He came walking into my office with a broad smile on his face. “Tell me about this church,” he said. That began a conversation that led to a young man becoming a believer in Christ and being baptized. Let me fill in the blanks to the rest of his story. I’ll call him Paul (not his real name).
Paul grew up in a predominantly Muslim country. His family was nominally Muslim. In Paul’s teen years, his mother and father separated. Paul went to live with his two unmarried aunts who were Christians. While Paul lived with them, he explored Christianity out of curiosity, but not seriously. He was skeptical about religion in general, but he saw a real difference in his aunts. Their love and kindness overflowed to Paul. They cared for his every need.
Paul followed a fairly normal course of life, attending University after high school. He began to long to expand his horizons, as so many young people do. He traveled to Malaysia to study English. It happened that his English teacher was a Christian. Following his time there he returned to his home country. His goal was to further his studies in Australia. As so often happens, economics got in the way. The last place he wanted to go was America, but that is exactly where he ended up.
America is a large country with thousands of universities from which to choose. How was Paul going to find his place in this vast sea of options? He did what so many do today, he turned to the internet. He found a website, designed for international students, which gave information about American universities. He was attracted to Minnesota State University, Mankato by its relatively low cost and the promise of an in-state tuition grant for international students. Without any real knowledge about the place he was going, he set his course for Mankato, Minnesota.
He spent his first semester in Mankato getting used to the new culture and environment. Having grown up in a large city, Mankato seemed like a very small town. He returned to his country for the summer and reconnected with his aunts. Upon his return to Mankato, in the fall of the next year, he was prompted to explore a church on a busy corner adjacent to the university. It was then that he walked through our doors, into my office and into my life.
After our initial meeting, I met with Paul a couple more times. Then, on one of those occasions, he announced that he had made his decision and he was ready to become a Christian. I carefully explained what that meant and he affirmed that he wanted to take that step. Within the month I had baptized him as a new believer in Christ. We continue to meet on a regular basis as his faith and our relationship grows.
As followers of Christ, we often only get to see one stage in a person’s spiritual journey. We may encounter them at the beginning, when they are just starting to explore faith. We may meet them in the middle, as they grapple with the claims of Christ on their life. Sometimes we get the privilege to be present at their spiritual birth, when they cross the line from unbelief to belief. Often we get to walk with them as they grow in their faith.
I know from many years of experience that it can be discouraging and frustrating not knowing the whole story. I have invested in a number of individuals over my 30 years of ministry. Most of them have moving on in life. Some were exploring Christianity, some came to faith and some were strengthening their faith. In the majority of cases, I do not know where their journey has led them. All I can see is that one short stretch of time when they were an active part of my story. I often wonder if my efforts have accomplished anything. Is my investment worth the time and energy?
I was reading in 1 Corinthians the other day and came across a passage that encouraged me to keep making the investment. Paul was addressing a controversy in Corinth. The people there were dividing up into different camps. Each camp claimed to follow a particular spiritual leader. These leaders were all honorable, solid messengers of Jesus Christ. The problem was that the groups were using their allegiance to divide the church. In order to counter this destructive influence, Paul gives us some needed insight into the process of leading a person to faith in Christ.
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NIV)
Paul made it clear that we all have a part to play in helping others come to faith in Christ. In my friend Paul’s case, his aunts planted the seed, his English teacher watered it, and I had the privilege to be present at the harvest.
Those who study evangelism say that in our world today it takes a minimum of seven significant encounters with different Christians before a person is ready to make a commitment to Christ. We don’t know where we may be in that chain of events. We might be their first encounter, or a middle encounter, or the final encounter. Whichever it is, we all play an important role.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV)