I often feel caught in a tension when it comes to evangelism. On one hand, I want to take advantage of every opportunity to share Jesus with others. On the other hand, I feel the need to be careful lest unwise zeal close the door to future opportunities. This evangelistic tension is especially noticeable when it comes to reaching those who are closest to us physically or relationally—our neighbors, friends and family members who do not know Jesus. I find that it can actually be easier to witness to someone I do not know and in all likelihood will never see again than it is to witness to someone in my family or neighborhood. Why is this? Because if a stranger rejects me or the message I share, I don’t have to live with any relational repercussions. But if a friend or neighbor rejects me or my message, I have to live with the sting of a potentially broken relationship, possibly for the rest of my life.
I feel this evangelistic tension every day when I think about my Thai neighbors. We have lived in our current neighborhood for two and a half years, and as of yet, no one that I know of has converted to Christianity. Sometimes I feel anxious or guilty for not doing more to reach out to them. What should I do? Should I be passing out literature? Should I be inviting them to church each Sabbath? These are questions I have asked myself from time to time, and while the aggressive missionary part of me says, “Go for it!” I still feel hesitant. Up to this point, our approach has been to pray, be social, take interest in the people around us, and wait for the Lord to open doors. Let me tell you about one of those open doors.
This past Sabbath as we returned home from a walk in our village, we passed the house of an elderly couple that lives across the street from us. Since Ali’s birth, this couple has been particularly friendly with us and has shown much more interest in talking with us. As we walked up, they smiled at Ali and tried to get her attention. We stopped and began chatting. I was caught off guard when they asked if we had gone to church earlier that morning. We had never talked with them about church before. We told them we had, and that we go every Saturday. They told us that their son is a Christian, and they had recently gone to church with him. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued, so I began to ask them more about their son. They told me that he has only been a Christian for a year. I asked what had led him to convert. They said he had been an alcoholic, but God had helped him quit.
As I listened to them talk, I sensed a new openness in them, as if the Holy Spirit was working on their hearts. Deeply curious, I asked them if they were happy about their son’s decision to become a Christian. They said they were happy for him because of how happy and satisfied he was, and they remarked that everyone should have the freedom to choose what they believe. With a somber tone in his voice, the grandpa went on to say that every religion teaches you how to be a good person (a common sentiment among Thai Buddhists). As we continued talking, the grandma started teaching Ali a hand motion that is used in traditional Thai dance. Ali just stood and watched while we smiled and laughed.
Before we continued home, the grandma asked us where we attend church. I told them and let them know that they were welcome to visit anytime. As we walked home, I marveled at how God had miraculously reached their son and was now speaking to their hearts.
As I reflect on this situation and the tension I have felt in the past about reaching out to my neighbors, I can’t help but wonder if God is answering my prayers. Cindi and I have prayed many times for our neighbors, asking that God would reveal Himself to them, and that He would give us wisdom and opportunities to share with them. Is this an answer to those prayers? I would like to think it is. I feel very encouraged to know that God is moving in the lives of our neighbors, working miracles to reveal Himself to them in unmistakable ways. Please pray for us as we continue to reach out to our Thai neighbors.