Wednesday, July 8, 2009

windows and doors

2441584-2-mdina-malta-door-1 In a previous post I referenced partnering with a group who did evangelism at a mall.  The mall received very international clientele, and the group's goal was to talk specifically with Muslims.  The mall was full of people from all across the 10/40 window.  My partner was long on zeal and short on tools.  I do not say anything to puff myself up {for certainly I still make many blunders} or to tear my partner down {He truly loved God and was zealous to reach people with the gospel}.  This story only serves to illustrate a point.

My partner's style of approaching people was rather caustic.  You could see the shock {and at times terror!} on the faces of those he stopped.  My partner was highly educated {PhD in English lit} but lacked certain social graces.  For those who know me well, know that it must have been bad for ME to have noticed.  At the evangelistic level, he was very fast to pull out labels to describe himself or his beliefs.  "Protestant" "Conservative" and others were freely thrown around.  {The problem with this approach is that the gospel is more than a label.  Labels are sometimes loaded terms with different meanings for different groups.  Point being, offend them with the cross not a label.} 

There was one encounter in particular which will serve our purposes here.  Technically, you are not supposed to be doing this sort of thing at a mall and we started to receive attention from a security guard.  I have been picked up mall security before-for some reason I look like a terrorist...-and didn't want the evening to end prematurely with us being thrown off of mall property.  I decided to divert them, and I left my partner to step into a bookstore and get a cup of coffee.  By the time I returned he was in the middle of talking to a Pakistani man, Salmon.  I sat down in time to hear the tail end of an exchange something like this:

Partner: You need to read the Bible
Salmon: I have already told you, I don't want to read the Bible.
P This is the most influential book in history
S I don't care: you need to go watch Lost
short pause
P I have never seen it, but I have heard that Lost has a lot of Christian ideas in it just like Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' books.  Have you read any of those?
S {shoots him a frustrated glance}
ME  I show up
P hi ME, I was just telling him that he should read the Bible, but he doesn't want to
S Actually I am telling him he should go watch Lost

It continued like this for another ten minutes.  I think I was as shocked as Salmon.  With increasing certainty, Salmon insisted that if you continue telling people the same thing that no one would ever want to listen to you.  He followed this with several "I am really not interested" with a kind of "no means no" grimace. 
When I am witnessing with a partner, I do my best to allow them, if they are the one leading, to finish their train of though/line of reasoning.  It always bothers me, when I am headed somewhere and my partner decides that he wants to head somewhere else and cuts me off.  I think disunity in a conversation is confusing to a witnessee.  I broke the code; I had to.  Much to the shock of my partner, I started discussing the Pakistani culture with Salmon.  It shocked both of us that he, who I was sure was about to walk away at any second, leaned forward, looked me in the eyes, and started telling me all about his homeland.  So I started with questions:  What is the language?  Culturally do you have more in common with Afghanistan or India? {most Americans don't ask him that one, but he really liked it}.  These questions were not merely random.  They served a number of purposes.  First, it slowed down the conversation.  Prior to my interjection, it looked like a Chinese ping pong match.  Second, they served to demonstrate I was truly interested in him as a person--and I truly was.  I really do enjoy studying cultures and worldviews.  Third, the questions functioned strategically to discover who he really was, what he really thought, and to guide him down a certain path of reasoning.  Turns out he was as postmodern as any American or European {for those who are intimidated by the thought of talking to postmodernists, you don't need a degree in philosophy or apologetics.  Just give an honest projection of yourself, gain trust through relationships, and tell your story in terms that are relevant to them and not the church crowd}.  He had been raised Muslim.  He had heard about other religions and philosophies.  Now, he had a good education, a great job, lots of money, and he really just thought that all religions are true enough for themselves and that everyone should get along peacefully and quietly, and, most importantly, should leave him alone.  He was a far cry from the stereotype with which my partner was labeling him.

From the common interest of culture, I started asking him about the role of honor and shame.  What brings one honor?  What brings one shame?  What does one do when shamed to fix the problem?  Then I asked if I could tell him my story.  He leaned forward in his seat and eagerly said "yes."  He listened for thirty minutes to my journey from a hyper religious neoamish group to a mad search though all religions and philosophies to settling on a more culturally integrated/transformissional Christianity {primarily how I was able to move from my state of having shamed God and myself to how my situation was rectified without retribution on my head--I told my story in worldview terms he understood}.  To make a long story short, he wasn't ready to convert when I was finished.  He wasn't even ready to take the Bible I offered him.  But real communication did occur.  I actually listened to him enough to know who he was and what he needed to hear.  He actually listened to me tell him my story in vocabulary that was relevant to him.  The event turned from a very negative event to a positive event where we listened and learned.  He was visibly touched when I said I would pray for him that night {if I could go back, I would have prayed for him on the spot-opportunity lost...}

So what is the point?  I believe it was Donald Mcgavran who formulated the harvest principle.  The basic idea is that we should be going to where we see the harvest happening.  We should be going to those fields which seem to be receptive.  This is similar to Blackaby's "find where God is working and get involved."  Both of these rules are good, but one must be careful when applying them.  Many people have used these rules to overlook vast areas of the globe which appear to be unreceptive, such as North Africa and the Middle East.  As of late missiologists have realized that when you look at a geographic region, such as a city, that there are some groups within the city which are hardened, while others are receptive.  This is a better rule of thumb.  But what if everyone, or almost everyone is receptive at some level to certain approaches while not receptive to other approaches?  What if they are actually not receiving us and our methodology rather than actually rejecting the cross?  Here was a man who for all practical purposes was highly resistant.  Or was he?  My partner was slyly trying to crawl through the window  by recommending certain books in hopes that he would read, be lulled to sleep by the art and some how wake up believing the Christian worldview.  Salmon reacted the same way any of us would react if we caught someone sneaking into our house through a window.  We would be appalled, shocked, and defensive.  But what about if we just knock on the front door?  Will we perhaps get invited in and served some tea or coffee?  Regardless of our efforts and intentions, when communication does not really take place, then no evangelism actually occurred.  Inevitably we will go to peoples half-cocked and and preach against stereotypes which we assume they ought to be.  When they kick us out we will come back with our war stories of suffrin' for Jesus and talk about how resistant the world is to the gospel and probably revert by to trying to vote in our religion.  But what if we had just walked through the front door?

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