One of the things that has been on my heart lately is the soft approach to sharing the gospel. I am as guilty as anybody of wanting to sugarcoat a little and leave out the rough parts of the gospel and it has really been plaguing me lately that I have had this mindset. I believe with all of my being that loving people into the Kingdom is the most effective way of showing who Christ is, but it is imperative that we understand the necessity of making clear all of the implications that come with becoming a Christ follower, especially to those who may have never heard His name.
I believe that location should have no bearing on how we communicate the message. There are both right ways and wrong to share the gospel, and we need to have an understanding of the people we are relational with, but I have noticed that I have let cultural stereotypes get in the way of how I present the message of Christ. If I let the Spirit lead the conversation, then whether or not my friends hear me out is not up to me. It hurts because I have lost opportunities with excuses like, “Well, if I say this it is just going to push them away and then I will never have another chance.” The more I think about that statement, the more I feel like cowardice has settled into my heart and I have let chances pass right by me. I don’t want to look anyone in the face and argue the fallibility of the deception that they have bought into, because that isn’t loving, but I also don’t want to be afraid to step on toes when it is necessary.
I live in a culture where religion has become a matter of indifference. But how is this different than the rest of the world? I moved to southeast Asia with fears of making the slightest wrong move and being shut out of people’s lives forever. I have done just about everything that I was told would blacklist me in the eyes of the locals by mistake and they have just laughed and continued on with the conversation. I incidentally used a pretty terrible swear word sitting in a circle of old women because I had a different understanding of what it meant. They laughed really hard and forgave me because what they saw was the fact that I was trying to communicate with them in their heart language.
When I lived in Atlanta just before moving here, I was having a conversation with my friend Kung about religion. He wanted to hear everything we had to say but in the end, his statement was “Salt tastes the same in America as it does anywhere else.” People are adopting syncretistic views about religion and that is a dangerous thing. How am I supposed to share the gospel with people in the nation I live that have adopted a blend of several different religions? I was told that religion was a topic to stay away from as much as possible until you become close friends with people. I won’t argue with that advice. I trust people I am friends with more than I trust strangers, but what happens when the opportunity arises with someone I am meeting for the first time? In the past, I have walked on eggshells to avoid offending or hurting feelings, but the fact is, that is being a weak believer. If I can’t tell someone exactly what I believe then I am not doing my job.
I never burst into a conversation with accusations or claims of religious fallacies in this nation, but I have had many opportunities where within 10 minutes of meeting someone I have been asked “What do you think about Buddhism?” This is where I once walked on eggshells. I recently began taking a new approach. I have never told anyone outright that they are wrong, but after a question like that, without fail, I follow up with, “Can I be 100% honest with you? Because I don’t want to offend you or hurt our potential friendship.” I have NEVER been told no. They are seeking the honest truth. My generation here doesn’t have a belief system that they can fully describe to me. This makes my job a lot easier.
I have had the privilege of sharing every bit of the gospel with many students, old and young, while leading a conversation practice session. Tonight, I met a guy whose nickname is Film. Film is attending a Bible study class at the Baptist Student Center and is not a believer. He only wants the English practice and there are others just like him. My go-to verse with nonbelievers here is John 14:6, because the idea of Heaven and how to get there is so muddled here. I always use that as a starting point. Film took a Bible home tonight and said that he wanted to read more out to the book of John. I didn’t pull any punches. I answered every question he asked.
In this picture to the left is my friend whose nickname is Duk. Duk means catfish (irrelevant but I can’t let it go unmentioned). He showed up to the BSC one night wearing this shirt and I asked him if he would let me take a picture and he was completely okay with it. How can you read his shirt and not hear God shouting at you to “DO SOMETHING FOR MY KINGDOM”? That is how I have been feeling lately. Duk agrees with all of my standpoints on Buddhism but he still claims it as his religion, because it is a cultural thing. Duk and I have had a lot of conversations and i feel like we have made some progress, but that isn’t up to me. I keep this picture on my phone because every time I look at it, I am reminded of the incredible need, not only here, but everywhere in our world. I pray that Duk is one day influenced by the Spirit and turns his life over to Christ, but I can’t make that decision for him. My job is to keep loving on him and being there for him when he needs me so he knows exactly what a Christian should look like. Duk lives about a 15 minute walk from me and I try to see him as much as possible because I want him to see Christ in me as much as possible. I love my job and I love the interactions that I have on a daily basis when I have the opportunity to love on these beautiful people. I just want to stop letting fear and excuses get in the way of communicating my real purpose of being here and I hope that you join with me in praying for Duk and Film and the others that I have been able to share with who have taken Bibles home to read. The Baptist Student Center has provided countless opportunities to speak into the lives of people just like these guys and I am thankful that I have found a place to plug in.
We have to do whatever it takes to get our message across and that requires loving every person we encounter. Sometimes it will drive people away, but Jesus said that many would reject the gospel. We can’t let that be an excuse to approach the message softly. We have to rely on the Spirit for the right words and I pray every day that when I encounter friends like the ones I have mentioned in this post that I have the right words to say.