Africa, Here We Come!

Area wise, the Sahara is almost the size of the United States.

Area wise, the Sahara is almost the size of the United States.

Have you ever had that moment in  your life when you stop dead in your tracks and ask yourself, What in the world am I doing?? One of those moments came as we flew for the first time from Europe to Africa. For hours, it seemed, when we looked out the window from our airplane seats, all we saw was desert: the mighty Sahara that seemed to never end.

The trip to this point had been really fun. Since I’d used vacation money I’d saved up to get Tim through his last year at the seminary while we were engaged, he’d promised me that we’d take some time on the way to Africa to stop in Germany to research my “roots.” I’d traced our family line back to Germany and knew just where the ancestors came from before they left their home shores hoping for a better life. We spent about a week traveling through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland before heading south…waaay south. I’d taken about 9 years of German through grade school and high school and could finally put it into use! I could write pages just about that trip, but that will be another time!

However, that was finished now, and here we were sitting on a Swiss Air jet zooming into the unknown having no idea what we were doing or how we were going to do it. “Do all missionaries feel this way when they start?” I asked myself. Or do others feel confident that they know the plan, that they can take it on? ‘Cuz we sure didn’t feel that way at that moment! And so, as the Sahara passed by underneath, on, and on, and on, the question continued to blast through our brains: What have we done??

It wasn’t the last time we’d ask ourselves that either. But over the years if there’s a lesson we’ve learned, it’s that even when we have no idea what we’re doing, God always knows what He’s doing and where He wants to go with it. I’ve had numerous people say to me over the years: “I just don’t know how to share my faith.” “I don’t know what to say, how to start.” I know exactly what you’re feeling. But why is that? Why can we claim that something is so near and dear to our hearts, and yet would rather throw up than say the name of Jesus sometimes? Anyone that doesn’t believe in evil forces working against us has never stood on someone’s doorstep, ready to push the doorbell and ask, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d go?” When I was in college it was the Kennedy Evangelism program, and that was the opening question. I suggested to a Mormon one day, that maybe, just maybe, Satan works his hardest to keep Christians from talking about Jesus than he does those from whom he feels no threat? This man, of course, thought I was crazy. But there it is. Why can some that don’t have the whole truth have no qualms about banging on your door and letting you know exactly why they’re right and you’re wrong? And yet Christians, with palms sweating and feeling slightly dizzy still ask, “How do I share my faith?”

Well, a lot of years have passed since that experience. But we still get asked that question, “How can I share my faith?” I want to share something I learned a while ago about who does the talking. Some years back I was boarding an airplane heading from Africa back to the US. (I’m racking my brain trying to figure out, with four children, when I was ever on a plane alone! It totally escapes me.) I’ve always felt like I should talk to the person next to me when I fly and see if an opportunity arises to talk about Jesus. However I’d been away from American culture for a lot of years by this time. Africans will talk to you anytime you want, and about anything. And if you talk about Jesus and he agrees, great. If not, great too! We can have a debate. And everyone leaves as friends. But I’d heard a lot about Americans over the years and honestly, I just felt really disconnected to the culture and extremely intimidated. Could I even really relate anymore? And so I prayed, “Lord, if there is someone who needs to hear about you today, you’re going to have to open a door.” And then I opened my book and waited for my seatmate to arrive.

Sometime later, just before takeoff, a very large African American man came and sat beside me. I wondered right away if God had something for me to do?  I honestly had no idea what to say. Did we even have anything in common? So I waited and continued reading my book. Just after take off the stewardess came around with drinks. As she was preparing my Coke she looked at my necklace. I have worn a gold Africa around my neck and close to my heart since the early days of Ghana. It often opens conversation. (Sadly, it’s been mistaken for everything from South America to Texas!) As the stewardess looked at my necklace she asked, “Do you live in Africa?” I said that I did and she mentioned that she had visited Sierra Leone some years ago and had really enjoyed her time there. Then she turned to my seatmate and asked us, “Are you two together?” We both blushed and said, “No, no!” pretty quickly. OK, could it get any more awkward? However, once the woman left, the man to my left leaned over and said, “Do you really live in Africa?” I put my book down and responded in the positive. Then he said that he’d always wanted to visit there, but especially more recently, he longed to take his father who was getting older and showing beginning signs of Alzheimer’s. “I’d love to visit before he’s too gone to know what we’re doing….So, what do you do there?” Smiling up at God (who, by the way, I’m sure was whispering “I told you I could!”) I told him that my husband and I were working there to bring Jesus to the folks among whom we live. “Hmmm,” he said. “My wife and my mother in law started going to this church and they really want me to go, but I just don’t know.” We talked for a while about the basics of Christianity, about heaven, and about who Jesus really is. I didn’t need a theological degree. I just shared what I knew. We exchanged contact info and I told him that if he ever wanted to bring his Dad to see Africa, just let me know. I also promised to pray for “Dan and Jan” from Grand Rapids, that God’s Spirit would open his eyes to see his need for a Savior. That’s apparently where my job ended. The Holy Spirit had the seed.

I think one thing people are really intimidated by is the idea that they have to come up with some quirky line, or be a theologian to talk about Jesus or share Him with others. Let me show you how wrong that is. My husband is an avid Lions (football) fan. I’ve watched through years and years of the same cycle: “This is going to be our year!” only to hear moaning and groaning as game after disappointing game is played and lost. Then we gear up for the next cycle. And yet, no matter how bad things get, Tim has no problem talking about the Lions to anyone who will listen. It’s not embarrassing for him. Everything in him believes in them. And he has no problem defending them to the hilt.  Of course Jesus is never a loser, but do we balk at arguing for our football teams, or letting everyone know what bands we love or what concert we attended? With social media now I can probably tell you exactly what teams many of my friends follow. Or what candidate they will vote for. Or what they had for dinner last night, for crying out loud! If we can be so vocal about things without eternal meaning or value, how can we keep to ourselves the one thing that matters more than any other? If we are not afraid to speak the name of other human beings, why should we feel shame at speaking the name of the One that gave His life for us?

So what do I suggest to people that can’t seem to find their voice? Two things:

  1. Practice. The Church has failed us in this area. When I grew up we had an Evangelism Team. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard of that. Evangelism is “for the other guy, the one that has that gift, because I sure don’t.” Everyone one of us has a testimony inside just waiting to come out. And no one else has your testimony! Sit yourself in a closed room in front of the mirror and share your testimony to your reflection. What has Jesus done for you? Why are you glad to be a Christian? Yes, it will feel funny and weird. Do it anyway. And do it over and over until you can recite it in your sleep. Once you feel like you know your own story, practice it on a loved one. Have them ask questions. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  2. Put yourself into the capable hands of the Holy Spirit. God knows our fears and anxieties. When Moses complained that he couldn’t do what was asked, God gave him Aaron. When Jesus left earth He promised us a Helper. The Holy Spirit can bring people to you. He can open conversations. He can give you the words to speak. Just let Him know that you are willing and ready. He will do the rest. Remember, greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world! As we share that hope we also grow: in courage, in confidence, and in our own faith.

And so, Africa, here we come! Tripping, stumbling, and probably drooling, but above all, trusting in the One who sent us. Yes, we’ve learned that God not only CAN be in control, that’s just where He wants to be!!