A Proverb on Habits and Character

Habits of milk are ’til old age.

Local Oral Tradition

In other words, traits and habits present in early childhood (breastfeeding) often persist until someone is elderly. I’m currently leading an English conversation class and the last time we met we were discussing how to discern character. When I shared the English proverb, “A leopard can’t change his spots,” this local gem emerged. I hadn’t heard it before, but it’s a good one to have in the arsenal. We should be able to use it when speaking of the importance of parenting and in discussions about character formation. It could be used to illustrate verses like Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

On a personal level, now that I am in my thirties I am frankly amazed at how much my childhood is still affecting the ways I think, behave, and struggle. It’s as if the frenetic activity of my twenties came to a loud and tumultuous end, only to reveal that little curly haired missionary kid playing in the Melanesian clay, still there, and waving at me. It is strange and encouraging to meditate on the idea that God sees me now while simultaneously seeing me in every season of my life. During one part of my prayer walk this morning I listened to the song, “Future/Past” by John Mark McMillan. I was also meditating on 2nd Peter, including the passage that teaches that God’s relationship to time is different than ours (2 Pet 3:8). I realized that I tend to find it easier to look forward with faith that God will delight in my future self. I wrestle daily to believe that God delights in my present self. It’s even harder to believe that God delights in my past self. Yet surely this is what it means to be known as an adopted child of God. He knows our beginning from our end – and he still delights in us. From our habits of milk ’til our habits of old age.

The LORD your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph 3:17 ESV)

Now I Understand Why You Were Always Talking About Church

“Hey *Hama! I just came from the tea house. Your brother-in-law is in there telling everyone that you are a Christian and that he’s going to kill you!”

Hama and I were hanging out at his favorite intersection in the bazaar when his friend came up and made this announcement.

“Hama?” I asked, “What’s he talking about?”

Hama went on to fill me in on the situation. By this point he and his wife had both been believers for eight years, and were getting serious about their faith again after some years of struggle without steady discipleship. I had been gone in the US finishing up school and starting a family, but a year before our return I had visited and connected them with a new missionary family. This discipleship from these workers – who would later become dear teammates – was bearing good fruit.

As one simple expression of their faith, that year they had put up a Christmas tree, and their six-year-old son had made a cross ornament. However, a photo of him smiling in front of the tree with his ornament had made the rounds among *Tara’s family, Hama’s wife. Her relations, I came to learn, were by far the more conservative and Islamic side. We had made it through the round of persecution brought by Hama’s family eight years previous. Now it was her family’s turn. Far from the somewhat sincere six month shunning that Hama experienced, this persecution would get very serious very fast. It would ultimately lead to them having to flee the country.

The open death threat made that day was a turning point. The same man who had made this threat was a known killer, having murdered prisoners and political opponents in crimes that were documented online by Amnesty International. Usually Hama laughed off threats. But now that his wife’s older brother, a killer, was making them, he was visibly worried.

A few weeks later they were taken to court. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal in our country and the family had accused Hama of forcing his wife to convert. They begged for prayer. To our amazement, the judge sided with them, believed their stories of genuine conversion to Christianity, and even let them swear on a Bible – in fact this was his idea. “They are Christians, didn’t you hear their confession? Show some respect and get these people a Bible to swear by!” Afterward Hama called me in tears from a police station, believing that even with the favorable judge, he was about to be hauled off to prison. Minutes later, he was let go as a free man. We celebrated God’s favor on them in this very scary situation.

But the harassment and threats continued. Tara’s brother showed up drunk one day and destroyed their kitchen, attacking Hama as well. Plans were being hatched to take their son away from them so he could be “raised right.” Our team grew nervous as a video circulated of Tara’s brother bragging about his past murders and making threats against Hama – and anyone connected to him.

To make matters worse, Hama was out of a job. The foreign company he had worked for had departed in scandal and debt, leaving Hama to clean up the mess. The financial pressure added to the persecution to make him feel like there was no way out. Hama began to sink into some dangerous depression.

So many of our locals who claim faith then quickly flee to the West, claiming persecution. Many of them are making up or inflating these claims. Our team was desperate not to contribute to the “faith-drain” that had become a regular fixture of the work in our area. But we were coming to terms with a very complex and potentially dangerous situation – and Hama and Tara were out of options. One night we asked them to pray for absolute clarity on whether the Spirit was indicating they should stay or flee, since both are biblical options. They came back with their answer. It was time to flee.

We started reaching out to friends and organizations that work with the persecuted. The responses were less than encouraging. “We don’t have an avenue for situations like this for your country. We thought your organization would have something in place.” Thankfully, a plan was eventually patched together for a visa, emergency tickets, housing in a neighboring country, and a basic budget for necessities. We might never be able to pull it off again, but at least for this dear family, God had provided a good plan of escape.

Unfortunately, Hama and Tara were only able to experience our initial attempts at gathering a new church plant together. In fact, we had been hoping they’d be one of our anchor families. But they had never quite understood why we kept emphasizing church and the gathering of believers so much. They had not committed and shown up as we had been desperately praying they would. This was typical for local believers, but extra tragic in their situation because it meant there were so few they could rely on when their natural support network turned against them.

Our teammates were the ones to drive them to the airport. I was grateful they were carrying out this last step, heartbroken as I was that my best friend was now leaving. On the way to the airport they shared this:

“Now we understand why you were always talking about church. Our physical family has abandoned us and attacked us. We were alone, except for you all, our believing friends. What would we have done without our believing family? This must be why church is needed.”

I grieved when I heard these words reported. Hama and Tara had largely missed out on what could have been theirs if they had been able to understand sooner why church is so important. But at least at the eleventh hour they had understood.

This realization made all the difference in their temporary country of asylum. They plugged into a good church and for two solid years experienced the joys of spiritual family – they really got it, and on telephone conversations they would actually scold us for not pushing our local friends more when it came to prioritizing the church! For our part, we would just listen, shake our heads, and smile.

That’s what we’ve been trying to say all along.

*Names changed for security

Photo by Grant Durr on Unsplash

The Mission of Thomas

Two distinct traditions exist regarding the apostle Thomas, and these appear, at first glance, mutually exclusive. According to Eusebius of Caesarea and later Nestorian sources, the apostle brought the Gospel to the Parthians. By contrast, acording to the apocryphal Acts of Thomas and the Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum, the Doctrine of the Apostles, of the same age, he traveled to the court of King Gondophares in India… The two Thomas traditions can, in fact, be harmonized, since historical evidence, in the form of coins bearing his name and a stone inscription, proves the existence of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares. He ruled over the region now encompassing south-eastern Iran and Pakistan, from c. 19 to 50 CE. It is thus conceivable that Eusebuis could have characterized his empire as ‘Parthian’. While nothing has been conclusively determined regarding the historical veracity of the Thomas mission, the possibility of his journey to India cannot be excluded, especially since regular maritime traffic took place between Rome and India.

Baumer, The Church of the East, p. 15

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Mistakes Made: Costly Team Decisions

Somewhere along the way, my wife and I developed a decision-making philosophy for costly or risky situations. No matter what, if we moved into that risky situation, we would only do so if we were both on the same page – and if we felt that God had been clear with both of us. That way, whatever costs might come, we could together rest in the knowledge that these were potential costs we had both embraced, and costs which were from our Father’s kind hand.

This knowledge has been practically helpful countless times, such as when a gang of refugee Somali youth tried to break down our back door, when a local leader-in-training turned out to be a divisive wolf, and when our daughter almost died in a Central Asian ICU from new onset type-1 diabetes. What in the world are we doing here?! Oh, that’s right, we came into this together. From everything we could discern, God was clear with us. We obeyed, and that has brought us to this place.

This step keeps us from blaming one another or others when things go sideways. It also serves as another safeguard to make sure we are rightly applying verses like 1st Peter 2:20.

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

When suffering because of ministry and lifestyle choices comes, it can make all the difference to be able to fall back on these kinds of thoughts – that we’re not facing this fallout because of sin, foolishness, stubbornness, or self-will. This suffering is simply part of the good (though painful) path we have been asked to walk. It has a thousand good purposes that we may someday see. And yes, we signed up for it.

But as a newer team leader on the mission field, I have at times failed to invite my whole team into this same cost-embracing posture. And that’s where I made my mistake. I stepped into leading a team, knowing that some things would need to change, and by the very nature of where we work, many risky decisions would need to be made. I believe I did a decent job of listening, getting feedback, and pondering. I am a reflective, creative-thinker type. So I’m in my happy place when I’m getting feedback on lots of issues and exploring what possible changes can be made to improve the situation.

Yet I underestimated the importance of having discussions and conversations as a whole team when it came to the actual issues and changes that needed to be made. I would have many one-on-one conversations about issues, chew on things for a while, and then introduce a change – one made very much in response to what team members had been saying for a long time. Surprisingly (to me), I would then get a lot of resistance to these changes. As I tried to figure out why the team was kicking so much against these decisions, I began to see how much change and transition itself was costly. That made sense for our context, where transition can seem never-ending. Sometimes a bad system is preferred over the cost of yet another change. Were I older and wiser, I would have known to ask, “So I hear you saying that this is difficult. Is it the kind of difficult where you think we should take on the costs of changing it?”

I also began to better understand the nature of healthy team decision making in a costly environment. These decisions were in fact resulting in risks and costs to the team as a whole. Sometimes they were big costs, sometimes only more transition. The most heartbreaking one was losing a teammate. Yet my team wasn’t sensing that they had been able to speak into those risky calls enough to have buy-in. Hence much of the pushback.

Just as my wife and I gave one another ample time to discuss, wrestle with, and pray though an issue, turns out my team needed this as well. I began experimenting with discussions in team meetings about difficult things that we might need to change. After a couple hours of everyone getting to say their piece and wrestle with our limited options, we would often arrive at a calm unity. No one was under the illusion that costs weren’t coming. But the team had been able to discuss together which risks they were more or less willing to embrace.

As I reflected on this and back on many team conflicts from the past, the light bulbs started flickering on. Much of the resistance came from costly decisions being suddenly announced, without proper time for contributing, processing, praying, and buy-in from those affected by the changes. Just a little bit of this quickly leads to team conflict. A lot of this can make people leave the team or the organization.

Now, organizationally, I am free to make the decision as the team leader. I am fully within my rights and authority to make most calls without consulting the team or having a lengthy discussion. This might be more efficient on the front end. However, for my team – and many teams made up of millennials (or just humans?) – it has proved to be much less efficient on the back end as we continually had to rehash decisions team members thought should have been made differently. As I grew to know my team more, I understood my mistake more clearly. These discussions, though very time-consuming, were key for us being able to embrace the possible implications – together.

Going forward, as much as possible, I hope to embrace this principle of wise leadership: If a decision is likely risky or costly for my team, I need to lead a team discussion about it before that decision is made. Just having a voice into that potential cost honors my team members. And yes, even the new folks should be encouraged to speak up. But in addition to having a say (or even a vote) in the matter, this kind of conversation enables a team to embrace possible costs together, and with a good conscience – and when things go sideways, that can make all the difference.

Other leaders may feel differently, but I need the teams I lead to have the freedom to fail. We are seeking to plant healthy local churches in the hard soil of Central Asia. We need to take big risks. Our very living here is a big risk. But to do this well, we must find practical ways to embrace these costs in ways that don’t divide us. So I hope to learn from my mistakes, and thereby do a better job of honoring my team in costly decisions.

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Why Steal the Household gods?

Ever wondered why Rachel stole her father Laban’s household gods in Genesis 31? Was she really that devoted to these idols? Perhaps something else was going on. See this note from Gen 31:19.

household gods. One of the purposes of these idols was to obtain oracles (Ezek. 21:21). It may be that Rachel stole them to prevent Laban from using them to divine Jacob’s route of escape. In addition, possession of family gods symbolized title to family property in the ancient Near East, so Rachel may have stolen them to safeguard her inheritance rights.

ESV Archaeology Study Bible

This is another example of why it can be so helpful to understand the culture and context of biblical narratives. Here are two possibilities for Rachel’s motives in this story that I never would have known nor guessed without this background info. Divination or inheritance rights being tied to household gods is simply not self-apparent to me, given my own cultural and historical context. Interestingly, if the second possibility is what was going on here, then we see in Rachel an echo of her husband’s particular sin – seeking to wrest her inheritance rights in her own strength, rather than trusting in the promises of YHWH. As is usually the case, this backfires. And Rachel comes awfully close to losing her life because of her deception.

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An Idiom For When It’s Over Your Head

It’s like you’re counting walnuts for me.

Local Oral Tradition

This is the local equivalent of “It’s all Greek to me.” Local walnut sellers count walnuts by the handful. They know exactly how many walnuts are in each handful and are extremely fast at their arithmetic as their hands transfer walnuts lightning-quick out of their large sack and into the customer’s bag. For the uninitiated (like me) it’s very hard to follow. But apparently I’m not the only one. This speedy method of the walnut sellers has become a local idiom for any time information has simply been over your head, too complex to grasp.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get any of that. It’s like your counting walnuts for me.”

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A Song For the Religious Strivers

I remember having New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner visit the small cohort of pastoral apprentices I was a part of. He had come to teach on Romans 7 as our cohort was working through the book of Romans for that first year. We all waited eagerly to hear his take on the debate about whether Paul is speaking of a believer an unbeliever in the famous Romans 7 “I do not do what I want” passage. I myself was torn. It seemed to me that if I focused on the slavery language in the passage, the person Paul spoke of must be an unbeliever – because only unbelievers are slaves to sin. But if I focused on the divided-man language, then it must be a believer – because only believers are internally divided over their own sin.

Schreiner landed somewhere unexpected. “I say wrong question! This passage is not focusing on whether someone is a believer or an unbeliever. This is anyone who is trying to justify themselves by keeping the Law.” I can’t say that I’m totally settled on this passage yet. But I think most days I agree with Schreiner.

Human religion can be defined as anyone trying to justify themselves through good works – be they a believer or an unbeliever. In this sense, religion is anti-gospel. In the gospel, we are justified by God’s free grace alone – without any expectations placed on us to earn that relationship. There is an older sense of the word religion that did not carry this meaning, but conveyed more the sense of true spirituality, and in this older rendering we could say that the gospel is true religion in a world of false religion. Regardless, the term religion seems to be taking on more of this sense of striving in order to appease God.

I find it helpful among my peers in the West and my peers in Central Asia to divide gospel from religion in this linguistic sense. It resonates with them and proves to be helpful to distinguish the Bible’s teaching from moralism. Many of my peers in the West have been raised to function as if they were saved by grace, but continue to stay in God’s favor by works of the Law. My Central Asian friends have straight up been told their whole lives that they can only be saved by keeping God’s shari’a, his Law. Their society has lots of literal pharisees walking around, like the Salafis, who grow their beards long, cut their pants short, and despise the normal folk as lesser-than.

All of this is the context for why I find this song so helpful. Some in the West want to use this “Jesus is not religious” language to water down the need for church or holiness in the Christian life. I’m not part of that camp at all. But like every other true believer out there, I am a recovering legalist, daily striving to remember that because of Jesus, God delights in me regardless of my performance today. And this song helps me do that.

I am particularly blessed by the bridge, which starts at 3:07. “Meet your maker, smiling bright.” Some days it’s really hard to believe that this is true – that God really smiles at the thought of me. And yet this is what the gospel means for all of us who are now adopted as sons and daughters of the king. He actually lights up at the thought of us. Remarkable.

To Not Plateau, We Need a Map

“There is learning the culture so we can function well in the guest room, drinking chai and being polite. But then there is a whole deeper level to the culture when you are invited into the family spaces of the home.”

A colleague shared this wise advice with me the other day. His family had just been affirmed by a local brother as the best foreigners he had seen when it came to functioning well in local culture. So I passed on this feedback to my colleague – and asked for all his notes! But as is so often the case, this family’s progress in learning the culture had been a process more intuitive than systematic, more of an art than a science. Some are just natural artists. They sense their way forward, catching the culture as it were. But I have wondered for a long time if there are ways to make culture acquisition more visible for the benefit of all learners, whether we have a high CQ (cultural quotient) or not.

The truth is that culture acquisition is much harder to track than language acquisition. And language acquisition is itself a very subjective and slippery thing to measure. But culture? It’s everywhere and yet at the same time invisible. At least language has academic systems like the ACTFL scale that can provide some handles to know where a learner is at. To my knowledge, nothing like this exists to measure culture acquisition. Perhaps tools have been developed for specific cultures, but is there a universal tool that can be used to approach any culture and provide some kind of a systematic roadmap for studying it?

I have been greatly helped by A. Scott Moreau’s categories for intercultural communication in his book, Effective Intercultural Communication.

Sarah Lanier has charted helpful categories between “warm climate” and “cold climate” cultures in her book, Foreign to Familiar. Lingenfelter covers similar ground in his book, Ministering Cross-Culturally.

An anthropologist specific to our people group has opened my eyes to the importance of categories such as kinship, honor and shame, fear and gossip, the modern state, gender roles, the body, and fate.

I’ve also stumbled into some very different categories I haven’t heard discussed, but which impact our work greatly, such as how a people group is oriented towards institutions and formal organization.

On a practical level, beyond these underlying worldview categories are the important life ceremonies. How does a culture recognize pregnancies, births, birthdays, circumcisions, coming of age, graduations, engagements, marriages, new homes, sicknesses, deaths, etc?

In spite of all of these important areas of culture (and so many more) running in the background, most of us merely acquire just enough of the target culture to become functional. Then we plateau. It mirrors language acquisition in this way. Without a conscious effort to keep intentionally learning, the mind naturally settles in to a level that is merely workable for daily life. This might work well for a season, but it’s often not sufficient for navigating conflict and crises, and it can prevent us from doing deeper contextualization that might lead to breakthroughs.

This post is a call for careful thinking that leads to an accessible method of measuring culture acquisition. If it already exists, it is obscure and not known to the broader missions community (at least my circles). If it does not exist, then it would greatly serve the global church for one to be developed.

We need to fight the tendency to plateau – especially those of us working in cross-cultural contexts. To do this, we could use a map whereby we are able to have some better handles on this whole idea of culture acquisition. If I could give my family and my colleagues a tool like this that could give them some idea of where to focus next, that would be a very practical help for our work.

No one’s ever told us about circumcision rites before? Let’s cover that next. The local culture’s understanding of circumcision (if they practice it as ours does – tragically on girls as well) is bound to be imposed upon the scriptures that speak of it. We would be wise to know what context locals are bringing to that Bible study. But without a map or a tool prompting us to ask about things like this, we could miss it entirely. Plateauing might not seem that serious, but examples like this help illustrate why pressing on in a comprehensive understanding of the culture can make all the difference.

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Two Iranians and a Missionary Kid Walk Into an All-Night Diner

We were a strange crowd, to be sure. My two Iranian friends and I, along with a cowboy hat-wearing older veteran, walked into a twenty-four-hour diner. It was the kind of local place that was local before local became hip and trendy. Squat and grimy, the building sat an intersection just across from a liquor store. It’s had probably passed its prime sometime in the 1960s. However, this particular restaurant was just down the hill from our first apartment, and it had served us well during my wife’s first pregnancy. Middle of the night burger or omelet cravings had gotten me in the door, and my nonconformist tendencies kept me occasionally going back.

One of the differences between the Middle East/Central Asia and the West is the availability of decent middle of the night restaurants. It’s quite easy here in our adopted part of the world to head out with friends at midnight to find somewhere to get shwarma or tea. But in the US, things tend to shut down long before midnight. This is a minor but legitimate cause of sadness among those who have experienced the vibrant (and family-friendly) night culture of the so-called Muslim world.

It was past 11 pm and our crew was hungry. *Chris had been hanging out with us all evening. He had come to faith recently while in prison and was now a struggling new believer. He was an Air Force veteran who wore cowboy hats, yet carried a secret affinity for the Turkish language and Middle Eastern culture from his many years of being stationed there. He had met the three of us at church, and my Iranian friends, *Reza and *Saul, hit it off with him right away. They, like many Iranian refugees, had spent years as refugees in Turkey, and they spoke Turkish well. Reza’s English was decent, but Saul’s wasn’t. So Chris took to energetically interpreting the Sunday sermon into Turkish the back row on Saul’s behalf. Yes, it was a little distracting, but I was thrilled to see Chris find a meaningful way to serve when the body gathered for worship.

Together we ambled down the hill toward the diner, conversing in a mixture of English, Turkish, Farsi, and the Farsi-related minority language I had studied. The ladies (my wife and Reza’s new girlfriend) were going to follow us after a few minutes. I led the way as we strode into the diner.

Immediately upon entering we felt the atmosphere of the place tense up. Like in some kind of classic Western, the elderly men sitting at the bar turned and stared. The elderly waitresses paused their dish drying and egg frying and raised their eyebrows. The music from the jukebox was the only thing that made any noise for one very pregnant moment.

Being a young white student with dark brown hair, I was only occasionally mistaken for being of some other ethnicity. Even though I had received lots of stares overseas, I hadn’t experienced this kind of welcome in the US before. But side by side with my Iranian friends, with their darker olive skin and jet black hair, for a second I experienced what it was like to be scanned as an outsider by a small crowd of older majority-culture Americans. It was sobering. I’m not sure what they did with Chris. He actually fit in there quite well, given the cowboy hat and tucked in plaid shirt.

However, acting as if nothing had happened, we made our way over to a booth and sat down, translating the menu for our friends. If you’ve never introduced Iranians to the concept of hash browns, french toast, and grits before, you’re in for a fun challenge. We ordered some breakfast plates with plenty of bacon (as a practical celebration of Jesus’ declaring all foods clean) and settled in for some more conversation and hot drinks.

The ladies soon arrived as well and sat down at the booth behind us. I noticed that the serving staff were eyeing us as we leaned over the bench and talked and laughed with ladies’ table. When the waitress came to take their order, she leaned over and asked my wife, “These men bothering you, hun?”

“No. Thank you,” said my wife with a smile. “This is my husband. These are our dear friends.”

The elderly waitress raised her eyebrows and shot us a skeptical glance, and went back to the griddle.

Turns out the only way Chris knew how to speak Turkish was loud. And before long you could tell the few regulars at the bar were twitching a little bit. I encouraged Chris and my friends to keep it down a little. But we were having a good conversation about their testimonies, and it was hard to contain their excitement.

I felt stuck. I didn’t want to make these older locals uncomfortable, but I was bothered as well by what looked like textbook prejudice against language and skin color. One man made his way out the door – maybe because of us. The ironic thing was that my friends might look like intimidating foreigners, but they were actually very respectful and peace-loving, sitting and smiling and talking about Jesus. The others in the diner might relax considerably if they could somehow know this.

It was then Chris pulled a bold and shrewd move. When the waitress came to refill our coffee mugs, he turned to her and asked in a voice loud enough for the whole place to hear.

“Can you believe it?! This man (Saul) was put in prison in Iran because he chose to believe in Jesus! Can you imagine what it would be like to be arrested for being a Christian? Wow. I’m so glad I know him. Give ’em some more coffee, will ya? Incredible, right?”

The waitress took a moment to process this unexpected information. And just like that, some kind of bubble burst. The waitress relaxed. The whole place seemed to change as Chris’ outburst registered. Surprised myself, I took note that Chris had managed to overcome an atmosphere of prejudice by announcing Saul’s experience of persecution as a Christian. The unfamiliarity and suspicion – and perhaps racism – had been undermined by connecting these strangers to something that ran deep in those older white Americans’ worldview – a valuing of Christianity, at the very least on a cultural identity level.

As I think back on this event, it’s a small echo of other occasions where we’ve seen political, racial, or ethnic suspicion quietly undermined as we’ve been able to share with traditional Westerners about how Jesus is saving Muslims. Yes, cultural and nationalistic Christianity which views “the other” as the enemy runs deep. Every culture has its own equivalent of this, so it’s not just a Western problem. Move overseas and you’ll see what I mean. The good news is that there are some back doors that can surprisingly undermine this common sin among professing Christians, in the West or elsewhere.

Yes, even many true believers feel threatened by those different from them. But for those who are indeed believers, their love for Jesus – and often missions as well – really does ultimately run deeper than this fear or pride. This is simply one of the effects of having a new heart. Their own “Iranians” may have previously been thought of as the enemy, but hearing testimonies of God’s grace from these same enemies tends to break categories for these demographics in fascinating ways. Hearts warm as the common ground of being forgiven sinners is built, and brows furrow trying to figure out how to square this affection with previous attitudes. A good slow thaw is underway.

To this day, 30-something Reza continues to attend a senior men’s bible study – at a diner – leveraging this same dynamic in a way that challenges these grey-haired men and turns them into adopted grandpa-types. He has even started visiting country churches on a rotation in order to serve Jesus in this way! He shows up, turns heads, makes friends, shares about his background and how wonderful Jesus is, and people end up feeling differently about those Far-iners.

We live in an age aflame with controversy about race, immigration, and culture. How are we to help those who are older or more traditional, and who tend to be swept up in the particular prejudicial temptations of this globalizing age? How can we transform the atmosphere of racist diners – or churches – such that there is room for conversation and relationship that leads to dignity and love?

Perhaps by aiming boldly for the love that, for true believers, always runs deeper than love of nation, language, and heritage. Invite missionaries to share at churches struggling with these issues about the mighty things God is doing among those considered political or cultural enemies. Have believers from diverse “other” backgrounds share their own stories of God’s grace. This is in one sense a Trojan horse. It is a tactical, indirect move to tap into a deeper affection that will over time undermine other anti-gospel affections that might seem to dominate a person’s worldview or social media account.

Our world tries to deal with prejudice-prone people by either excusing them or by writing them off as racists and publicly shaming them. There is a better way. Let’s strive for creatively and shrewdly aiming for the deepest affections, and see what miracles God might work.

…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:10-11 ESV)

*names changed for security

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