn’t exactly sure what to do. Taking inspiration from St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Teresa of Calcutta, he began purchasing and handing out Miraculous Medals as a means of evangelization, and his early efforts bore fruit.

He told The Southern Cross about an encounter with a waitress at a restaurant. He gave her a medal, which initiated a conversation; she asked what it was and he was able to explain its history.

In that brief conversation, the waitress shared that her boyfriend was Catholic. When Dawson asked if she had ever considered joining the Church, she admitted that she disagreed with its teachings on issues like abortion.

He explained the Catholic position and thought that was the end of the story. But, when he returned to the same restaurant about three months later, the waitress told him that, on the day of his previous visit, she had found out that she was pregnant and had intended to abort her unborn child. Their earlier conversation had changed her mind.

“That baby, who was born a few months later, is alive because of that simple gesture of offering the Miraculous Medal,” said Dawson, who later started regularly handing them out on the streets.

“It was experiences like that,” he said, “that woke me up to the realization that [God could use] two-minute conversations with people that I had never met before … to be channels of grace and change lives.”

His ministry continued to evolve to the point where he eventually was putting out a table in well-trafficked areas and offering passersby free rosaries, Miraculous Medals and pamphlets on the Catholic Church and its teachings.

Seeing how successful his efforts were proving to be, Dawson decided that he had created a template that others could use to spread the Gospel in their own communities.

What began in Portland, Oregon, as an activity in which he and a few friends engaged, was incorporated as a nonprofit organization the following year in Detroit, Michigan. Today, about 300 chapters comprising thousands of volunteer evangelists are active throughout the United States and in Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Japan, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, Sweden and the United Kingdom. 

He hasn’t had the experience of being challenged with many difficult questions, he said, but if the evangelists are ever stumped, they admit that they do not know the answer, ask for the questioners’ contact information and promise to get back to them with the answer.

Adam Janke, co-founder of St. Paul Evangelization Ministries, will be leading a basic evangelization training on Friday, Oct. 6 (7-9 p.m.), and Saturday, Oct. 7 (8 a.m.-5 p.m.), at Mary Star of the Sea Parish (La Jolla). The church is located at 7669 Girard Ave., La Jolla 92037. The cost is $25/person in advance or $30 at the door. It includes a two-day workshop, morning hospitality and lunch, and evangelization materials. Call (858) 945-8550 for more information or to register.

Full story at Southern Cross.