If you had told me eight years ago, when I graduated from high school, that I would be hanging out with people from all over the world and be afforded the opportunity to share the gospel with them, I would have laughed at you. I was unconverted; definitely not a preacher or speaker, and I didn’t know very many people outside of Southern Illinois, let alone North America. Then, if you had told me that I would be doing it 15 miles away from where I was currently living, I would have said that you were absolutely insane.
Yet that’s exactly where I find myself, surrounded by beautiful people from other countries who don’t know the true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Or even worse yet, they’ve been given a horrible depiction of Him by the media, and other poor messengers as we’ll see here in a few moments as depicted in the book of Ezekiel. But God works in mysterious ways, and upon returning to my home area for a funeral, after being gone for a couple years, I was offered a job to work with a multi-cultural community center which is a church-supporting ministry. This ministry (The Old School Community Center) focuses on meeting the needs of those from other cultures in their native language by using interpreters. It focuses on using community service programs and friendship evangelism to win their hearts.
The local church here has a total of twenty-four members from: Haiti, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, China, Dubai, Nigeria, Zambia, Colombia, Bolivia and Romania. The Spanish speaking church that meets just down the hall has members from Mexico, Cuba and Ecuador.
The other day I went to our Adventist Campus Ministries booth in the student center at Southern Illinois University with two church member friends from Ghana and Dubai. We had a discussion with a young Hindu man from Sri Lanka about the big picture themes of the Holy Scriptures. I went back to work where I heard Spanish with accents from Colombia, Bolivia and Mexico. After dinner, I headed to prayer meeting which is held at the home of one of the Haitian families. They told me they have a single-mother neighbor who is a Catholic from Madagascar and in need of prayer. We went to her house to sing some hymns and pray with her.
God’s plan for the nation of Israel was for them to evangelize the world through their example.
A Schwinn bicycle helped spread the Good News to these parts of the world. Sure, I could have spent thousands of dollars to fly overseas; spent hundreds more paying for immunizations, lodging and food; spent months learning the language and building trust with the locals; then finally be to a point where I could competently share the gospel in a foreign land. Instead, the Lord saw fit for me to get on my bike and ride to the local public university to share with those from other countries. We can do a great work far more cost-effectively, in our home country without having the barrier of being an American that is just trying to win souls and go home. Unfortunately, this stereotype exists in many parts of the world.
I find this intriguing because God’s plan for the nation of Israel was for them to evangelize the world through their example and His mighty providential hand. Unfortunately, they did not faithfully fulfill this duty. In fact, in Ezekiel 36:22-32 God pleads with the children of Israel who have profaned His name among the nations with their behavior and disobedience. He vows to sanctify His name to the world in spite of what they did to profane it. The neighboring lands wouldn’t put their faith in Israel’s God because of their poor example.
So what’s that got to do with you or me? A lot actually. Our country exhibits some of the similar characteristics of the children of Israel in the Old Testament. This country was providentially raised up with good intentions and the favor of God was upon it and the Gospel has been shared with many lands as a result. But if you turn on your television or look on any news websites, you will see what type of picture the world is being given of America here and now. The image of the “Christian Bastion of the West” isn’t quite as flattering as it once was. I find it to be strikingly similar to what we just read in Ezekiel 36. People in other lands are not putting their faith in the Fear of Isaac because of the bad example of those who profess to be the people of God. Thousands, yea millions, won’t consider Christianity because of bad “Christian” examples. In fact wasn’t it Gandhi who said something along the lines of “The whole world would be Christian were it not for the Christians”?
Now I want you to bear with me, and know that this is by no means intended to discourage doing mission work overseas, or diminish the work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes through those who have the willingness to answer the call and go. But Satan is using America’s poor image in the world to dissuade others from receiving the gospel. In a day and age where the economy is in constant flux, gas prices (which will transfer to plane tickets and food prices) are skyrocketing, there needs to be a supplemental, and sustainable strategy to reach the world that will go alongside our existing mission programs.
The good news is that there’s no need to gather a bunch of scholars, ministry consultants, statisticians, or accountants to make a grand plan on how to achieve this. Just go to your local Adventist Book Center and buy the book Evangelism. Then turn to page 570 and read the advice we were given 100 years ago:
“God would be pleased to see far more accomplished by His people in the presentation of the truth for this time to the foreigners in America than has been done in the past…. As I have testified for years, if we were quick in discerning the opening providences of God, we should be able to see in the multiplying opportunities to reach many foreigners in America a divinely appointed means of rapidly extending the third angel’s message into all the nations of earth. God in His providence has brought men to our very doors and thrust them, as it were, into our arms, that they might learn the truth, and be qualified to do a work we could not do in getting the light before men of other tongues.
Not all the means that can be gathered up is to be sent from America to distant lands, while in the home field there exist such providential opportunities to present the truth to millions who have never heard it. Among these millions are the representatives of many nations, many of whom are prepared to receive the message. Much remains to be done within the shadow of our doors–in the cities of California, New York, and many other States…
Wake up, wake up, my brethren and sisters, and enter the fields in America that have never been worked. After you have given something for foreign fields, do not think your duty done. There is a work to be done in foreign fields, but there is a work to be done in America that is just as important. In the cities of America there are people of almost every language. These need the light that God has given to His church.”
Another book that drives this point home is called Revolution in World Missions, by K.P. Yohannan, a native Indian missionary, and founder of Gospel For Asia. His theory is that natives of closed and unreached countries can do much more for the kingdom much more cost-effectively and efficiently. If we prioritize the use of mission funds to train people and send them out to do the work in their own country, they will be accustom to the living conditions, fluent in the language, able to comfortably live on much lower wages than a transplanted missionary; then they don’t have to contend with the stigmas that westerners would have to face. The overall cost and time for evangelizing in a country drops exponentially. Again, that doesn’t let us off the hook for doing the work of God in foreign lands, if anything, it shows us that there are additional ways in which we can engage in, and support His work.
Pentecost is another fitting example. People from the known world were in Jerusalem and heard the truths of the gospel, and in conjunction with missionaries, they went out and shared with those back home. God afforded the gift of tongues (which is a functional gift that is to be used for sharing the gospel to foreign lands) and the known world was taken by storm. These dear souls that are visiting our country know more than one tongue, and should be encouraged and equipped to advance the kingdom in their homelands. If you know more than one language, it’s not just a neat recreational use of your time. God has given you this precious gift to reach people whom others that don’t know that language cannot. Use this blessed gift to win for Him a kingdom. Buy a Bible in that language and begin to share.
There is a great work the people of God can be doing here in America by befriending those that are here from foreign countries, by sharing with them the precious truths that we hold so dear. Most of them don’t know anyone if they haven’t brought family, or come with friends. Their first instinct is to find others from their country, continent or faith, and stay in those small esoteric groups. Many have no American friends. But a good amount of them are open to hearing these truths that we possess, and they come from cultures where family and friends are so tight-knit that the gospel will not just change the life of one individual, but a whole neighborhood or village. When they share that they have learned of this hope in America, from the American people, we can begin a process of re-branding the nation and the Christian message.
The people I have met who are believers from other countries also seem to be less prone to exhibit symptoms of the Laodicean virus that is more commonly found in Westerners. Most of them have a fire and a passion for God that many of us would covet. I believe converts from other lands would exhibit a similar zeal. Not to mention the fact that there are so many blessings awaiting us by learning about other cultures and the common threads that bind us together. The food is pretty good too… Just saying.
He’s calling me, and you, to reach the world.
So what does this look like? It can start with finding these people and engaging in simple conversations and encouragement. Maybe offering them a ride to the doctor or grocery store. Share with them the reasons for the kindness that you are showing them. Tell them that Jesus loves them, and died for them, and that He has asked you to be their friend. So what if you don’t know their language. Smiles, hugs, acts of kindness, and most importantly, love, transcends language. Small steps like this can make a world of difference in someone’s life (pun intended). They can lead to spiritual conversations. You can also focus time and energy in training Adventists who are here from overseas to go and share in other areas back home. Teach them how to share our doctrines and how to defend them. Many laypeople don’t share because they don’t know how. You can help with that. If you feel like you are in that category then plan to attend ARISE or one of the other institutions like it, to sharpen your sword and empower you for this mighty work.
I have been truly blessed to make the acquaintance of so many beautiful souls that Jesus bled and died for, and I know that He has brought them here to learn what you and I have come to know as life-changing truths, and to encourage them to share with those back home. Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 that, “…this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations”, and the context of that statement is His imminent return. I don’t know about you, but I really want to go home. And if carrying out His work means sharing time with beautiful people from foreign lands, and eating good food is a part of that process, to ensure that this gospel does get to “all the world,” then I’d say it’s more than worth it. I now have brothers and sisters from the world over that I’ll know for all eternity. It doesn’t get any better than that.
I thought God called me here to do His work of reaching Carbondale. But now I’m beginning to see that it’s much bigger than that. He’s calling me, and you, to reach the world.
So where’s your Carbondale?
Dee is a graduate of the 2010 Cornerstone Program and is currently working as the Disaster Preparedness Coordinator at The Old School Community Center, he is a trainer for ACTS World Relief, and he preaches and teaches at the Carbondale Seventh-Day Adventist Fellowship in Carbondale, Illinois.