Publication: Pastoral Letter, March 2014
Dear Friend in Christ:
Recently, I traveled to California where I ministered to Armenians and Iranians alongside my dear friend, “Brother Luke”. Luke is the son of a Christian pioneer in Iran, and a brother to siblings who are all in the ministry. He is a great preacher and interpreter. In addition, I just read an excellent book, The Insanity of Obedience by Nik Ripken. Nik and his wife were missionaries in some very difficult areas, including Somalia. They interviewed followers of Jesus in 70 nations where persecution was prevalent. The book is a summary of what they learned and experienced. I highly recommend it!
These two experiences – ministering with Luke and reading the book – have made a deep impact upon my life. I believe both were divinely appointed. While in California, I prayed with nearly 100 people and interviewed approximately a dozen former Muslims. I’ll say more about the interviews later. What affected me most were conversations; the conversations recorded in Ripken’s book and those I had with former Muslims.
We tend to think of evangelism as preaching or special church services. While much can be accomplished in those ways, we often forget that some of the most effective evangelism comes from simple conversations in a relational setting. Jesus gives us numerous examples of conversing with non-believers and disciples in a relational setting, such as Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, and the Samaritan woman. When people meet Jesus in a relational conversation as a friend, then conversion is better understood as a relationship with Jesus.
To have those conversations, we must move out of our social or church circles, as Jesus did. He was constantly among the people being who He was and doing what He did. People came to see and hear simultaneously and they related to Him. Evangelism that occurred relationally in conversation spread in the same ways very rapidly.
Jesus was never trapped by religious duties and norms as so many of us often are. The conversation with a Samaritan woman is but one such example.
The Samaritan Conversation (John Chapter 4)
This example is one of the better known for good reason. The story begins by telling us that Jesus “needed” to go through Samaria, a place most Jews never “needed” to go. Race, religion, and history had built great barriers between Jews and Samaritans.
There was a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well at mid-day. She was alone. That probably indicates that she was an outcast even among Samaritans, because she had been married five times and was living with a man not her husband. Jesus began the conversation by asking her for a drink of water. She was surprised by that request since Jews didn’t ask Samaritans for anything. Already the conversation was “out of the box.”
Too often, believers approach non-believers as though we need nothing from them but they need us; that is a turn off. The truth is that we need them almost as much as they need us. Without real conversations with non-Christians, we dry up. By reaching out, we are energized. Relational evangelism is food and energy. Jesus found life in giving life and so do we.
Following Jesus’ request she began asking questions, “How is it that you being a Jew are asking me for water?” Jesus had broken through her preconceptions and stirred her curiosity. Jesus responded, “If you knew Who was asking, you would ask Me for a drink and I would give you living water.”
“And how would You do that? You have no bucket.”
Then Jesus introduced the topic of living water. What we have here is not a sermon on salvation, but a Spirit-led conversation. The Lord often used questions to get to real answers. If people are not asking questions, then our answers are not likely accepted.
Why do many of us not have those kinds of conversations? One reason may be that we are not led by the Holy Spirit to those places and people. Another may be our own fear of failure or the “what ifs.” What if they say “Mind your own business,” as one said to me? Or what if we cannot answer their questions. What if they say “I am a Muslim?” Fear is a problem. The scripture says, “Perfect love casts out fear” (see First John 4:18). Perhaps the real reason is that we need more of His love for those who also need it. His love will overcome our fear of people, especially those not like us.
The Rest of The Story
The conclusion of the Samaritan story is that this woman accepted Jesus as Messiah returned home, and the entire village came to Christ. Relational evangelism spreads quickly.
When the disciples returned from purchasing food, they offered some to Jesus. He said, “I have food that you know not of. My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and finish His work.” What is our food?
Jesus was sustained and energized by giving life to those who were hungry for life. He was angered by those who thought that they had it all. Luke 19 records His conversation with Zacchaeus, which upset some self-righteous people. Zacchaeus was a Jewish tax collector for Rome and an outcast. But Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” That was His mission, His food. He was always out among the people looking for that one lost sheep.
Conversations With Former Muslims
I confess to having a skeptical attitude toward Islam, and I think it’s with good reason. But I cannot transfer that feeling to an individual without destroying my ability to reach them. Talking with former Muslims recently helped me perhaps more than them. Here is a brief gist of some of my interviews.
C.S.: “How did you become a believer?”
Kati: “I came from an intellectual family and my parents divorced. I was sent to a Catholic boarding school. I migrated to the U.S. in 1989. A friend told me about Jesus and I received Him in 2004.”
Arash: “I met the Lord 5 months ago through a friend who told me about Jesus.”
Javad: “I met the Lord while I was in Iran. A friend told me about Jesus. I was turned off by the Islamic view of God.” (Many young people in Iran are turned off by Islam.)
Faraba: “My father worked with the Iranian version of the IRS; I was very close to him. I had a friend who was sick in the hospital. She was healed through prayer in Jesus’ name. When I came to the United States, I was invited to a church that had a banner, ‘Worship the heavenly Father.’ I learned that Jesus is the Way to the Father. I accepted Jesus.”
Javad: “I was turned off by Islam because Allah only speaks Arabic. I thought if God created everybody, He should be able to speak to them in their own language.” Jesus spoke to him.
Abbas: Abbas had a long and inspiring story. He was healed of pancreatic cancer through the prayer of a friend. He is now a pastor.
Farsad: “I grew up irreligious and later moved to the United States. Then, two days later, I was invited to a church by a friend and there I met Jesus.”
Faranoosh: “I looked into a mirror and saw a vision of Jesus. He said, ‘Follow me.’ I said, “I will follow you; I will follow you!” Faranoosh is a doctor. Many Muslims are having dreams and visions of Jesus.
The following week, my friend Luke baptized 10 former Muslims.
These were simple conversations with young believers who had come to Christ through faithful friends, healings, churches, and visions. I could add other stories, but these are examples. I had the privilege of praying with many during and after meetings. Whatever I did for them, that did something deep in me.
I remember my father’s eyes lighting up when he would talk about the entire village that came to Christ in South Louisiana back in the 1930s. It was “food” for him. My trip to minister to Armenians and Iranians was that to me. Simply looking for a better church or better speaker will not do that for us. Giving life to someone else will.
A Friend Passes
I want to talk for a moment about a dear friend who brought life to many, and is now with the Lord. Rebecca Petrie, wife of Paul, went to be with the Lord a few weeks ago. She had been mostly paralyzed from a fall down stairs, years ago. While her body was paralyzed, her faith was not. She dictated books, taught Bible studies, and touched lives as she and Paul lived in Belgium. She was a devoted follower of Jesus, devoted wife and mother, and faithful friend.
Paul and Rebecca touched many thousands of lives all over the world. Even in paralysis, Rebecca was a great support to Paul and his work, as he ministered to national leaders and diplomats in Europe. He hosted prayer breakfasts attended by royalty and other leaders. Many accepted Jesus and others grew in their faith.
I visited Brussels numerous times and experienced the peace of God that was in their lives and in their home. They raised their children to serve the Lord, even as they reached out to others.
I’ll miss Rebecca, as will many others; she was in my daily prayers. What I remember most was her radiant smile and joyful spirit. What a testimony! She reminds us all that no matter our circumstance we can serve the Lord and others.
Let’s be encouraged to live our lives in such a way as to bring life to other people and point the way to faith in Jesus. I pray His blessings for you this month and always!
P.S. We would love to see you at our annual CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference happening May 14-16. Our theme this year is “Reaching and Discipling Youth” and features Bill Wilson of Metro World Child, a ministry based in New York City.
Scripture Reference: John, 1 John, Luke