I’ll admit it outright. Most of the time, my job with Bangla Ministries Worldwide is not exciting. Much of my day involves sitting at a computer. However, occasionally they let me out of the office, and when that happens, things get interesting.
It’s a Thursday morning and a tangerine sunrise is starting its climb over the horizon as four of us – Dave, David, Manik, and myself – hurdle down the freeway toward Michigan’s largest city (that’s Detroit, for anyone not from these parts). Specifically, we’re headed for Hamtramck, a sort of suburb of the Detroit area. You may have heard recently that Hamtramck has just become America’s first majority Muslim city. It boasts a large population of Arabs, Yemenis, Pakistanis, and, you guessed it – Bengalis. They are the purpose of our trip today.
Door-to-door evangelism has never been my ‘thing’. I don’t necessarily agree with it as a method of sharing the gospel, and more importantly it’s WAY out of my comfort zone! Unfortunately for me, going door-to-door is the very reason that I’ve been unleashed from the office computer today, and so I shouldn’t complain about it. Still, as we head out into a Hamtramck neighborhood, armed with copies of the JESUS film in 10 languages and several Bengali tracts, my stomach is already beginning to twist itself into knots. Everyone else seems calm. This’ll be interesting.
The first couple houses are awkward. These people don’t know us, and we don’t know them, and we’re carrying a message that saves and changes lives, but shouldn’t it be delivered in the context of a personal relationship between the messenger and the hearer? The American culture that I grew up in stares defiantly in my face and screams that I’d better not even think about telling someone that Jesus loves them if they don’t believe that I do first. But how do you show someone you just met that you care? Like I said, I don’t know these people as they open their doors to our knocking fists. Can I still love them?
As we leave one house and head to the next, I wrestle hard with these things. But then something starts to change.
An African-American man answers the door (yes, someone who speaks my language!), and a smiling toddler peers out from behind his knees (yes times 2, a kid!). We have a good conversation with the man, who introduces himself as Daniel, and as we get ready to head to the next house, the missionary living in the neighborhood (this whole door-to-door thing is his prerogative), leaves him a DVD and promises to return to talk about the story of Jesus. Hmmm. So that’s how relationships are born in this kind of evangelism.
House after house, I start to see things differently. An Arab woman, unable to speak English, who smiles as she takes a copy of the JESUS film and seems confused but grateful that we showed up on her doorstep. A jovial Muslim man who gleefully accepts our FREE DVD through a hole in his window screen where he is perched inside on a bench, watching the world pass by. A less-than-friendly Albanian “Christian” who seems to look down on us as he peers through his storm door, choosing not to open it. And of course, there are many others. Some are friendly. Some are not. Some show true interest in us. Some just want us to get off their front porch.
Some are Bengali, some are not. But each is a person, made in the image of God regardless of how marred that image may be. And that’s the truth that hits me as we wrap up our afternoon on the streets of Hamtramck. These are people, and they matter to God. Looking back on the afternoon now, I find two thoughts lingering in my mind:
1. I have a lot of fear and hesitation in sharing the gospel, but that’s another story for another time.
2. If those who bear his image matter to God enough that he died for them, shouldn’t they matter enough to me to step out of my comfort zone and past my fears? Whether it’s going door to door around a city block or simply going next door to talk to a neighbor you already know, shouldn’t we share the gospel? We certainly weren’t put here to keep this truth to ourselves, and it is to our shame that we do so.
I still believe that sharing the gospel requires a relationship, but maybe it’s ok if that relationship begins with a knock on the door and a free DVD? It’s better than doing nothing, and as I turn the afternoon over in my mind, I think that maybe, just maybe, God was at work.
Administration & Outreach
This reminds me of the following famous exchange with D. L. Moody:
One day a lady criticized D. L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody’s reply was “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” The lady replied, “I don’t do it.” Moody retorted, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” Source: James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 178.
I am so happy you came on the mission to Hamtramck and I hope there will be many more missions with you along! Don’t worry. God WILL show up. He promised! Also, I am sure we will eventually employ many methods, including “relationships.” But we are dealing with the largest unreached people group and “beggars can’t be choosers.” We are going to have to take any opportunity we can get, at least until we get 100 times as many workers into this field.
In seeking the Moody quote above, I came across a cool page with evangelism methods which you might like to check out: http://pasifikanavs.org/ministry/evangelism/