“How do you make a connection to reach people who are so different than you?” the church staff member asked my mother-in-law, a missionary in India, as she discussed how conversions were taking place among the Hindu community.
The family whose home we had been visiting in Northeast Mississippi began sharing their confusion about how to get the message across to a Muslim man in their neighborhood; he had married an American woman several decades ago. They wanted him and his wife and children to know the good news. The children had even been to church at times, but the family showed no further interest in learning about or accepting Christianity. What more could they do? They were concerned about doing more harm than good if they forced the issue. There seemed to be no open door.
“We were once like you.” My mother-in-law’s answer hung in the air. “When we go about the shops and the village, the people recognize us, and we ask them how they are doing, about their family, about their children. We say, ‘Last time, your wife was sick in the hospital. How is she doing now?’ They may ask us to sit in a chair, they tell ‘how hard it is; my wife is not doing well; we have so many expenses. I stay up at night and worry, what will we do?’
“I listen and I understand,” she went on. “I tell them, ‘I know how it is. I was once like you. I had so many problems and sickness and fear. I had no peace, and I wondered what I could do. Then I came to know Jesus, and I knew peace; I had comfort. He became the answer.’”
“How is it?” they ask. “How can this Jesus do so much for you? Tell us about Him, tell us what He does, how He can help us.”
And the door opens.
The point of focus when we tell others about Christ must not be that they are so different from us but that we are so much the same. There are two different attitudes we can take toward others, which, whether expressed verbally are not, will be internalized in our thoughts and come out in our approach.
The first kind of response could be summarized in the thoughts of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11 who “stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like these other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.’”
The other attitude is what my mother-in-law said, “We were once like you.” That thought is repeated often in the Bible. For example, Titus 3:3-6:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.
This is what builds a bridge to span across any differences between people, from whatever, culture, generation, religion, or background. The best key to successful evangelism is often said to be relationship, and that is true. My mother-in-law began by forming a relationship – taking a basic level interest and gaining knowledge about the other person’s situation. And my Mississippi friends already had a relationship with their Muslim neighbor and his family; they had conversations and even had welcomed them to their church.
But what matters is that the relationship connects at this key point: I understand where you are because I was once like you. I am like you. What is different in me is not my righteousness or my religion or my experience. What makes the difference is Christ, and Christ can make the difference for you too – wherever and whoever you are.