The book of Revelation ends with these unequivocal words: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him that hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him that is thirsty come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” What a clear and welcoming invitation!
I was pondering these words recently with my 27-year-old friend Ozan, a talented musician. With my open Bible between us, we sat at a table under a tree, and I passionately invited him to claim that invitation as his own. As he earnestly and warmly accepted my words, a dozen memories flashed into my mind about how it came to be that I was in Turkey sharing Jesus with this young man. All credit goes to the power of sincere spoken invitation.
On a snowy, humdrum day in Michigan in 1994, I got an invitation from Rob Neall, a dorm-room neighbor, to travel to Israel and live in Jerusalem. This was too good to be true! Get school credit for reading the Bible in Bethlehem and Nazareth? I accepted the invitation, and oh, how it changed my life!
In Israel, Rob and I had many adventures together. We camped in a valley behind Jericho the very night it became Palestinian territory! We slept on hay bales by the Sea of Galilee. We wandered around old Jerusalem until we knew it like Peter himself might have. We got up at midnight on Passover to feel the stinging cold rain in the Garden of Gethsemane. We went to old Samaria and drank from Jacob’s well. We climbed up Masada and scoured the hills, hoping to make a new Dead Sea Scrolls discovery. While there, Rob and I memorized about a dozen chapters of scripture as part of our seminary experience. The Bible came alive to us as it never could have in a classroom.
When our three months in Israel came to an end, I received another surprise invitation to Turkey from my future missionary teammate, Mary Smith. As if Israel hadn’t been enough, now here was a chance to see Ephesus and the places where Paul traveled! I accepted the invitation immediately. This time the invitation drew my life even further in a direction I couldn’t have anticipated. Over 10 brief days, I fell in love with Turkey. Rob and I toured by car and saw amazing wonders. I determined that if I ever got the chance, I would return to make a difference in this land.
Returning home from Turkey, I spent the next four years inviting others to team up with me to return to Turkey and minister there. But no one accepted my invitation, and my dream slowly faded.
In 2000, another big, life-changing invitation came: I proposed to Esther, and she accepted! At nearly the same time, AFM proposed to me, and I accepted and moved to Berrien Springs with my new bride. I was recruiting, doing various administrative functions for the office, and visiting many Adventist campuses to tell of the needs of the unreached.
As AFM was researching new projects, I suggested starting one in Turkey. So, in 2002, AFM voted to inaugurate a new project in Turkey. I immediately knew that John and Mary Smith would be the ones for the job, so I called and invited them, and they accepted. Noticing our zeal for the Turkish call, AFM invited Esther and me, and we accepted.
Much water has gone under the bridge since then. We have labored, learned, taught and struggled against great odds. Together we have begun a church, a publishing house and a truth movement both above and underground—a movement I believe will reach to eternity.
And the torch lit by those invitations is still being passed. Last summer, I was invited to teach for a week at a school of evangelism in Germany. I did instruction in the morning and then did street witnessing with the students in the afternoon. On Friday, I was sitting in the parking lot waiting for the students. A Brazilian Adventist student was sitting in the back seat telling me how uncertain her future was and how she wished she knew what God wanted her to do. I said, “Well, why don’t you come to Turkey?”
“That’s it!” she shouted. “God has spoken! That’s what I will do. God has answered my prayer.” Three months later, she arrived in Turkey! (I wish I always had that kind of success with my invitations.)
Her English was a little rusty, and I wondered how we should best make use of this Portuguese speaker. Then it dawned on me how to turn her weakness into an asset. We’d had a problem when students came and wanted to learn Turkish. When they went to language classes, all the friends they made were non-Turkish. This time God gave me a most unusual idea: enroll this young lady in advanced English classes where she would be learning with Turks whom she could talk with in English!
The plan worked perfectly. She was on fire for Jesus, and there was no stopping her. She spoke everywhere to everyone about Jesus. She was an invitation machine, inviting and inviting people to church, to read the Bible, to talk with her and to be her friends.
And so it came to be that I sat with Ozan the musician in the park putting a Bible in his hands for the first time in his life. He was there because of the invitation of his Brazilian classmate: “Please, come and meet my Pastor.”
The Brazilian student wouldn’t have invited him if I hadn’t first invited her, and I wouldn’t have invited her if the Evangelism School hadn’t first invited me. And surely I wouldn’t have been in Turkey if Mary Smith hadn’t invited me years earlier, and perhaps the Smiths wouldn’t be in Turkey if I hadn’t invited them. And what if Rob hadn’t invited me to Israel? But he did, and today Ozan is holding a Bible in his hand with delight in his eyes!
Really, there is no limit to the good that can accumulate from an invitation. And so it is that Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” He invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house and invited the woman at the well to give him a drink. Jesus’ knew that a warm, sincere invitation is the beginning of all that is possible in another’s life. Until we invite someone, little or nothing happens.
You belong to a local church and live in a town or city, right? Do you ever wish for more spiritual excitement? Remember: little or nothing happens until someone is invited. But once they are invited, there is no limit to what the Holy Spirit can make of your words. Whom are you inviting? Where are you inviting them? How often are you inviting them? I am inviting you to be the bride of Revelation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him that hears say, ‘Come!’”