Insights into Cross-Cultural Mission – Part 2
This blog was first posted as an excellent and insightful three part series at Insights into Cross-Cultural Mission
You can read parts 1 and 3 here:
Opening Doors (Part 2 of 3)
“But what about Jesus?” Our friend asked as we sat on the floor cushions in our apartment chatting to him on Zoom. “Surely you need to talk about Jesus!” Our friend was right of course. We did need to talk about Jesus and our friends in Lebanon needed to hear about the good news that Jesus brings but we’d been learning to slow down.
Here in the UK, we tend to rush people to Jesus. Partly, I think that we do this as an insurance policy just in case they have a car accident on the way home. We think to ourselves that at least we’ll have given them the opportunity to hear about Jesus first. We also tend to be talking to people who don’t have a faith or a belief in God and if they do, it’s in something different to the God of the Bible or is an abstract sense of a ‘higher being’. In our Western context, starting with Jesus can often be a good strategy. With most of our Muslim friends, however, jumping straight into the story of Jesus wasn’t very helpful. It put up barriers to the gospel, barriers that could be circumvented if we took a bit of time before talking about Jesus.
We’d learnt that our Muslim friends didn’t trust the Bible. They believed that it used to be the word of God but that it had been corrupted and could no longer be trusted. Our friends needed to be convinced of the trustworthiness of the Bible before they would trust anything that we said about Jesus. In order to do this, we went right back to the creation story and then worked through the story of the Old Testament, showing them in the process that what the Bible says is true. Many people ask, ‘Why the Old Testament?’ And the answer lies in the fact that many of the stories in the Quran are about the same people as those stories that we find in the Old Testament. People like Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon are all regarded as prophets in Islam and so these can be used as bridging points to bring people to a place where they are ready to trust what the Bible says about another prophet of Islam – Jesus. Not only are they bridging points, but our Muslim friends loved hearing the prophet stories that we told because, in their words, “They have so much more detail!” The stories of the prophets in the Quran are often lacking in detail and our friends loved to hear more of the story than they were used to hearing.
The trouble was that it took time! Telling a series of stories that started with Adam could take weeks and we just had to trust that God is sovereign and that our friends wouldn’t die before we’d got to Jesus! We also had to learn how to have conversations with well-meaning friends back home asking how many people we’d seen saved. Our answer was often, “None.” This wasn’t because we weren’t sharing the gospel, rather, it was because sharing the gospel looked very different in the context that we were in and the results were a long time in becoming apparent.
“Where’s the solution?” Fatima (not her real name) cried as she flicked the end of her hijab over her shoulder and hurriedly turned the pages of Genesis looking for her answer. “There must be a solution somewhere!” Gently, our friends spoke to her, showing her that the answer that she was looking for wasn’t there. Humanity has fallen and there isn’t anything that we ourselves can do to put the relationship with God back together again. As they talked with her over the next few days, they drew Fatima toward Jesus until eventually, she said, “That’s the answer, I want to be a follower of Jesus.”
At this point, we’d been in Lebanon for less than a year and, if we’re honest, we weren’t really ready for someone to make a commitment to follow Jesus so soon! We had gone with the intention that we, as a team, would spend two years learning Arabic and culture so that, in the words of a picture that resonated with us, ‘we’d know all about the fish that we were trying to catch, what they liked and where they swam before we opened up the fishing business!’ We’d spent hours studying and practising Arabic. We’d met as a team to learn about the culture of the people among who we now lived. We’d also taken time to start to learn stories from the Bible that we could share with our friends but we hadn’t actively been fishing! This ‘fish’ had jumped into the boat and asked to be caught!
As we thought about it, it was so encouraging! Fatima, a refugee from Syria, had seen one of our friends in the street and asked if she would like some help learning Arabic. Our friend accepted and, from that relationship, Fatima, who had been attending church in order to receive aid, started to ask questions about the bible and Jesus. Then, on that day, she prayed and made a commitment to follow him. As a team we hadn’t really done anything but God had brought someone to us and used us to bring her to Him. It wasn’t about us or about how eloquent we were in Arabic. It was all about Him!
And there were other stories. Stories of how, in our weakness of needing to learn a new language, God was working. In the 6 years that we were there, we, as a team, saw 3 people become believers and at least 5 relatively new believers strengthened in their faith as a direct result of our needing to learn a language.
“Can you help me?” isn’t often a question that we like to ask in the UK, particularly when we don’t really know the person we’re asking. We are very individualistic in the West and, as such, we like to think that we are in control and that we don’t need anyone else to help us get by in life. In our time in Lebanon however, it was one of the most important questions that we learnt to ask. Not because we were incapable of doing things (although many times we were) but because it opened up relationships with people. There, in the Middle East, the mindset is far more collectivist and community is the key to the way that life works.
We saw how important relationship was straight away upon arriving in Lebanon. On the day after we landed, we started cleaning our new apartment and had gone out, locking the door behind us, to get some more cleaning things. When we returned, the key wouldn’t turn in the lock! We were locked out of our apartment and we’d been in the country less than 24 hours! I called our team leader who came round bringing his friend, the Syrian handyman who looked after his building, with him. We tried the lock again. I tried, nothing happened. My friend tried, nothing happened. The handyman tried, nothing happened. Then we stood and chatted for a bit just looking at the broken lock. After a few minutes, the man from the other apartment on the same floor as ours came out and joined in the conversation. A few minutes later, he had a go at opening the door. Again, nothing happened!
After some more time talking, punctuated with people trying the key in the lock every now and then, the handyman suggested that he climbed from our neighbour’s balcony to ours and open the door from the inside. We all tried to convince him that there must be another way but he insisted so I found myself, a day after moving to Lebanon, holding on to this man’s belt, praying that he wouldn’t fall to his death as he tried to break into our apartment! In the end, it was no use, he couldn’t climb round. Yet more talking took place with more testing of the lock! Eventually, by some miracle, on one of the random attempts the lock suddenly opened and we were able to get into the apartment! We then carried on chatting for a bit before we went our separate ways. It had taken a couple of hours but everything had worked out…we’d got back in our apartment and the community had come together and spent time together.
Had I been living in the UK, I’d have jumped in my car, driven to a shop, bought something to help open the door, driven back and got in, doing all of it by myself. It might have all happened a bit quicker but there would have been no relationships built as a result of it! Relationship, as we were continually learning, is always the most important thing.