On June 27–29, 2019, Living Waters will host their twenty-fourth Ambassadors’ Academy. Ray interviewed the Academy Director, Allen Atzbi, about this once-a-year evangelism training event.
RAY COMFORT: Allen, can you explain what the Ambassadors’ Academy is all about?
ALLEN ATZBI: Sure. The Ambassadors’ Academy is a weekend of fast-paced classroom instruction and on-the-street witnessing, where people not only will learn how to reach out more effectively, but will get a chance to put what they learn right into practice on the streets, with skilled ministry mentors offering guidance along the way. The training is based in Southern California, with outreach locations including Huntington Beach and the Santa Monica Pier.
RC: What’s one surprising thing that people learn about attending an Academy?
AA: Funny enough, people often come thinking that the highlight will be the teaching, and with teachers like you, E.Z., Mark Spence, and my humble self, they’ll definitely get some profound and insightful training. However, at the end of every Academy participants fill out a short feedback form about their experience. The two biggest takeaways people get are often, first, the thrill of breaking out of their shell and doing a new aspect of evangelism for the first time (such as witnessing to a stranger, getting on the box, etc.). The joy of defeating fears that have held them captive for years, seeing someone model in person what sharing their faith looks like on the streets and then doing it themselves, and the memories of these conversations where they become friends with strangers, are all just so priceless.
Secondly, they discover the fellowship of the gospel. Many are a part of “club frustration”—they want to reach out, but it seems they’re about the only one in their church who feels like that. Coming to the Academy they find other like-minded saints who are passionate about reaching out, or passionate about wanting to become passionate about reaching out, and in just a few days they build lasting friendships with these kindred spirits. After a weekend, it’s like a group of war buddies parting ways, who often stay in touch and keep encouraging and sharpening each other.
RC: Will people be forced to do anything they don’t want to?
AA: Not at all. Our mentors will definitely offer advice and encouragement, but we let each participant set their own goals. For some it’s passing out their first tract, for others it’s witnessing to a certain personality type that intimidates them, and still others it’s breaking the sound barrier and proclaiming the gospel on top of a soap box. Whatever the goal set, we will be their cheerleader and encourage them to achieve it and support them in their journey.
RC: On the streets, do we just throw participants to the wolves and hope they figure it out?
AA: Ha ha. No, sir. During our application process, the questions cover the participants’ level of evangelism experience, their age, the region they live in, etc. We use that information to pair up people and assemble groups on the street. Most witnessing “teams” consist of nine people, who stay together in the same area when they’re on the street, with one or more mentors, and then we further divide them into groups of three for small-group witnessing. Our goal is to make sure everyone is nurtured in a weekend of spiritual growth. Attendees also have the option of selecting a particular friend or relative to be in their group.
RC: Is this only for newbies or will a seasoned soul winner get something out of this?
AA: Do you remember those old 80s commercials where the spokesman would say, “I’m not just the president of the Hair Club for Men, I’m also a client,” as he holds a bald-headed picture of himself next to his glistening Magnum P.I. hairdo? That’s me, minus the full head of hair. I attended the Academy in the summer of 2009. At the time, I was a youth pastor and had been leading street-witnessing teams for over a decade and had personally witnessed to thousands. While I sure didn’t have it all figured out (still don’t), I wasn’t a novice. But I was greatly encouraged, inspired, and recharged. Like most attendees, I was one of the few in my church who were actively reaching out to the lost, and to be in an environment with outreach veterans who were going out and doing it, where the messages were all about sharing the gospel most effectively, learning more richly about apologetics, aligning our heart with the heart of God, etc.—well, it was just wonderful.
In addition, many pay a small fortune to cross the sea to reach out to the unsaved on mission trips, for which I am so thankful, but in Los Angeles we have a few million lost people who also desperately need to hear the gospel. The Academy was a local mission trip at a fraction of the cost of going overseas, but still reaching the masses. (And being in the heart of LA during peak tourist season, I was literally reaching out to people from around the globe.) So, if nothing else, I got to spend a weekend laboring alongside other believers bringing the gospel to a lost and dying world. And to be totally transparent, coming from Missouri at the time, it was just really cool to see palm trees and all the things I’d only seen on TV. I left with a camera full of justifiable selfies.
RC: Last question: What would you tell someone who’s on the fence about coming?
AA: Do it. Seriously. Just got for it. Weigh the options. What else do you think you’ll be doing that weekend in the middle of the summer? Trying to rent a movie that Jesus will watch with you and sitting in for a boring night by yourself? Why not go big? Come out to LA, learn how to share the gospel more effectively than you ever have, get energized, encouraged, and inspired, and then go back home and spend the rest of the summer making an impact for the Kingdom with what you’ve learned. Don’t let anything hold you back. You will never be the same after attending an Ambassadors’ Academy.