Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Power of Welcoming

In Columbus, we have one of the largest universities in the U.S., I actually think it is the largest with about 100,000 students. I used to work regularly with an organization on campus called International Friendships, which "welcomed" internationals and met thier practical needs like picking them up at the airport, giving them a place to stay, and helping them navigate thier way around thier new country using local Christians. All just to show them the love the Christ. It is such effective missions, as many of these students might never have heard of God's love in thier own, sometimes closed access, countries.

I just found an article that made me cry, in my big "life events" happening lately, I seem to have forgotten to take advantage of the opportunity to share God's love all around me. Read the following if you have a couple of minutes:

"But They're so Different"
How to reach the world that's moving into your neighborhood
by Ravi Zacharias

Did you know?
More than 1,500 religious groups are in the United States today, and more than 600 of them are non-Christian?

Muslims in America (including Black Muslims) number nearly 3 million, a larger "denomination" than either the Assemblies of God or the Episcopal Church in the United States?

The U.S. armed services have Buddhist chaplains?

More than 40 Hindu temples, 600 mosques, and 150 Buddhist churches have been built in the U.S.?

A Gallup survey suggests 10 percent of the U.S. population claim a religion "other" than Christian or Jewish, totaling perhaps 17.5 million adults. (Source: Those Other Religions in Your Neighborhood by Terry Muck)

Chances are you have already encountered a person of an entirely different worldview. How can you share the gospel with those who seem so different?

See the opportunities
In Beirut several years ago, I was driving to Sidon with a Lebanese man named Samuel. At a roadblock, Syrian soldiers waved our van to a stop. The soldiers asked Samuel, "Do you have any explosives?"

Samuel smiled, pointed to me, an evangelist, and said, "Yes, this man is full of dynamite!"

They looked at me suspiciously. Samuel started to rummage through our luggage. The soldier stood with his machine gun braced on the window.

Samuel pulled out a red New Testament and gave it to the soldier. "Here," he said. "This is the dynamite I am talking about. But it's not the kind that will hurt." The soldier accepted the book and waved us on.

Samuel then said to me, "You will never know how angry I was the day 50,000 Syrian soldiers came into this country." He described the pain of civil war between the factions-the Hizb'allah, the Druze, the Phalangists. "Our beautiful country was torn apart. Beirut is in ruins. I prayed God would bring peace. I saw 50,000 Syrians occupying our land, and I knew they wouldn't want to leave.

"I wept angry tears. Lord, what are you doing? Then it was as if God spoke to me, 'For all these years, you have been complaining that Syria has shut its doors and will not allow missionaries to enter. For all these years. Every day. I answer by sending 50,000 Syrians to you. And you are still complaining.'"

Samuel said, "The change in my perspective was overwhelming. If God moved peoples throughout history from spot to spot in order to get the redemptive message to them, why do we think he has stopped doing that?"

Today in North America, possibly more than any other time or place, we have access to virtually every culture, even those officially shut down or resistant to the gospel: Saudi, Iranian, Japanese, French, Chinese. God is providing a way to reach people we might never touch in their own lands.

Respect the longing for respect
Most people who leave their homeland develop a greater attachment to their old culture—at least for a while. They admire things like tradition, respect, relationships, family. That's why many of the older generation who came to the U.S. now wonder if they did the right thing. They see their children growing up in a society without moorings, and their values are threatened.

This creates a tremendous opportunity. Many of these people are great respecters of family units and admirers of others who have respect for life and for God, even if we don't share the same religion. Many of them will send their children to Christian schools. Even though they don't want the Christian message, they want the benefits of it—decency, civility, respect.

One of the most powerful avenues to reach them today is a Christian home. In most cases, inviting a Hindu, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist into your home immediately gives you a level of respect. Friendship and love speak louder than words, especially if you are there as a friend when they are going through some difficult time. It's hard for them to believe the Christian life is for real until they have seen that life lived out.

Use the holidays
Because most world religions are so oriented to festive occasions, make use of the festive occasions Christians observe. Friends from other cultures will find it very hard to turn down an invitation to observe your celebration—whether in a church, your community, or in your home.

"We want you to come and celebrate Thanksgiving with us."

Or, "On Easter our family goes to church and then has a great Easter dinner. We'd like you to come."

Simply sharing your priorities, the things that cause you to celebrate, is a great way to communicate your faith.

A lot of Muslims see Christianity as just a cerebral subculture, not as an effective culture. When they see it woven into life, they are intrigued.

Speak their name in prayer
One of the most attractive elements of Christianity is that God is personal. For a Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim, the idea that God has a great plan for an individual's life is brand new. They may have never heard their name spoken to God.

A Hindu couple who heard me preach invited my wife and me to their home, and our friendship continued for several years. Last year, they both became followers of Jesus.

That man has often told me, "You graced my home with your presence the first time you came. And I sensed a blessing from you and your wife."

What had we done? Simply offered friendship, and on that first visit, I said, "Do you mind if I pray for this home?" They saw it as a blessing.

When you offer to pray, it may take them by surprise. But many Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists do not want to miss the possibility of a blessing. They will say, "Please do." A simple prayer that God will reveal himself in this place, and that his love and wisdom will reside here, is powerful. They may have no concept of a personal relationship with God. They wonder where you come up with these words.

Christians can speak to God on behalf of their friends. Such a genuine blessing impresses an Easterner. And they will think about that long after you are gone.

You Can't Spoil This Story
The Good Friday service in Dampara Baptist Church, Chittagong, Bangladesh, was packed. Little children sat on the floor in the aisles and across the front of the church. Rows of people stood in the back, craning their necks to see the crucifixion scene as depicted in the "Jesus Film."

Weeping and gasps of unbelief could be heard in the shocked hush as Jesus was crucified. As the Bengalis watched, they were feeling the agony of Jesus' pain and the disappointment of the disciples.

In that emotional moment, one young boy in the crowded church suddenly cried out, "Do not be afraid. He gets up again! I saw it before."

A small boy's encouraging cry gave new hope to the viewers of the film. "He is risen!" is the cry that gives new hope to us all.

1 comment:

Shanygne said...

Beautiful! I nearly cried several times... as we get closer to having our own church, I am visited by visions of the ministries I feel like God would have us create... this is one of them. In college, we were part of an International ministry...where we invited international students to do things, as well as a Bible was there that I learned that 90% of international students, those that will make a difference in their homelands ENVER set foot inside an American home while they are here...let alone a Christian one...
Thanks for the reminder of how important it is...