Most of my prayer walks in the bazaar are an exercise in being alone with God while being surrounded by other people. Strange as it may sound, I enjoy praying quietly to myself while flanked by other pedestrians on a bustling Central Asian sidewalk. I’ve not intentionally sought out opportunities to share the gospel while out praying and walking – that discipline is able to happen elsewhere. But neither am I opposed to hitting an evangelistic softball if one is thrown my way during the course of a walk.
An opportunity like this came along last week, and completely out of nowhere. It was a sunny mid-morning I was walking down a street full of small bakeries, fish stalls, chai houses, and watch repairers, when I decided on a whim to take a left down past the old post office. I had no particular reason for choosing this route, but at the moment of decision it simply felt like this would be a good way to go.
Two-thirds of the way down the post office street I spotted a man standing in front of me and looking at me oddly. Our eyes met.
“You are an English teacher, right?” he asked me.
“Well, I was for some years, yes.” I said as I wondered how he had pegged me so accurately.
“I am a legal translator. And I am stuck. I have been translating registration documents for a Christian organization.”
Internally, I quickly transitioned out of prayer/meditation mode and sought to focus on what was happening in front of me. The ingredients of this situation were not exactly common. I wondered if this might be a divinely-appointed interaction.
“There’s some religious language that I’m not familiar with,” he continued. “Some unique Christian terms that I haven’t heard before. I don’t know what to do…”
“Would you like me to come to your office and see if I can help?” I quickly offered.
“If it’s no trouble, my office is just across the street here,” he motioned to a nearby corner.
We walked over to his small translation shop and stepped inside. The legal translator motioned for me to take a seat, handing me the customary small bottle of cold water. Then he pulled out the documents he had been working on.
“Can you tell me what gospel identity means? And what about reconciliation?” the translator started off, furrowing his brow. “Look at this sentence where they use those terms. I can’t make any sense out of it. I’m a legal translator, not someone familiar with translating religious language.”
He handed me the registration documents and I perused them, smiling internally. The words the translator was the most stuck on were some of the best gospel bridges in the document.
As I read the document, one part of me rejoiced at the spiritual terms present, and another part of me shook my head at the unnecessarily complex language we Westerners tend to write in – and saddle our translators with. “The goal of good writing is to be clear, not impressive.” I don’t know how many times I have said this line while helping a local friend struggling to translate Christian material out of English and into our local language. The translatability of our writing is a virtue not spoken of often enough.
The legal translator and I went back and forth over a number of tough Christian words and phrases, a process which gave me several good opportunities to dive into biblical truth. I shared with him the basic definition of gospel – good news – and then described that good news as “God is holy, we are sinful, Christ is the sacrifice for our sins, and we must respond by repenting and believing in him.” We review this God, Man, Christ, Response outline as a church every time we gather for a service and I was grateful for the gospel fluency this longstanding practice has created, both for the local believers and for us.
We made some good progress on the document, but I could tell that the translation needs would require more time than I had to give that morning. Gospel comprehension would also require more time.
“I have an idea for you,” I shared after a while. “If you download the YouVersion Bible app, you can search for a Christian term and see how it is used in the Bible and see how it’s been translated by scholars into your own language. There’s this great parallel language function that I use all the time.”
“Really? That would be great!”
I showed him how to download the Bible app, search for a term, and compare languages side by side. I also gave him the number of a bilingual local believer in case he got stuck and needed some more assistance.
“You know, you remind me of someone I used to know,” the translator said. “A close friend named Joshua.”
“Joshua?” I smiled. I knew who he was talking about, a believing friend from college who had done a stint in this city of more than a million people a decade ago. I knew that Joshua would have shared the gospel with this man. And yet the lack of easy comprehension on the part of the translator showed that it had never really sunk in, even in terms of intellectual understanding. Or it had long since faded, suppressed by time and an unbelieving mind. Maybe Joshua was still praying for this man. Maybe that’s why we had run into each other on the sidewalk that day.
I took note of the translation office’s location, a spot I walk past most days. This shop would be one to come back to.
We said goodbye and I stepped out into the sunshine. I walked home, continuing to pray and encouraged by this unexpected chance to share the gospel. Even on a meandering prayer walk, there are no unplanned steps, no random encounters. I don’t always pick up on the providential designs beneath my daily encounters. But some days they’re simply on full display. Almost as if providence is showing off.