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Frontline Apologetics Open-air Preacher Proclaims Gospel to the Glory of God

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Frontline Cutline No. 1 Stephen Nylen: "(Open air preaching) appealing to God to save His people and an appeal to all people to turn back to their God.” Stephen Nylen is a talker.

He can shoot the breeze with the best of them, whether it's chatting about his wife of six years, Jessica, their three daughters, the pink sock tucked in his Bible he uses as a bookmark, or the dual need for Christ and coffee represented in John Waller's song, "Awakening." (I need Jesus and a little caffeine.")

When Nylen laughs, it is easy and genuine.

Then there's another facet to this Michigan Army National Guard veteran who served as a 19D Calvary Scout in Iraq from 2007-2009, in what is known as Operation Iraqi Freedom, or simply, the Iraq War.

Heralding the good news

Five years ago, the Grand Rapids resident founded Frontline Apologetics, a word that means in defense or justification of the faith. As an open-air preacher, Nylen can be found one to two days a week on public sidewalks that are in front of abortion clinics, college campuses, in downtown Grand Rapids, concerts and festivals and crime scenes. Sometimes he stands on a box, at times with a portable amplifier in tow.

"Primarily we operate out of Burton (Street) and Eastern (Avenue) in the urban area of Grand Rapids where we see an average of 250 crimes a month happening," said Nylen, who pays the bills through his veteran-owned professional painting business. "So we go to the crime and have an open air memorial service if you will. We go to the murder scenes and pray with the mothers and reach out to them and share the Gospel with them while standing up and heralding the good news."

Sobering questions

Frontline Cutline No. 2Stephen Nylen writes out scriptural truths throughout his copy of the Bible his great-grandmother once owned. Those are times when such conversations become heated and blunt between Nylen and the people whose loved ones were injured or murdered.

He makes Jesus' death relatable.

"I get sobering questions," he said. "'Why did my son get shot?' I say the most ugly thing that ever happened was when the Son of Man was crucified on the cross on behalf of sinners, the sinners' death, and yet the most beautiful thing happened is that mankind can be reconciled by faith alone. We can see that all things good happen for those who love the Lord when we look at the cross."

Nylen quotes from the Old and New Testaments verbatim to illustrate what he does is the same intent of the men who've gone before him: Noah, Jeremiah, John and Peter. His ministry is no different, he explains.

"Open-air preaching is making an appeal to God, the sovereign God of the Bible, to save His people and it's making an appeal to all people to turn to their God," said Nylen. "So this isn't gimmicks. I'm not putting a bounce house on the sidewalk, not that those are always bad. There are different figures, modes and ways to evangelism but I think this is the most biblical way of evangelism."

Asking people who have never met Nylen to repent of their sins and accept Christ is challenging if they never such a stark proclamation. Make no mistake: it takes toll on him, too.

It's for that reason the 31-year-old girds his work with Frontline Apologetics with prayer, as do others on his behalf. He holds himself accountable to the pastor and elders at his doctrinally-Reformed church, New City Fellowship Orthodox Presbyterian Church, or simply New City Fellowship, 700 Burton St. SE, of which Nylen is chairman of its outreach and evangelism.

No frills

On the surface, there are no frills to what Nylen says he is called to accomplish. But on another level, he is declaring what is the equivalent of a spiritual gut punch. But it's vital, says Nylen, to fill that void with Christ's salvation.

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"It's appealing to God to save His people and an appeal to all people to turn back to their God," said Nylen. "'It's the power of God unto salvation for all who will believe'" (Romans 1:16).

When asked what fruit has he seen borne of his efforts, Nylen replies: "I'm often asked how many people come to Jesus and I would say every single person comes to Jesus," he said. "What they do with Him is the ultimate question or what God decides to do with them by His grace and sovereignty."

Asked another way, and Nylen speaks of the results he's witnessed through the people he's encountered.

"We get to see miracles all the time," said Nylen. "Drunkards, prostitutes, the rich; those who are humbled by the law of God and their low heads are lifted up and those who are in false religions. We get to see people turn from their idols and break them at the foot of the cross and then turn to Christ and be reconciled and redeemed and healed and rescued from the righteous wrath of God.

Seeing his own reflection

As jarring as calling out to repent at the top of his voice may be to some, Nylen says he's only proclaiming what he needs himself.

"Some people get upset when I herald a little louder, I get a little unction," said Nylen. "I tell people that's because I've seen my own reflection in someone's car, in someone's building window. I'm seeing me and how much I need the gospel and that makes me want to preach it all the more."

Along the way, he also talks with Christians who've been wounded from their own frontline battles.

"Open air preaching isn't only calling the lost, it's also to edify the saints who are broken, who are bruised, beaten, who need encouragement," said Nylen. "There are soldiers in the faith, on the battlefield, who are wounded. They need to hear the Word of God throughout the week to be encouraged in their faith."

As expected, people who hear they'll spend eternity in hell if they don't accept Christ rub them the wrong way. They argue, hurl insults, swear or give Nylen the middle finger. These are key reasons why he asks intercessors to bathe him in prayer.

"I need saints to pray for me all the time," he said. "The work is hard and it is heavy. And then also for security. Let's say I go to jail for preaching the righteousness of Jesus, I need a church not only to pray for me and to hold me accountable but to secure me, to provide for me in those times of need. We see this all through the Book of Acts through Paul. He didn't go to places alone but the was tightly connected to the local church."

Ordered to stop preaching

While he hasn't been arrested, Nylen has been warned by police officers to stop his open air preaching, citing a city of Grand Rapids noise and breach-of-peace ordinances as the reason for possible arrest.

Last year, Nylen filed a lawsuit against Grand Rapids in U.S. District Court. He says the ordinance is a breach of his freedom of speech rights and, more importantly, is based on what he is saying, not how loud he. An attorney is representing his ongoing case pro bono.

Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, Nylen is determined it will not be the coda to Frontline Apologetics.

"My goal is not to be arrested," said Nylen. "My goal is to be faithful to the faith. People ask me what happens if I win and what happens if I lose? If we win, the city ordinance is changed and I get to keep preaching. If we lose, and the city ordinance isn't changed, I keep preaching. Either way I will keep preaching unto the glory of God."


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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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