Focus on the Family: Jesus and Gmail
I sometimes joke that the only two things that I am an evangelist for are Jesus and Gmail. Each, to different degrees, has shaped my life for the better, and yes, I realize how sacrilegious that sounds.
Even so, I am much more likely to verbally evangelize for Gmail than I am for Jesus, more likely to accost a stranger and share with them the benefits of folders and filters than I am the word and sacrament.
I wouldn’t say that I believe in Jesus less than Gmail, but I am less likely to peddle Jesus around because I realize the baggage many people (myself included) carry around from the church, which includes past failed conversion attempts.
I didn’t come to Jesus through the 17 years of Christian education I underwent (though I am grateful for it). More than once, I asked many people on “mission” trips to do the very thing I hadn’t yet done – accept Christ (pause to let the hypocrisy set in).
One such trip was one I took to China to teach English through a Christian organization here in the States. I had never lived away from my family, and I was exactly halfway around the world from them back in Michigan. I was the youngest person in my classroom, and I was the teacher – whose job it was to convert them in a very discreet way. It was forced and awkward on my part, and my faith never came up in casual conversation, mostly because I was more interested in their culture and beliefs than I was in sharing mine.
I developed a friendship with one student in particular who was not warm to the idea of Christianity, as her own mother was a recent convert and was not so subtle in her evangelism. I figured her mom pretty much had it taken care of on the soul-saving front, so my relationship with Li Li was no-strings-attached.
One day, we were riding the bus home together and Li Li told me she had a dream and wanted to share it with me. She said that in the dream, she was near starving and she walked through a door into a huge room with only a table in it. An old woman was sitting at the table with her back to the door. As she approached her, her hunger increasing with each step, a huge bowl of rice came into view, sitting in front of the old woman. Li Li said that she tiptoed timidly up, afraid but hungry enough to approach the woman. The woman, Li Li said, turned and said in a kind voice, “Take and eat whatever you can.”
I still get goosebumps when I recount that story, and the irony of her witness to me still a testament to the curve balls the God I am now just getting to know always seems to throw my way.
I am now part of a new faith community here in Denver that has grown significantly in the last year. My pastor says that church planters contact her weekly, mostly well-meaning people from out of town who have heard how unchurched Denver is. They want to know the recipe for evangelizing the heathens of the Mile High.
I have been taking two such "heathen" students of mine to church. The first time they came, one of the girls asked if she could wear her Insane Clown Posse shirts and the other if she could wear her Mohawk “up.” Sure, I said.
They have been going for a few weeks and have been taking communion. One of the girls wants to be baptized. I felt like I should get a gold star of some sort for this feat; no fellow teachers could believe they would step foot in a church.
A couple weeks ago, my pastor asked one of the girls to hold the chalice of communion wine. As I received communion from my student and she said to me, shyly, “The blood of Christ, shed for you,” I was weak in the knees.
Time and again, I am witnessed to when I least expect it. Like Phillip speaking with the Ethiopian Eunuch, I have much to learn from those I might think of as different and wrongly label as outside the fold.
My pastor preached about that text the other week, (I encourage you to read the full text here) with one of the resounding lines reading "I think maybe that we can’t actually know what this Jesus following thing is about unless we too have the stranger show us."
The recipe for good church, as I have experienced it, is less about peddling Christ to others and more allowing others to witness to us, regardless of their standing or position in the Church. Christ – the body resurrected and free for all to take and eat – is all around us. As I was reminded by friends last weekend, it is less “What Would Jesus Do?” and more “What is Jesus already doing?”
I am convinced that most of our models for intentional evangelism are mostly well meaning but eventually at best not fruitful, and at worst harmful. I haven’t exactly figured out how to reconcile all this in my own mind. I mean, both Gmail, and Jesus are good news in my life (the latter, decidedly more so). How do I share that good news with others while allowing them to minister to me at the same time?
And in the meantime, could I get some commission dollars from Google?