For many people, it can be very difficult starting a conversation about their faith in God, never mind sharing the Gospel with a stranger! But when that stranger doesn’t even speak the same language, it might seem impossible.
After more than 20 years in the ministry, both as a parish pastor and as a missionary to Papua New Guinea, Rev. Jeffrey Horn has advice for anyone presented with the opportunity to share the Good News with immigrants and international exchange students in their communities. It’s not impossible, he assures!
1. Start mission work with prayer.
Though it might seem obvious, few Christians remember to ask God to guide their interactions with the unchurched.
“As a pastor, I try to start mission work with prayer,” said Rev. Horn, pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Escondido, California. “I think it’s a healthy place to start. I pray that God would open doors to connect with people, so that somebody who is in the dark would come to the light, and that that could happen here, at my church. Regularly in our congregational prayers, we’ll say something like, ‘Lord, please bless those who have wandered from You and draw them back. Bless those who don’t know You, and let them know this to be a place where they can see Your light.’” As God has answered these prayers, the connections that have been made at Gloria Dei have been “amazing and surprising.”
2. Offer resources in a language the non-Christian can read.
“The Lutheran Heritage Foundation helps with this!” Rev. Horn said. “So say somebody comes in and English is their second language. We can falteringly talk together. But if I can get a catechism for them from LHF in their own language, I can make sure they’re understanding what I’m trying to teach. They can ask questions and share comments that show we’re connecting. LHF helps with this so much!”
Rev. Horn experienced this first-hand when he recently catechized a man and his wife, who is Korean. “As they were preparing to join our church, I was able to get a Korean Small Catechism from LHF and share that with Hee Sun,” he recalled. “The catechism really helped, because for example, when we were talking about one of the Commandments, I could ask, ‘This is what it says in English. How does that read in Korean?’ Then Hee Sun would read it in Korean, translate it back into English for me, and I could track that she was understanding things. The day they joined the church was a joyful day, and that catechism helped a lot!”
Other LHF resources can also prove useful, including children’s Bible storybooks. Rev. Horn is now in the process of teaching the faith to a young international student from Iran, named Farah (not her real name). Although Farah is a very bright and intelligent woman, LHF’s Farsi translation of A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories has provided an overview of the Lutheran faith for Farah.
“This is a person who’s working on a graduate degree, but she’s had no interaction with the world of the Bible,” Rev. Horn shared. “So the Child’s Garden was great because it gave her easy stepping stones to understanding. All the stories were there in the Farsi language to start making a connection between Adam and Eve and Christ, from Abraham to Jesus. This children’s book helped put things together in a Christological focus.”
In those pages, Farah began to see that Jesus Christ could be her Savior, too.
“Farah was raised Muslim, but the Quran is in Arabic, and she doesn’t know Arabic,” Rev. Horn explained. “So two things stood out to her: (1) This was the first time in her life that she heard of a God who loves her. And (2) she could also for the first time comprehend God’s Word because she could read it in her own language, understanding what God’s message really is. Her baptism is scheduled for this Sunday!”
3. Be flexible with cultural differences.
When developing relationships with people from other countries, “it’s important to just be a friend and walk alongside them,” advised Rev. Horn. “It’s also important to be sensitive to differences regarding interactions between men and women, or relationships between the young and old, or regarding position and respect, shame, things like that.”
For example, when beginning conversations with Farah, Rev. Horn immediately began to pick up on the fact that she was uncomfortable being alone with him, a situation that’s not socially acceptable in Muslim culture. That’s when Rev. Horn’s wife, Lora, stepped in to help.
“Each of the times that we gathered, Lora was there,” Rev. Horn said. “She was another voice to help bridge the culture gap, another voice to say, ‘Here’s how I see this.’ It helped Farah to feel at ease and able to engage in discussion in a very positive way, and I don’t think any of it would have been possible without Lora being there.”
4 Just try.
”We have to keep in mind that we can have relationships with people from other cultures,” Rev. Horn emphasized. “There are probably other people who would be far better at teaching the faith to someone from Korea, but God placed Hee Sun on my doorstep. And so I take confidence that He will give me the tools and abilities I need to share His Word.
“But the key is that you don’t have to be afraid of doing it,” he concluded. “Using resources from LHF, there’s a lot you can do to teach and evangelize without fear. Don’t be afraid to try; do what you can, because God opened that door for a reason. That’s why I treasure LHF, because LHF made all this possible.”
Click here to see what Lutheran books LHF has in your neighbor’s heart language.