“To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13
Everyone has a story, which is a reason I loved the writings of Studs Terkel, a Chicago author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He is best remembered for several books chronicling the oral histories of average Americans, bringing out fascinating details from their life stories. Sometimes I feel like I am doing the same thing as I try to listen well and ask good questions of people in my Gospel outreach conversations.
Evangelism has a bad connotation in many people’s eyes because evangelists are not often good listeners. We have a message to preach, or, for some, a “spiel” to run through, and listening and responding to people’s stories is often seen as just an unimportant distraction, maybe even a diversion tactic to keep Gospel truths from being communicated.
I believe there is a place and a need for preaching the Gospel uninterrupted, but there is also value in taking the time to hear and respond to people as a way to discover where their lives and the Gospel might intersect.
Early in a conversation with Rahaku, 59, he told me “It’s not what I believe, it’s what I KNOW. I KNOW God doesn’t exist.” I soon found him to be very opinionated and unwilling to listen much, but with a fascinating story and point of view nonetheless. I tried to dig deep and discover the source of his animosity toward God, and found I had to listen to some uncomfortable truths about my own role as white, male, and Christian in America.
As he told more of his story I realized I was hearing an oral history of the black migration experience from the sharecropping south, with stops at state and federal penitentiaries along the way. He told of his struggles to overcome the legacy of slavery and discover his African roots, and the view that Christianity is a white man’s religion.
I think we concluded that, if those who claim to be Christians in a person’s life can be either the best reason to accept or reject Christianity, then he has experienced only those who helped drive him away.
Neither of us changed our positions, and I didn’t really get to share much of the Gospel, but I think our conversation was of value. I think it was a valuable time of self-reflection for Rahaku, and I hope he sensed the compassion I truly felt for him as he related his story. Maybe I could have even been one of those Christians in his life, if only for a brief time, who might give him reason to believe.
For my part I gained in my appreciation for all the people and resources God has blessed me with, including Rahaku. Although he is not a brother in Christ, he is nonetheless a fellow human being formed in God’s image, and his story isn’t over.
PS – You are welcome to “sit in” on my conversation with Rahaku. It’s on YouTube HERE