Airplane Evangelism

On my flight home from the NCFIC conference, a young Chinese woman sat beside me. She was brilliant and had worked her way up the corporate ladder to the point that her company in China was sending her to its headquarters in Michigan for the very first time. Understandably, she was full of questions.

After chatting for a while, I asked her, “Are you a Christian?”

“I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that,” she said, rather shyly. “I have a friend who texts me a Christian message every day in both Chinese and English. Here, let me show you.”

I realized immediately that these messages were way over her head. “Are your parents Christians?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“What do they believe in?” I asked, and then added, “And what do you believe in?”

“My parents and I only believe in the Communist Party,” she said. “If they treat us well, we are satisfied.”

“Look,” I said, “you must have thought many times in your life that there must be something more to life than the Communist Party in China!”

For the first time, she laughed. “You’re right there,” she said.

“Have you ever thought that ‘the something more’ might be the Christian God of the Bible?” I pressed on.

“Oh yes,” she said, “but I don’t really understand what the Christian worldview is. And how people get saved.”

“If you’re really interested, I’ll try to explain the basics of Christianity in ten minutes,” I said.

“I would love that,” she said.

I began with Genesis 1 (how we were created), then moved to Genesis 3 (how we fell). She was all ears but had a hard time taking it all in. She had never heard of Adam. I also had a hard time convincing her of the seriousness of sin. She finally seemed to grasp it when I explained that sin is essentially living selfishly rather than living for God’s glory. I explained to her why God put us here on earth—to live to His glory. That seemed to make a lot of sense to her.

After I drew a chart with God on the top, us on the bottom, and a wall of sin between which Jesus had broken open by His obedience, she began to ask a lot of questions about Jesus. “Why do we need Jesus to get to God?” “Why do we need to pray in Jesus’ name?” “What is it like to pray?” “How do you know when God answers your prayers?”

She also wondered why the Old Testament was necessary if we have the New Testament today. She wanted to know about Jesus’ mother. She wondered what the differences were between Judaism and Christianity.

I answered all her questions as simply as I could (she was challenging at times!), and then, as the plane was descending I shared with her how God had made Jesus precious to me in my own life, and that if you have Him, you really have everything. I told her too that I certain met more than 100,000 Christians in my life, but I had never met one who was sorry he or she was a Christian.

“That’s wonderful,” she said looking directly at me, and then she added emphatically, “and I can believe that.”

I offered to give her some of my books and invited her to come to a Bible class. She warmly accepted both invitations. Pray with me that she will attend.

What about Evangelism Training?

As our nation slips into deeper ignorance, immorality, and idolatry, now more than ever churches need to be active in evangelizing the lost. But how should we do that? Here’s a video clip where I raise a few provocative points about the church’s strategy for evangelism.

White Unto Harvest Conference, coming up Oct. 25–27, 2012.

Conference Opportunity

Let me introduce you to the G3 conference taking place January 24–26, 2013, in the greater Atlanta area. The abbreviation G3 stands for gospel, grace, and glory. The theme for this conference is The Gospel: Message and Mission. I will be preaching there on the subject of what is the true gospel. Other speakers will address the subjects of the exclusivity of the gospel, the evangelistic power of the local church, the preaching of John Calvin, the importance of doctrine, the penal substitution of the atonement, the abandonment of Christ on the cross, and the priority of prayer in missions.

The G3 conference has made a generous offer for students at the seminary where I teach. Ordinary registration is $119 for seminary students or ministers and $139 for others through November 5th. Students at PRTS may email my teaching assistant for information about a special reduced price.

From Grand Rapids to Mozambique

My trek by plane to Mozambique took 27 hours—from Grand Rapids to Chicago to Washington D.C. to Senegal to South Africa to Mozambique. On the Chicago to Washington flight, I evangelized a young man. After chatting about his family (married to a devout Roman Catholic, with whom he has two girls—6 and 2—and is expecting a third in two weeks) and work (a contractor) for a while, I asked him if he was a Christian.

“Sort of,” he said.

He went on tell me that his dad was a leader among the Gideons and flies all over the world to promote Bible distribution. His mother is a strong Pentecostal who is constantly telling him that he is on his way to hell because he doesn’t take his Christianity seriously.

“I struggle with lots of things,” he said. “I struggle with having Christianity crammed down my throat. I struggle with the idea that the Bible is inspired, though I do recognize that it is an amazing book. I struggle with the irrelevant messages I hear from the priest on the odd occasion when I do go to the Catholic church with my wife. I struggle with the idea that if you don’t know Jesus, you’re on your way to hell. I know a lot of good people who aren’t Christians who don’t deserve to go there.”

For the next hour, we dialogued about each of his concerns. He was receptive, but not easily persuaded. Todd is an outstanding conversationalist, a very likable guy, but he has no awareness of the gravity of sin. I tried hard to explain the basics of the gospel—why we all need Jesus Christ, why Christians in themselves are no better than non-Christians, how God looks on our hearts, our desperate need to be born again, and why no other religion can give us a Savior accepted by God.

Then I gave him a breather, but he kept asking questions. He wanted to know more about the Reformation. “What is the difference between Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism? How did Protestantism split up between the Lutherans and the Calvinists? Were there other groups involved as well? Just who are the Puritans? Are you a Puritan?”

So we had a basic church history lesson. He told me that he found it fascinating. I gave him my card and asked him if he would read a few books if I sent them to him.

“Sorry,” he said, “I’m not a reader.”

On the flight from Washington to Senegal, I sat next to another man, who is trying to promote “Green Energy” in a West African nation.  He was on his way to meet with the president of that nation for the fourth time, hoping to seal a business deal this time around.

He describes himself as “a solid Lutheran.” He meets often for prayer with his closest friend. In fact, before the plane even taxied out, he called his friend and said, “You won’t believe this, but I’ve got a preacher guy sitting next to me who runs a seminary. I’m going to bend his ear for the next eight hours. The poor guy won’t be able to do any of his work.”

And bend my ear, he did. He is a non-stop talker; his conversation is a stream of consciousness, covering anywhere from one to five topics per minute. We covered a lot of ground, but I’m not sure how profitable it was. He seemed to be antinomian in some areas of his life and devout in other areas. He certainly loved to talk about Christianity. After three hours, I had to finally tell him that I needed some rest.

In Senegal, I stayed on board the plane, as our plane continued on to Johannesburg, South Africa, which is another eight hour flight (so I was on this plane for 17 hours in all). On this flight, I sat next to a 6’8” slender black fellow from Senegal (a former basketball player) who was working in South Africa, also in the field of energy.

When I asked about his religious beliefs, he said, “My father is Muslim and my mother is a strong Christian.”

“So where does that leave you?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “I’m a Muslim because in Senegal it is a custom that the son takes over the religion of his father.”

As I pondered how to respond, a lady next to us, who was listening to our conversation, jumped in. “Religion is something you can’t take automatically from any parent,” she said incredulously. “You have to know what is right and true for yourself!”

The young man answered very shyly, so shyly that I couldn’t understand him. Clearly he didn’t want this conversation to proceed further.

Coming Home

On the way home from London last Thursday, I sat next to a Muslim mother and eight-year-old daughter. They grew up in Afghanistan, and migrated to Denmark twenty years ago. The girl chatted to her mother the entire trip—eight hours straight. She knows English, Danish, and a local dialect in Afghanistan equally fluently. I found that rather humbling.

When I arrived at customs in Chicago, I had a rather unusual conversation with the agent who looked like he was from India.

“What is your occupation?” he asked.

“I’m a preacher, teacher, and author, sir,” I said.

“How many books have you written?” he queried. When I told him, he just said, “Very interesting. What do you write about?”

I said, “All my books in one way or another are about Jesus Christ and what it means to be a Christian, sir.”

“Very, very interesting,” he said, as he put my passport into his machine.

I leaned forward, and said, as respectfully as I could, “What about you, sir? Are you a Christian?”

“Well, not really,” he said, “I’m too much of a free spirit, but I like to write, too. I wish I could write what I knew was true, though.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, “that is the joy of writing Christian truth because you know what you write can truly help people.”

“Well,” he said, “I certainly respect you for that. May God bless your books.”

“Thank you, sir. May God bless you as well.”

My Chicago-Grand Rapids plane was delayed for several hours, so I took another flight to Lansing. But then we sat on the runway for 1.5 hours while we were being refueled and waiting for paperwork. Mary picked me up in Lansing, and we finally arrived home at 1:30 a.m. on Friday.