Sunday, October 19, 2008

Talking on the bus with Creta

Last night, I rode on an overnight bus trip from Lima to Ayacucho. I was seated next to Creta. (Her mother named her after Greta Garbo, but didn’t know how to spell it.) Creta told me that she was a devout Catholic and that her son wanted to be a Catholic missionary. It’s easy in this situation to think that either the person doesn’t need to hear the Gospel or that he or she would be unwilling. In terms of sharing my faith with her, it felt like a dead end. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to me, saying, “Ask her, How is your faith?” You would expect the question to be, “What is your faith?” Listening to the Holy Spirit, even when the question makes no sense, is a good idea. So I asked her, “How is your faith?”

She answered, “Well, I’m Catholic, of course.”

That didn't answer the question. I continued, “How is your relationship with Jesus Christ?”

She said, “Profound!”

Profound is a great answer, but it didn’t leave me feeling like we had actually connected. She went on to say, “I attend Mass and, as I told you before, my son wants to be a missionary.”

In terms of evangelism, this type of response is a smoke screen. People who are in love with the Lord, speak of their love and their gratitude for his free gift of salvation. Those with a strained relationship, speak of punching the clock and of the devotion of some other family member (like her son). Her answer did not convey a “profound” relationship with the Savior. As we continued talking, I found myself telling her the story of when Jesus appeared to me and spoke with me (which is too long to recount here). She said, “Thank you for saying that, because I have doubts about Christianity. I don’t feel the presence of God or anything when I go to church.” She continued, saying, “I don’t believe that God talks to people or that you can really know what the truth is.” This confirmed what I suspected. Her relationship with Jesus was something less than profound. I pressed through her smoke screen, asking if she had read the Bible.

She said, “Very little.”

I then began to explain that we know that Jesus is the Messiah because he fulfilled the prophecies that God told us beforehand; i.e., that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, that he would be a descendent of King David, that he would suffer and die, and that he would rise from the dead. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know that Jesus is the Messiah, because they have never read or heard of God’s promises and how He fulfilled them. I shared with her that the Bible is an authority that doesn’t change and is the record of the Apostles’ teachings. She was very interested. I shared with her the story of Lazarus and the rich man. In the story, the rich man is suffering in “hell, where he was in torment.” (Luke 16:23). Luke continues to quote Jesus, in 16:27-31, saying that the rich man begs Abraham to “send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

This passage tells us that miracles are not the key to faith—the scriptures are. The scriptures have the power to change our hearts and open our ears to hear God’s voice. I shared Hebrews 4:12, which says that the word of God “discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I told her that there are many ways to hear God’s voice or feel His presence, but that none of them surpasses the power of God’s word. The conversation went very well. She was engaged, interested and challenged. Originally, I was put off by her smoke screen, but this experience confirms that it is a bad idea to believe that a person’s smoke screen is the final word in personal evangelism. Because of the Spirit's encouragement, I pressed through the smoke screen and she thanked me for it.

It was already midnight and most of the people on the bus were asleep. When the morning came, I was sick from weaving through the mountains. I couldn’t pursue our conversation, for fear of throwing up. When we got off the bus, I didn’t see her again.

I believe that Creta wants to believe in God and feel his presence, but she is full of doubts and has nothing to combat them with. She did not believe that she could understand the Bible, because she had been taught against it. Our goal as witnesses of Jesus is to speak the word of God to those who haven’t heard it and to encourage those who can to read it for themselves. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 10:17, that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” This is saying that when we speak the word of God, sharing the message of Jesus with people, the gift of faith is ignited in them. Creta needs the gift of faith.

Please pray for Creta, that the word of God will get inside of her and transform her heart and mind. Pray also for me, that I’ll have many more opportunities to share God’s word.

1 comment:

my two hopeful wings said...

Hi Bill and Lena,
Thank you for sharing about Creta. I will pray for her. And thank you for sharing the account of that conversation with her. I went, for the first time today, to a class about learning to share the gospel with others. What you have said is what I heard earlier today...the power is in the word of God. And today when we went out to speak to people I felt that feeling of, "oh, this person doesn't need to hear because he goes to church already." Not so. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Love and blessings to you...