It’s been a little while since I posted on my blog. I actually wrote the following post quite some time ago, but I didn’t post it right away because I thought it could give people the wrong impression because I talked about evangelism in America… and might give some the idea that I wasn’t going back into foreign missions! I also didn’t want to post too much because of the many raw emotions that come as a result of this sudden change in plans. I’m thankful for God’s constant love and leading in our lives and the many people that have blessed and encouraged me these last few months. Some of you are probably wondering: What have I been up to? What happened? What are my future plans? What’s God doing in my heart? I’ll share more of what God has been teaching me in coming blog posts. In short, I’ve spent time enjoying visiting my supporting churches and friends in the US and Canada. It’s been a good time to just enjoy the many friendships that God has blessed me with; those visits have been healing and energizing and have helped refresh my heart and vision for the future. In addition to those visits I’ve been kept very busy as God brings different opportunities and needs and people my way that I can serve and love. This has included cleaning basements, cleaning houses, landscaping (my muscles are returning to their former “farm girl” size after shoveling loads of gravel and earth!), driving people to Doctor’s appointments, mowing lawns, doing odd jobs, doing grocery shopping for people and helping organize events and music at our church. My sister jokes that I now work for “Laura’s Mow & Tow.” I’ve also enjoyed spending time with my parents (both now senior citizens?!) This last week we spent time away as a family celebrating my Parents 40th wedding anniversary. It’s been many years since I lived in this area where my family lives-and I’ve never lived on the Island that my parents and siblings and their families call home. All of these things come with a variety of joys, emotions, and opportunities to learn and grow.
But now to the point of this blog… Evangelism in Everyday Life! Late last year I began to sense the Lord putting more and more of a passion in my heart for evangelism. It’s been interesting to see other people confirm this as well. Even just the little comments since I returned home like “Laura, I know you’re a gifted Administrator-but the joy I see on your face as you lead Bible studies or tell children about Jesus… this is what God is calling you to.” I don’t know what all of this means for the future and sometimes the prospect of beginning my fundraising all over again to return to the field seems overwhelming-but the Lord will provide for where He leads me in His time.
Evangelism… it’s a joyful privilege, but also a solemn duty. Someone once said: What causes me to tremble is that in some cases what people see through me may be all they ever know of Jesus Christ.
Being an Ambassador for Christ is a joyful exciting privilege and a solemn duty. Throughout the last few months I’ve been feeling more and more burdened/called/excited about evangelism. At it’s very core, what is evangelism? How can we do it best? Is it witnessing with words? Is it lifestyle? Is it doctrine? Teaching God’s Word? How do we enthusiastically and operationally be a member of our denomination/church/organization-yet avoid the pitfall of becoming brand, leader/person focused, rather than Christ-centric?
A couple encounters over the last few months that I’ve been thinking over…
The Cosmetic Salesman: In January during a trip to a friends wedding in southern California, I had left home to travel to the airport in the very early hours of the morning. Between some afternoon meetings and a dinner appointment, I wandered into one of the local malls in Valencia, both to find a much needed caffeine boost and return something on warranty to one of chain stores!
As I walked by a cosmetics store a guy handed me a free sample. I thanked him and as I walked away he asked if I would also like to try their eye cream. In that moment I realized that my lack of sleep from the aforementioned red-eye flight departure was most likely very visible on my face! I figured, sure why not. He welcomed me into the store and sat me down in his chair. Then he began to explain the “miracle” eye cream he was about to apply. When he explained to me and showed me that this cream had flecks of 24k gold in it, I laughed a sort of unbelieving chuckle under-your-breath sort of laugh. He stopped and asked me “why did you laugh?” I explained to him Sir, you are more than welcome to give me a free demonstration of this product but with the specks of gold in it, but I’m guessing it’s going to be way out of my price range! He began to quiz me on what I did for work and why I couldn’t afford the eye cream. (Maybe I looked rich that day? Perhaps my costume “diamond” earrings looked a little too real?! I’m not sure!)
I explained to him that I lived and worked in Africa, and I began telling him about some of the things we did. I talked about how our work is funded by donors and volunteers. I told him, I’m surrounded by people that can barely afford food for their families, I just can’t justify spending that much money on a cosmetic.
As our conversation progressed, he said he had never met anyone like me. He talked about how so many people are “living a life for themselves” focused on their car, looks, clothes, security etc. (Honestly I at first just nodded and smiled because I thought it was all part of his “salesman smooze” speech-you know trying to puff up their prospective customer so they will then buy!)
I listened to him talk and then I decided, why not play along? So I asked him, “Would you like to know why I’m able to live a life not focused on myself?” He responded that he would. I told Him it was because I learned how much Jesus Christ loved me, that He had given Himself for me-and that I now had all the love I needed from Jesus Christ. As a result Christ had freed me to live for Him and others.
The man stopped and looked at me, and said something about that being amazing. I again, (being a sales critic =) thought he was likely still playing along to try and make a sale. He asked if I went to church and we chatted about the Bible and Christianity. He proceeded with the eye treatment process.
Suddenly, he froze and said “I’m sorry, I can’t sell you this cream-wait here.” He went and got a small plastic bag and went around the store grabbing different items stuffing them into the bag and then handed it to me and said. “God bless you.” I thanked him, and gave him my website address if he wanted to know more about the gospel. I walked out of there happy and surprised that God had worked the way he had. Realizing how big an impact little decisions can have on our testimony. I also began to think about how close this mall was to our Bible School where thousands of students had attended, how surrounded it was by dozens of strong Bible-based churches-and yet this man in the United States had never heard or seen the gospel lived out. How many opportunities are we missing? Does our day-to-day life point others to Jesus Christ or to ourselves?
The Ugandan Taxi Driver: A month later as I was in a vehicle in Uganda leaving for the airport from my hotel in the Capitol, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to talk to my driver about Christ. I began this internal argument, “Lord you know I’ve been through the literal wringer emotionally & verbally over these last few weeks-I’m pretty beat up. Can’t I just sit here quietly?” Despite my fine arguments ☺, I finally obeyed and began talking with this gentlemen. He told me that he attended church, but I had a feeling it wasn’t entirely true. As I chatted with him he then clarified that he used to attend church. He talked of how he had converted from being a Muslim to Christianity-but said he was now thinking about converting to Catholicism.
As I began quizzing him as to why he was thinking of converting to Catholicism, he began to tell me about his church and began pouring out his hurt and disillusionment. It turns out he had become part of one of the wealth and health prosperity “churches” that have done so much damage in Africa. He talked of a “special” well that the church had been built around, how people would pay for water, he talked about the Pastors luxurious lifestyle, and how the pastor used to let them tithe coins, but how he had now banned them from putting coins in the offering plate-they now wanted only large bills. We talked about the truths of the Bible, and I told him his “pastor” was a false teacher who wasn’t pointing people to Christ but to himself. I encouraged him to buy a Bible and start reading it and studying it to make sure he knew the truth. I encouraged him to take his children and begin attending a church in Kampala that taught the Bible-and referred him to a solid church in Kampala.
We had a good conversation, but as I departed the country I was saddened by the negative impact “Christianity” had on his life and heart. I was reinvigorated to return to the country and see Christ represented well and for the gospel and person of Jesus Christ to be clearly proclaimed-not just in word but in day-to-day life and deed.
A Student: This spring I was chatting with a student who is working through being disillusioned and hurt by the behavior of the leader of an organization. They talked with frustration about the bizarre behavioral justification taking place. We talked about God’s standard for our behavior as Christians. I reminded them of all the benefit this leader has had on their life-in leading them to Christ and discipling them. I encouraged them to be faithful to God’s standard for behavior, but to also be compassionate to the person who has hurt them. We chatted about how this leader hasn’t responded to the events and situations God has put in their lives with faith, but rather they’ve accumulated a lot of personal baggage. And, as I’ve so often been preaching to myself, we need to then in turn respond with understanding so that we in turn don’t accumulate baggage of our own!
But, I also reminded them that we serve and follow Jesus Christ, not a particular man. And yes, mankind will continually fail us-they will not always live as they should but we must be focused on our true leader, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the one that will never fail us, He will never forsake us, He alone is perfect. If we allow one person not living as they should to disillusion us—then it only exposes our own hearts and that we were following a man or an organization and not Jesus Christ. We sinned in putting them up on a pedestal…pedestals that were never intended for mankind.
While we remind others and ourselves not to place humans on pedestals, we also live with the reality that to many people we are the hands, feet, face, and words of Jesus. How does this affect the way we go about normal life?
Sometimes it is our actions that will speak, sometimes it’s our words (and taking the opportunity to speak those words!) Having a solid theology is important in our own hearts as a foundation to base our words, thoughts, and actions on—but if our theology isn’t put into living everyday life and isn’t “fleshed” out in a Christ-exalting, love of Jesus, loving people through words and actions, it does no good. My friends who know me well know I love theology books-it’s something I’m passionate about; but I’m equally thankful for SO many people who practically lived out their theology to me and exemplified Christ and the church to me. I think back to my college days and the college fellowship group “SCV” that visibly demonstrated Christ to me in words, prayers, coffee dates, and in very real help. They had very good theology, but it wasn’t just something in their heads-they acted on it in very real acts of love. Some did my laundry when I was overwhelmed with the schedule of a working piano performance major, some gave me a place to live after I returned from Uganda where I had served for the summer and had no where to lay my head until the semester began, others opened their homes to me for free “drop in” advice at any time, and some studied the Bible with me on Saturday mornings before their kids got out of bed, some gave me advice, admonishments-just plain ole’ love.
Since I’ve returned from Uganda I’ve been encouraged and blessed by the love of the people around me. The older gentlemen that greets at the door every Sunday and consistently tells me He’s been praying for me, a pastor and his wife who have been there to support and chat with me, my Mom and Dad for the food and car, gas, and the medical care (when I returned from Uganda with a bad case of salmonella). My brother and sister and sister-in-law for graciously loving me, talking with me, and crying with me and grieving with me as I’ve worked through this whole surprise plot twist and for letting me live with them. The many people who have written me notes of encouragement, who have kept me in their prayers. The missionary friends who have invited me over for dinner for the evening and spent time chatting and helping me detox from the last year. The friends who have spoken truth and helped me fight the lies Satan wants to plant in your head through dysfunctional ministry situations, the friends who have urged me not to quit and reminded me that the best is yet to come! The new friends I’m making as I explore what organization the Lord would have me serve with next… the ones who talk about reintegration to your own country and assure me I’m not going crazy when I’m lonely for the people of Uganda! The list could go on and on… I’m thankful for the many people who love Christ and have been the hands, feet, and words of Jesus to me.
I hope that God will enable me to show this same type of love and be as good as they are at living out the love of Christ in everyday life.