Sunday, February 27, 2005

Honey, I Evangelized the Kids

I have an old friend who sometimes sends me some really thought-provoking stuff. Well, he doesn’t really send it to me, but I am on the mailing list – they are basically broadcast messages, which allows me to quote them freely in my posts. I’m going to start today. My friend is a pastor in our home town in Russia. With the help of an American missionary organization (Campus Crusade I believe), in the early 90’s, he founded a church and is heading that church now. From what I gather, the church is very Americanized. The last broadcast mail I got contained some prayer requests that had me shaking my head in disbelief.

One is about a 23-year-old young man whom I have never met, that has graduated from a John McArthur’s college in Russia and is currently on the Moscow staff for the Campus Crusade. He wants to quit and relocate to join my friend’s church. Which is of course commendable. The line that got me thinking was, “he has got a good salary, a personal chauffeur and all those things that the world admires”. Think about it for a moment. A man working for an American mission, whose job is to convert people to Christianity. Working in a country that has been predominantly Christian since 988 AD. In Moscow, no less, - a city that has more Orthodox churches than the American South has Baptist colleges. Being paid all this cash, plus the company car use, plus the personal chaffeur’s salary, and so on and so forth. And there are probably dozens, if not hundreds, others like him on the staff. And all this money is, I assume, coming in from donations of some middle class families, who are being pushed and prodded to faithfully tithe, because “the work of the Lord is more important than your retirement account” (roughly quoting The Purpose Driven Life).

What a waste. It saddens me greatly just to think about this.

Now, I know that Tulipgirl will be reading this (smile), so let me explain here. I don’t have anything against missions, per se. Our church supports a mission in India that I think is doing a great job. They feed the hungry, they provide support for the local Christians that are persecuted… you can read more about it on my church’s website (the link is on the sidebar). It’s when the mission consists purely of converting people from one Christian confession to another… and when the people doing it are living high… now, that bothers me.

The second request was on a more personal level. Another classmate of ours, I’ll call him X, has relocated back to our home town with his family. X was one of the nicest guys in class. In truth, I’ve always wanted my sons to act like X in school. The best thing about him was that he didn’t belong to any group or clique – he was doing his own thing. It goes without saying that half the girls in class had a crush on X (I didn’t – he was just too far above my league – but we talked a lot). My friend that wrote the letter – and I’ll call him N, or else this post will get super confusing – anyway, N and X were best friends in school and always hung out together. Well, now that X is back in town with his wife and kids, the first thing he did was call his old buddy N. You have probably already guessed what N wants to do. Yep, convert X.

Now, if I believed what N did – that saying and doing certain things will automatically get you into Heaven, whereas not saying and doing these things will, again automatically, get you into Hell – I’d probably be all for converting X myself. Right now, however, I am conflicted on the issue. I am not sure if the salvation process is as automatic as the CCC used to tell us. I mean, this is God we’re talking about. This is not some, I don’t know, subway tourniquet, where you insert your ticket, and it lets you pass, or you don’t insert your ticket and try to get in, and the doors slam on you. Please don’t tell me this world was created by a subway tourniquet. It’s got to be more complicated than that. That’s one thing.

Second thing is, exactly how do you convert a 38-year-old? I don’t mean, “present him with the material and expose him to your way of life and let him think and make his own decisions”. I mean the way I’ve seen people converted – “push him and prod him and don’t let him go until he says the sinner’s prayer”. Granted, it worked on me. But I was 21, and the Iron Curtain had just fallen, and it was our first exposure to any religion other than Atheism. And I wouldn’t be still sticking around if I hadn’t analyzed and reanalyzed my faith and come to my own conclusions (switching denominations in the process). There were a lot of us converted by CCC in the late 80’s – early 90’s. Most of these people are no longer in any way, shape of form confessing Christians. They forgot all about it a long time ago.

Back to our hypothetical 38-year-old. By this time, the person has probably done a lot of thinking, and made his own conclusions, and telling him, “You’ve got to convert to blah” is the same as saying, “I’m smarter than you are, and I know better than you do”. Can you predict the reaction? I am honestly worried. I can just imagine my old buddy N, coming on to his old buddy X with all the subtlety of a Herbalife salesman, and losing his friend in the process. Knowing both men personally, this makes me sad.

If I had the nerve to speak my mind to N, I would say, "Do not come right out trying to convert X. Furthermore, do not think you’re on a mission from God to convert him. It is not up to you to make X believe one thing or the other. It is up to God. Leave it to Him. As far as X goes – just do what you did when you were both teenage kids. Just be a friend. Think of it as “friendship evangelism”, if you want to. This is the best thing you can do". But of course, I’ll never work up the courage to say these things to N, and, even if I do, N will not listen. He is not, after all, asking for advice. He's asking us to pray that God helps him convert X, the sooner the better.

Some day, I’ll tell you about a guy here in our area who spent a year and a half trying to convert me and my family from Orthodoxy into a evangelical denomination. For now, I’ve got to run.

The Goldie has spoken at 11:42 AM

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