We asked Amelia to share what she has learnt about sharing her faith over the 13 years she has lived on an island in the Indian Ocean, and how important it is to understand other people’s faith before sharing your own.
I arrived on this little island unable to say a word in the local language and I was painfully aware of how much I didn’t know. However, as my language progressed I became even more aware of how little I knew about these people, their beliefs, and their way of viewing the world. I didn’t know how to share the gospel with them. I was using the word for sin, but they weren’t understanding what I meant when I said it. I might think I was being perfectly intelligible saying that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, but people wanted to know what I meant. How did he get out through the soil? And anyway, everyone rises on the third day because that’s when you go and sprinkle water on the grave to ‘wake up’ the person. There was so much to learn!
The beauty of the gospel
I soon realised that I needed to start where people were, not where I was – and that was going to take some figuring out. I read, I gleaned from the wisdom of those with more experience, and I watched, listened and asked lots of questions.
Not only does adopting such an approach help you to understand how to share the gospel, it also starts to build bridges and create trust. It shows your respect for them and the story of their lives. And it enriches and deepens your own faith as you begin to see things you’ve never realised before about God and the beauty of the gospel.
Always a learner
Does that mean you can’t share the gospel until you have all this figured out? By no means, but I did learn some basic principles that are helpful to follow. Firstly, start with the personal. Show them what following Jesus means to you. Starting with a discussion about the Trinity may raise all sorts of barriers, but explaining how God helps me to deal with real life issues doesn’t. Share Bible stories; let God’s word loose in their life! And pray with them – it may look really weird to them, but can they fail to be impacted by the love you show them by doing so?
Secondly, don’t let the fear of cultural clangers hold you back, but do let it push you into a commitment to being a learner. And all the while, keep holding fast to a humble trust that the Spirit will take our feeble gospel offerings and turn them into something beautiful that can impact the heart of another.
Finally, do it all with love. If someone knows they are loved they will listen. They’ll work to figure out what you are trying to say. After all, without love, my carefully thought-through, culturally appropriate gospel presentation is nothing more than a clanging cymbal – and quite frankly, who is going to want to listen to that?