17 March 2014

Sharing one's faith while crossing the border

When I was teaching overseas as a missionary, I would sometimes be dropped off on one side of the border and be picked up on the other (it was easier to walk across than drive across). As no one knew exactly how long the crossing might take, I would sometimes end up waiting quite awhile by the guard house on the one side. This led to odd conversations.

I was 23 at the time, the guards were often around the same age. I was a foreigner and alone, I kind of spoke the local language, and I seemed willing enough to answer questions. So I'd get the usual questions of whether I was married and had children, received by some surprise that this hadn't happened yet and significant hints that one of them might be a good candidate. The questions got more interesting when they tried to understand why I was there. Why was I in this poor country, teaching in a school in the middle of nowhere? It was hard enough to explain in a foreign language that looking for a marriage partner wasn't my sole purpose in life; how was I supposed to explain that I felt called by God to help the Christians here who had so many different chances than I had had?

Fast forward 14 years. I am once again crossing a border - this time the American one - feeling called by God (and the church) to help the Christians here to be able to live out their faith well while also using their God-given intellectual abilities to their full capacity. How do I explain that I'm not coming here looking to take away work from any Americans, but instead want to help grads at an American school to be able to do their work well: to flourish, to honour God and enjoy his gifts, as well as helping those around them? In other words, how do I share my faith, especially when doing so means I might not be allowed to come in at this time?

Today I simply said I was coming to help grad students integrate their faith and their studies. I'd help with Bible studies and talk to them about things like science and faith. It led to a fascinating discussion about why Christians couldn't believe in evolution, how much truth is in the Bible (the border guard had grown up in the church), and about how we have free will. I tried to share what I believed, while also recognizing that it would not be wise to challenge or disagree with him. After 5-10 minutes he let me through, after doublechecking that all I'd basically be doing was talking, right? And yes, that is what I do: talk. Fortunately, I get to talk about the Word of God - the logos - and this Word is full of power, truth, and the unexpected. Words I can live by, thus.

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