John Carlson considers himself just an average guy who is obedient to share his faith with someone when God presses it on his heart. An engineer by trade, Carlson is the epitome of a faithful, personal witness for Jesus Christ wherever life takes him. Whether he is flying in an airplane or working in a manufacturing plant, he always looks for opportunities to share the Gospel.
Carlson first became involved with Southwestern through his friendship with former evangelism professor Malcolm McDow. Carlson and his wife, Pat, have demonstrated their commitment to evangelism through financial support of Southwestern’s Spring Evangelism Practicum, which sends students to churches outside of the Bible Belt to preach week-long revivals during spring break.
“It’s a good program because there’s nothing like getting out there and doing it,” Carlson says. “You can talk about evangelism until you’re blue in the face, but it’s 100 times better when you get out there and do it. Once you see it change people’s lives, it will change your life.
“I think one of the big benefits of the spring practicum is that it gets the preachers out to the pioneer areas of the country, where they probably would never go. They go on the spring practicum, and then they get a heart for churches in the middle of nowhere.”
Southwestern is honored to have friends like John and Pat Carlson, who passionately support the seminary’s heart for evangelism and who model this same spirit in their own personal lives.
John Carlson is founder and president of Carlson Engineering, which designs, constructs, and installs equipment used by the nation’s leading food, beverage, and dairy manufacturers, such as Dreyer’s and Coca-Cola. Although his home and office are in Fort Worth, Carlson travels extensively for projects, which often require him to live outside of Fort Worth for months at a time. Despite this strange travel schedule, he makes it a point to connect with a local church near the project along with faithfully serving his home church in Fort Worth when he is in town.
Carlson especially enjoys going with the church to visit people in their homes, noting, “If I’m in town, I’ll be at visitation.” He is committed to making himself available to share with people whom God puts in his path. “It’s God’s job to save them,” he says. “All I’ve got to do is tell them. You never know who is sitting next to you, and you never know what their spiritual condition is.”
Carlson recalls one such situation when he was working at a plant in Modesto, Calif. He was programming equipment one Saturday, and the only other person in the plant was a maintenance man named Jim, with whom he had developed a relationship.
While they were working, Jim told him about a dream he had the night before about dying. Carlson used the opportunity to begin talking with Jim about God. He bought Jim a Bible, and their conversations progressed over the next several weeks. Finally, Carlson invited Jim to a church near Jim’s home. They visited the church together, and Jim recognized several people in the church, including the pastor’s son, who was a volunteer firefighter with Jim.
Eventually, Carlson finished the project and returned home. Three months later, he received a call from Jim, who said, “Hey Big John, I just wanted to call you and tell you that I was baptized yesterday, my wife was baptized yesterday, and my two nieces were baptized yesterday.”
“Now that will get you fired up,” Carlson says as he recalls the story. “I wasn’t there when he got saved, but I was there when he told me about his dream. You just see how God works. God uses a half dozen people a lot of times to intervene in a person’s life.”
One of Carlson’s fondest memories happened with his daughter several years ago. One day, she said, “Dad, I have a lot of friends who aren’t Christians, but I don’t know how to talk to them.” He and she began attending the Evangelism Explosion classes in their church together.
Carlson recalls the impact those classes had on him and his daughter: “For 13 weeks, I never missed a Tuesday. I flew in on Tuesday, and I flew out Wednesday morning a lot of weeks, but I never missed one week for 13 weeks. It was probably one of the best times of my entire life.”
Carlson tells story after story of how God has used common circumstances and conversations to open doors of salvation in other’s lives. He has led people to the Lord on airplanes, in break rooms, and in people’s homes. He uses a variety of methods to share the Gospel, including sharing his testimony, using a witnessing presentation or tract, and inviting people to church.
Above all, Carlson says, “People are open. You just have to be open to share with them.” He considers evangelism as every Christian’s responsibility, regardless of the methods they use. “Everyone is an evangelist, either a good one or a bad one,” he says, adding, “People will see your life.”