“My life is nothing but a string of failed relationship.” Wow, that was harsh. These were the words spoken by my seat mate during our 2 ½ hour flight from Chicago to Miami. Our dialogue, which lasted the entire flight, was sometimes fun and light hearted but sometime serious and thought provoking. My seat mate had little in common with me. I’m a man, she is a woman. We are from two different races. She is two decades younger than me. Although she now lives in the United States, she is from another country. English, which she spoke very well, virtually perfectly, was not her first language. During the honest give and take of natural, normal, conversation we talked about faith, unity, racism, American greed, human trafficking, the pandemic loneliness of Americans caught up in the desperate pursuit of luxury and gadgets, whether or not Christians care about the environment and a whole lot more. As we conversed about this that and the other thing we talked about our families. Personal histories were shared. Little by little she began to open up about her tragic string of failed relationships and how now, in her mid-thirties, her biological clock is tick tocking her dream for a stable marriage with happy children away from her. Her pursuit of career and her quest for fun and adventure in her 20s she now sees as thieves which are depriving her of what she wants most and what she believes would make her happy but which she now feels she is unlikely to ever attain.
She is 15 years younger than the man with whom she is living. Marriage is not on the table for discussion. History indicates this relationship will fail as well, just like all her previous relationships. I could have pointed out that her being a serial fornicator makes her a less-than-ideal candidate for loving wife and gentle mother and that her current behavior pretty much guarantees she will never attract any man other than the kind who falls for serial fornicators. I could have wagged my finger at her pointing out that she is living in sin and that God in no way approves of her sinful actions. I could have pressured her into reciting a sinner’s prayer with the promise that God would make her dreams come true, or at a minimum, he would give her the strength to stoically endure her miserable life until she dies. I did not attempt to argue her into the Kingdom of God or into my church. She asked me how I had managed to have a wonderful marriage, now in it’s 30th year and which is only getting better and better. My new friend had already pieced together from our conversation that my wife and I had just gotten back from our anniversary get away, that I had two young adult children who were doing well, that I was faithful to my wife, that I am a follower of Jesus, that I am an ordained minister (although self-knowledge makes the title “reverend” too over-the-top arrogant to admit to), and that I am an executive with a mission agency.
Because she asked me directly, I was able to tell her my marriage works well because it is founded on both my wife and me having been transformed and molded by Jesus and because we are trying to live like him. I talked about how we read the Bible and how that guides our behavior. I mentioned that when I hurt my wife or she hurts me we are quick to ask for forgiveness. We talked about the character of a true follower of Jesus and how that makes it easy to love and be loved. We talked about Jesus’ last prayer before he died on the cross in our place in which he pleaded with God the Father for unity for us and what his answered prayer would look like in the context of marriage.
There was no agenda for the conversation and no direction for it to head. Because of this, it was honest, it was natural, it was relaxed and it was non threatening to both of us, even though we discussed some pretty intense topics. There was no accusation, judgmentalism, arguing, or condemnation. It was an honest conversation between friendly equals. There was no pressure for me to perform to a standard nor was there a debate to win. There was no need to programmatically evangelize her or convince her that I was right and she wrong. She heard about Jesus naturally during the conversation as his name and what he did flowed in and out of the conversation.
As we taxied to the terminal in Miami, she thanked me. She said I had given her hope. She said she had learned some things she wanted to immediately share with her boyfriend in the hopes of improving the relationship. I offered to do marriage counseling via SKYPE if she and her boyfriend are interested and I gave her my card. Will I ever see her again? Probably not. But she learned a few things that will help her in her relationship, which I hope ends in marriage before her clock stops. She also heard a lot about Jesus, but she heard about him as he relates to her in her life, not via a generic, one-size-fits-all, activity-interrupting, cold call, cookie cutter, high pressure sales pitch from a results oriented salesman following a script while trying to close the deal on the first encounter.
Did I gain anything from this experience? I was rewarded with the satisfaction that comes from helping someone. I was rewarded with the opportunity of talking with someone (not at them) about the most important aspects of my life. I was able to confirm, what I already know, believe and attempt to practice, that talking about Jesus comes naturally when we don’t set out to win an argument. The Bible says “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” – if Jesus is “abundant” in you, you will talk about him. If you cannot speak easily about Jesus it is likely because he is not “abundant” in your life or because you have been erroneously indoctrinated into thinking evangelism is mostly about giving convincing arguments and you are worried you don’t know enough. I have also been given the opportunity, since you have read this far, to encourage to stop letting guilt, either self-imposed or foisted on you by others, be the motivator for “personal evangelism”. Unshackle yourself from the programmed, argumentative, step-by-step evangelistic strategies we Americans like. I recommend a moratorium on reading all the competing “how to” books on evangelism which are promoting a method and not a person. Jesus is not a marketable commodity. All we need to do is talk about who we love and why. Marketing the King of Kings is not our objective. If Jesus does not spontaneously pop up in your conversations now and again, not knowing how to evangelize is the least of the issues with which you must deal.
I do not consider myself an expert on the subject of evangelism. I am simply telling the story of a recent personal experience. I have not always done a good job of sharing my faith. To see the other side of the story click on SHAME IN THE MARKET
If you care to follow my missionary journey click on www.steveandlois.com