Careful conversation in secure locations
Posted on: 23rd January 2019
CMS missionary J has served in support of local believers in a range of locations, each of which illustrate barriers to clear gospel communication, but also the joy of persisting with wisdom and (sometimes) caution.
Different contexts produce different challenges to the principle of ‘all things to all people’. Here are two stories: the first from Africa, the second from Asia, that may help you see how changed contexts will reveal completely varying responses.
When not to adapt
While working in a Central Asian country where sharing the good news was banned, and indeed people who embraced becoming believers risked their lives, a missionary friend shared an experience that happened to her in the market one day. In this country, informal money changers would sit at little tables outside shops. On this day, my friend had bought a telephone card at one of these tables when the seller asked her where a copy of the Bible could be obtained. Now this man was not well-known to her—they barely knew each other—so, thinking quickly, my friend answered that she didn’t know where such a book could be obtained.
The point of the story is that the original request for the Bible was a trap. We were in the process of burning copies of compromising local-language literature that we might have in our homes at that time, as raids had been made in the recent past on offices. In this case, being all things to all people required you to keep your wits about you because of the security situation, and remain guarded. For the gospel to make progress, great care was required.
When to adapt
This African story is quite different. It comes as a neat surprise when one of the believing African locals whom you’ve been supporting from time to time has an opportunity to share with someone outside the kingdom. This happened with my friend, Joseph. To move around his African town, you could jump on the back of someone’s motor bike, once having established the destination and the price. Getting into conversation, Joseph discovered that his motorbike driver was named Isa, so he told the driver that this was the name of the Christian prophet. As the driver was Muslim, a brief conversation ensued about faith matters and the driver agreed to meet for further conversation, telling Joseph where he lived.
Joseph said to me that he was due to meet the driver in a few days. So I asked if he had any spare copies of the Bible in the appropriate local language and on hearing that he didn’t, passed across some funds (only around $10) so that one could be bought in preparation. A few hours before the meeting was due, I sent a text to Joseph along the lines of ‘May God’s Spirit move in this meeting and may Isa be surrounded by his love’.
Well, Joseph met Isa, who was somewhat surprised that someone who didn’t know him had sent a text about him, and even more surprised that she had made a copy of the word available for him.
Around three weeks later on catching up with Isa, Joseph was delighted when Isa picked up his copy of the Bible and, knocking it with the knuckle of his other hand, said, “This is the truth! The Muslim leaders never tell us about this and I want to know more!” Isa became a believer and became so established that he was, in turn, able to help others who became Christians.
Truly our heavenly Father is good!
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