I once owned a book by David Augsburger. The author’s thesis was that the best method of communicating the Gospel to uninformed people is to be with them. Did you notice that I said that I once owned the book? Somehow I seem to have lost track of it. After several unsuccessful attempts to find another copy, I am left to remember its essence.
The book began with a powerful metaphor of a missionary who went to a foreign country and attempted to communicate the Gospel in English to a tribe that had no understanding of this language. The obvious result was that no one in the tribe heard the Gospel; thus no one was converted. Augsburger was forced to change his approach. Augsburger’s argument was that in order to effectively communicate the Gospel, one must learn the language of the hearer.
A very early influence in my Christian life was the martyrdom of Jim Elliott and four of his fellow missionaries as they attempted to approach the Auca Indians in South America. Elliott was a fairly recent graduate of Wheaton College. He had spent much post graduation time in learning the languages of South America. With much prayerful precision the five missionaries strategize as to how they could get close to this main cannibalistic tribe. After many weeks of dropping gifts from their airplane over hostile territory, they landed their small plane onto a sandbar, hoping to finally gain the privilege of evangelizing this pagan tribe. They were hopeful on that December day in 1956 for a successful entry into their mission field. The well known and unfortunate result was that the tribe that they had come to love from afar, killed them on site.
As a young Christian, I was saddened but energized by this missionary story. I remember day-dreaming about what it meant to give my life to bring someone to Christ. Through the years, I have actively sought out stories related to this martyrdom.
Without ever knowing Jim Elliott, he became a kind of mentor to me. I have looked to him as a model of what it means to follow Jesus, even if it meant to the death. Jesus made it clear that the real measure of following Him meant “denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Him.”
I have a confession to make. Witnessing has evoked serious questions in my mind. I have read several books on the subject. A couple of titles come to mind, “Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World,” by Becky Manley Pippert, “A Coward’s Guide to Witnessing.” by Ken Anderson. The first book, written by an extrovert, advocates a head on, face to face approach to sharing the Gospel. The other, written by an introvert (like myself), is the honest confession of a man who struggled with how to best share Christ. To be honest, I identify most with the “Coward’s Guide.” Invading one’s privacy with a well crafted word for Jesus has never fit my temperament. In fact, Anderson’s summation is that we each find a way to witness that fits our personality.
The Apostle Paul became consumed with bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. In John 15, Paul said, “I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” 15 :19b-20.
My own conversion came about as a result of a pastor’s wife who persistently canvassed our neighborhood seeking for the unchurched and unconverted. It was her persistence that eventually broke the ice of my resistance. I will be eternally grateful.