by Annie*, a Live Dead Arab World missionary
Not long ago, I joined a local English language center for coffee. The topic was generosity. My job was to ask questions and ignite conversation.
I started with “Does your family give? To whom? When?” However, I quickly realized stinginess is a universal disgrace, so my questions weren’t yielding real answers.
I tried another approach. “How do parents teach their children the value of generosity?” Every person in my group agreed: “Families don’t talk about it. Parents just give and children learn from watching.”
Here’s where my belief diverges.
True, I learned generosity of time, talent, and treasure by watching others. I learned from those who did it well, and from those who did it poorly. But I learned more transformative lessons when an explanation accompanied the model I saw.
Because deep down, I believe visual models don’t give us the entire truth.
In the Muslim world, morality and good deeds earn people the right to go to heaven. So when others see me giving of myself, they immediately reason (and tell others on my behalf) that I do these because I’m a good person or because I want God’s blessings in return.
Here’s where I get mad at St. Francis of Assisi. We’ve long attributed the catchy statement to him: Preach the Gospel. If necessary use words. And I wonder, are we preaching the whole Gospel if we’re not proclaiming? When are words unnecessary? Is this an excuse to rely on our lives to speak for us?
It works if we’re coming from the same frame of reference. Which is almost never.
When I moved overseas, people from my cultural background falsely attribute my reasons to my thirst for adventure, my skills, my righteousness. In truth, I didn’t move to the Middle East for fun, because I had something of value to offer, or because I am inherently good.
Actions alone don’t clarify. I must proclaim.
I am here because I chose obedience to Jesus.
I do what I do because my love for Him compels me.
I am not righteous or holy or good because of me, but because of what Jesus did for me, because He transformed me.
And that’s the only Gospel that can change the world.