History repeats itself every vacation. No matter the city, state, or region: the question is basically the same. What caught my attention this time was that the questioning now came from the other side of the world. A friend, also a pastor, who lives in a country in Oceania, asked us to ‘meet’ online to talk.
The challenge before him was what biblical subject to study with a friend of Arab origin. This includes not only cultural issues but mainly religious ones. This Arab friend approached the pastor and asked for help. He said, “I would like to know more about the Bible and the God who presents himself there.” Without hesitation, the pastor made himself available and they then scheduled, for the following week, a formal meeting to start the chat.
It was at this point that I entered the story. Shortly after his encounter with the Arab, the very excited pastor virtually told me how his friend had approached the Scriptures and how interested he was now. However, the pastor wasn't so sure where to start.
“Paul,” he said, “you've been in the Middle East for over six years. What should I do, what books, materials, Bible studies do you recommend to me? I don't feel sure about the right direction to go and I don't want to miss this opportunity.” Implicit in his honest doubt is the question that we receive most when we return to Brazil for our vacation: “What is it like to do a mission with Muslims? What do you say, how does it work? Tell us, please.”
This is the biggest curiosity and recurring question for the churches we pass through, and apparently, it is not restricted to Brazil. I perceive in this question a strong missionary desire for learning, as if they were looking for an improvement in their way of fulfilling the great commission where they are.
Different lives, Different stories
However, to be quite honest, my answer is not always what they want to hear. That's because when it comes to missions, things aren't as exact as in math. This brings to mind Nicodemus' confusion when Jesus said: “The wind blows where it wills. You listen to it, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going…” (John 3:8).
Spiritual things need to be spiritually discerned. And from a human point of view, they often don't seem to make sense. Or at least they don't meet the limited methodological standard developed by mortals. God goes beyond, far beyond our ability to set His paths that lead to the restoration and salvation of His children.
What I want to say is that in this period of living in the mission field and traveling to other countries with a Christian minority, I have witnessed many different stories of conversion. Real miracles. And practically no story resembles the other as a missionary methodology.
I have known people who dreamed of Jesus or had visions of being converted, while others were achieved through reading and studying the Quran itself. A part was converted through apologetic debates and questioning. Others through conventional Bible studies. Anyway, a little bit of everything, which has led me to understand, in fact, that God's ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-10). In His omnipotence and omniscience, He is willing to go to extremes in search of lost coins, sheep, and children.
Trust in Divine Guidance
What I said to my pastor friend was exactly that: there is no magic formula when it comes to mission and evangelism, just a few essentials. I go further: the chosen methodology is always secondary and depends a lot on the person who is interested. If I were in his shoes, I would first try to focus on my friend. Pray a lot for him and then build a solid relationship and then, through frank and honest conversation, find out where he is on his spiritual journey and what he wants to know.
Identifying your expectations, doubts and fears are critical before starting any mission with another person or family. From that point, and with a lot of dependence on the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom and sensitivity, you can begin to lead him to know more of the Scriptures and, consequently, God's plan for his life.
Slowly and gradually, moving from the known to the unknown, attentive and sensitive to communication, always careful to use the language he understands, helping him to develop a biblical view of the world and the great controversy. Thus, step by step, he will be able to choose which side he wants to be on when the trumpet sounds and Jesus appears in the clouds of heaven.
Paulo Rabello is a pastor and currently works in the Middle East.