I grew up with a stereotypical image of missionaries. I envisioned men and women who journey into the African bush to find small villages of people who have never heard the name of Jesus. These bold men and women gather the local people under a shade tree, preach a Gospel message, and then lead the whole village in a procession down to the river where they baptize people by the dozen.
Our ministry in Angola is nothing like my once-held stereotype.
I live in a city of almost a million people that is saturated with churches, though Jesus has little effect on the average Angolan’s life. Belief in God is nearly universal and Jesus’ name is everywhere. But for many Christians, the Gospel has been reduced to a short list of rules: 1) don’t drink alcohol, 2) don’t smoke, 3) go to “church” on Sunday, and 4) tithe 10% of everything you earn.
It seems to me that the religious culture in urban Angola isn’t much different from many cities in the U.S.A.
I struggle to find opportunities to share the Gospel for two reasons. First, it’s hard to convince people that their understanding of the Gospel is insufficient. Following Jesus Christ is more than a handful of rules that we follow, but reducing Christian life to a handful of rules makes following Jesus a much more manageable task.
Second, evangelism doesn’t come naturally to me. I tend to be task-oriented rather than relationship-oriented. I must continually remind myself that every individual whom I encounter may be an opportunity to share my faith. When I feel busy, I often lose this perspective.
I appreciated Michael Frost’s thoughts in the first chapter of Surprise the World! Frost suggests that, for most of us, opportunities to tell others about Jesus will not arise from bold evangelistic proclamation but rather from living questionable lives. I believe this is true. When I reflect on our ministry in Angola, I see far more fruit born out of our friends and neighbors witnessing the way we live, than I see result from my Sunday sermons or Gospel meetings.
Recently I have been trying to focus more on living a questionable life. I am consciously looking for opportunities to bless others. I make at least three attempts per week to eat with others. (These are two strategies suggested by Frost.) After just a few weeks of developing these new habits, I notice that I am more focused on relationships than tasks. I have also had many more opportunities to explain why I live differently than most.
On Sunday, Wade challenged us to put the Gospel message into our own words – to find our own unique way to account for the hope that we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).
I have adjusted the way I share my hope as I have been developing these new habits. One example:
Three weeks ago, I stopped to buy a small item from a woman, Adelina, in an open-air market. The price was approximately $1.75 and I only had a bill worth about $2, so I told Adelina to keep the change.
She smiled and exclaimed, “You white people are so generous!”
I smiled back and replied, “I know many white people who are not generous. But I like to bless others because Jesus blessed others – and I am trying to be like Jesus.”
She immediately replied, “I need to know more about your church!”
I am now one of Adelina’s regular customers and each time we interact I share a little bit more about what I think it means to “be like Jesus.” In fact, as soon as I finish writing this post, I will head to the market to see her again.
I pray every day that God will bring me new opportunities to share my hope in Christ. I pray that he does the same for you.