I have a guest today on Journey To Hope. My long-time friend and fellow TWR Canada missionary, McDaniel Phillips. McDaniel celebrates 30 years on the mission field this year, and he’s passionate about relationship evangelism. McDaniel grew up in Kingston, Ontario and has served with TWR Canada since 1984 in Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States, Singapore, and is now back in Canada.
Take it away McDaniel.
I was working in Singapore when the tsunami blew through Indonesia on Dec. 26, 2004. The whole world zeroed in on providing help. (The epicenter of the earthquake and tsunami was the Aceh coast of Indonesia.) I went to Banda Aceh, the capital city of the province of Aceh, because a number of donations were received and I had been charged with administering that money on behalf of TWR Canada.
This part of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim. My team and I went into a seaside village of about 150 people, only the village had been washed away. The people were living in a series of cattle barns; they were literally sleeping with the cows. It was muddy. The men were making fishing nets and sitting around, the women were washing clothes. I remember a lot of laughing, and the children running and playing.
We spent part of the money buying video monitors and DVDs with programs for children. The monitor we had donated was in the centre of the village with a cover in case it rained. (The village had a generator.) It was the community television.
When we got there everything stopped and everyone congregated at the main community shelter. The head man did the talking and his first words were thank you. Thank you for the monitor; they used it every night and so on. However, they still had a problem. They were in the process of rebuilding and in order to proceed they needed water. One agency had promised to dig a well but the well hadn’t been dug yet. Could you help us with that? I said to him, we are not in the well-digging business but we would do what we could.
Then he said, “Whether you are able to help with that or not, would you continue to visit with us?”
I found that quite moving because it told me immediately they weren’t concerned with having needs met – thank you very much, but with the issue of relationship. When I got home, I made a few calls and learned the agency still intended to dig the well, and would get to it right away.
6 months later I’m back in Aceh again to follow up. When I get to Banda Aceh, I was told that village was going to be dedicating their well the next day, would I come. The dedication was supposed to begin at 9AM and promptly at noon got underway.
The Imam took me on a tour of the new village, tidy bungalows painted white. He was very proud. I asked him how they decided where to rebuild and which house was going to be his? He said, “First of all, I don’t know which house will be mine. We choose who lives where by lot because we don’t want the choice of a house to divide the village.”
He went on to say the people initially wanted to rebuild on the beach because they’re a fishing village. He felt they should rebuild on higher ground. He couldn’t impose that decision on the community, but instead told the men to search the beach for a suitable place to build. They couldn’t find one and built up on the rock.
When it was time for the dedication, the Imam addressed the community. The man next to me leans over and says, “He just told everyone you’re responsible for the well and you’re going to speak.”
“But I’m not responsible for the well,” I said.
The man smiled. “Doesn’t matter. That’s what he’s told the people. Figure out what you’re going to say.”
I got up and told them the story of the foolish man who built his house on the sand, and through my colleague, Dame — who translated, I drew out this story. You could see the people leaning in, engaging with the story when the waters came in and the house went flat. Then I said, “But the wise man built his house on solid ground.” The whole village erupted with loud applause!
I said if you would like to know a little more about how to build your life on a solid foundation my friend, Dame would like to talk to you. Dame lived in the area and was known in the village.
These were simple, gentle people who sincerely and faithfully followed what they believe is the truth. For me to come in and try to change their mind about what is the truth with mere words is a futile effort. What’s needed is to go in and spend time, live with them, be with them, and let them see what the Gospel looks like. Now we call that relationship evangelism. Dame played that role. Later, she told me she got calls from people in secret who wanted to know how to build their lives on something solid.
To take the time to be with someone is really where the effort is and exposes one of our cultural weaknesses. We tend to relate to or network with people for what they can do for us, or based on mutual benefit as opposed to relationship for the sake of relationship. Jesus hung out with people for the sake of relationship with Him and through that relationship God was revealed. That has characterized the way I communicate the Gospel since then.
Do you feel a burden to share the Gospel with those closest to you, those who see you every day in normal life? How are you living that out?