If your interested in being a good “fisher of men” you need to know “where the fish are biting”. That is roughly the subject matter of this letter. As children my brothers and I spent most of every summer playing in the river. We lived by the side of the Deschutes River in Central Oregon, and from the last day of May until Labor Day we seldom wore more than bathing trunks.
When there weren’t fences to mend, or hay to haul, or other chores to do, it would only take a jiffy to strip off outer clothes, and be in the water. We spent many happy hours and days turning over rocks, and looking for “perriwinkles”, “muscles” and “crawdaddies”. My older brother liked to fish, and he used them for bait. I had no use at all for them, but enjoyed finding them just the same.
A “perriwinkle” is a sort of aquatic “wooly worm” except that in stead of “wool, he is dressed in an armored suit made of bits of sand which he glues together. A “muscle” is a variety of freshwater clam, which I’m told is good eating, but I’ve never tried it. And a “crawdaddie” is a sort of freshwater crab that can swim backwards really fast using his broad muscular tail, They can also pinch you painfully, But I thought it great sport to catch them just to prove I could.
On Sundays and school days I wasted many hours day dreaming about playing in the river and looking for “periwinkles”, “muscles”, and “crawdads”. But it never occurred to me to look for them under my desk, or under the pews at church! Why? Because that’s not their natural habitat!
Now as an adult I have developed a yen for seeking out those people who have not yet had the privilege of hearing the gospel. Jesus said to preach the gospel to every “creature” (individual), and to every nation (ethnos. Or ethnic group). To me that implies the necessity if a search. His instruction is not to preach the gospel till everyone receives it, or to win all our neighbors and friends to Christ. In fact, he quite plainly tells us how to respond when people have heard, and refused the message: “And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.”
We are not children playing in the river! We are children of God with a job to do, reaching the lost with the message of His Love. It should be obvious that those who have not heard that message are not to be found in the churches. That is not their natural habitat! And yet many Christians never ever share the gospel message with anyone outside the church. In fact most of our evangelistic endeavors are conducted within the church buildings, and the average Christian thinks that witnessing for Christ is inviting them to church so the preacher can preach the gospel to them. It should be plain to any thoughtful person that the few who will respond to that sort of invitation are not likely to be from those ethnic groups that have been denied the privilege of hearing the gospel.
Missionary minded churches help to send missionaries to some of the far off lands to share the gospel with Muslims in Africa and the near east, or with many of the Hindu, Shinto, animist, and etc. people groups (“nations in Biblical terms) of the far east, or islands of the sea, or Latin America. But are there representatives of these nations more near at hand? Yes certainly! And there are ways to bridge the language gaps and culture gaps that separate us, and to win them for Christ. And if we can win them for Christ while they are our neighbors, we may be used of God to impact a complete ethnic group for Christ. You can give to missions, and you can pray for missions. But you can also “GO”! To that Chinese family at the Chinese restaurant. To those migrant laborers in the nearby fields who speak Spanish or perhaps a native Indian language. To the service station attendant, or motel employee, or neighbor who speaks English with that strange accent.
But if these nations are among us, how can we find them? And once we find them, what can we do to reach them with the gospel? In a moment I’ll have some practical suggestions to make, but first I want to say that this is basically an issue of the Lordship of Christ. It is He that has commanded us to take the gospel message to every creature and nation. His commands are his enablements. Are you willing to obey Him? “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” “How can we find them?” Stop and think right now –who do you know who speaks English with an accent?, or perhaps not at all? That’s a good place to start. Although there are many fine Christians who do not speak English, The strong likelihood is that those who cannot speak well in the languages in which the gospel is more commonly preached are less likely to have been able to hear it. That service station attendant or “99 cent store” cashier that politely serves you with a foreign accent, may be of the Hindu religion from India, or a Muslim from Pakistan. In either case it is unlikely that he or she has been able to hear and understand the gospel of Christ. And it likely that they will readily respond to any sincere show of friendship from you, because they are far from home and lonely.
Another clue to finding them is to realize that America is far more wealthy than most countries of the world. Therefore a good place to look for them in your community is where poor people shop, or go for entertainment. “swap meets” “flea markets” Bargain grocery outlets, etc. I stood at the entrance to a “K-Mart” in Tennessee for three hours and talked to everyone who appeared to be Hispanic. Out of thirty contacts, I found twenty who were actually more comfortable speaking in one or another of the Indian languages of Mexico, and therefore had had little or no opportunity to hear the gospel.
Another clue is to look for patterns. I discovered in California that liquor stores are generally owned and operated by Muslim men who speak Arabic. Certain groups from India run Pizza parlors and similar restaurants in almost every state. The US Federal government has a special category under which doctors and other qualified professionals come to America and are licensed to practice. Your doctor may never have heard the gospel of Christ because of his culture and religion.
Perhaps your church could sponsor a Bible booth at the local “swap meet” specializing in foreign language Bibles, videos, and audios. Start with Spanish, and Chinese. Water the operation with prayer, and as contacts are made, expand the variety of languages that you carry.
Many worthwhile tools of evangelism have been prepared in many different languages for your use evangelizing almost any language that you might meet. The “Jesus Movie” is available in many hundreds of languages. There’s even a version being prepared especially for Moslem people. Gospel Recordings (Audio) cassettes are available in nearly six thousand different languages. Scripture portions, Bibles, and/or New Testaments are available from various sources in many (probably the majority of all) languages. Write to me, and I’ll send you details. But you must be the one to “go”. You will be the vessel through which God can reveal his love.
The old plan of inviting them to church will not work for the huge majority of these hidden people groups in our midst. After they have been exposed to the love of God through your life, for a period of time, and begun to hear the message of the gospel in an understandable way, they may be willing to meet with a small similar group. The “old plan” will not work. We need an older one: 2Co 5:14 “For the love of Christ constraineth us…”
Dave & Ella McMullen, 4 Strong Row, Bisbee, AZ 85603 Phone: 1-(520)-432-3352
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