[Episcopal Diocese of Washington] In an increasingly diverse western world, Christians often shy away from articulating our religious distinctives. We are appropriately aware of our history of forcing religion on others. Yet, in such a context this often leaves us the least compelling voice. And if we believe there is yet good news in the Christian message, than we ought to find our voice again. What if there was a way to talk about our faith that respected others while calling out the good news of God in the world?
Several years ago, I was sitting in the small apartment of a Somali friend. We had become friends through the after school homework club for refugees I volunteered with. My friend was sharing with me the history of his people. He told me of long journeys from one part of Africa to another. He told me of his ancestors being enslaved and subjected to diaspora amongst more
powerful tribes. He shared what his ancestors did to keep their cultural distinctive alive while living amidst other cultures. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between his cultural history and that of Israel found in the Old Testament. I shared this with him and this led to a conversation about the Jesus of the Gospels and the Isa of the Quran.
The kind of evangelism that’s going to work in this day and age has a lot to do with stories. Stories are powerful things. They bind us together. They shape how we live our lives. But as I said before, evangelism begins with listening. We don’t earn the right to tell our stories without first listening to those of others. When we do this, we begin to see where our stories cross paths with others, just as it did with my refugee friend’s and my own. Consider the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at a well, or Paul and the people of Athens. Both Jesus and Paul find common ground as a starting point.
We often think about evangelism as a debate; we start with what’s different and then attempt to convince another that we’re right. But what if evangelism was the term used to describe the conversation in which we acknowledge God showing up in our lives? One may think, “That’s much easier!” Yet, this approach still assumes that we are in relationship with others outside of our religious traditions and willing to talk about faith. If we are willing to do those things, I think you will discover that when we find common ground, we learn something about God we did not know before.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, it is the case that “the outsider” shapes the faith of “the insider.” As you read through the narrative of Scripture, you can see God’s people equally shaped by and shaping the faith of those around them. I hadn’t set out to convert my Muslim friend. But I think both of us were converted that day. We both learned something about a God much bigger than the limits our traditions. My friend learned more about Isa, Jesus, than he had known before. And I will never forget his curiosity as to why Christians’ lifestyles did not seem to reflect their faith. More on that in the next post.
– Jason Evans is the young adult missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. His posts on evangelism will continue weekly throughout Advent 2012. Join an online discussion of this series on the diocesan Facebook page.