August 12, 2015

wednesday

I've never been so happy to hear someone say that he's angry at God. It happened last Wednesday evening at our table.

Wednesday...the day that has quickly become our favourite day of the week.

Since February, almost every Wednesday night we've had a small group of people gather at our apartment. Other than our faithful friends who co-host with us, and a few new friends who've come quite regularly, the attendees change from week to week. We've had zero to six guests at at time, not counting our co-hosts.

The set-up for our Wednesday evenings is simple, we eat (soup in the winter, salad in the summer), we sing a couple of songs, and then we:
  1. Look back - we share something we are thankful for and something we want prayer for, 
  2. Look up - we read and discuss a short passage of the Word and ask three questions:
    1. What does this passage say about God?
    2. What does this passage say about mankind?
    3. How can I apply this passage to my life this week?
  3. Look forward - we practice retelling the story or something else that we might be able to pass along to others.
Perhaps what makes this group unique is that its supposed to be for people who aren't so familiar with our Book. Also, though the language spoken outside our doors in German, in our group we speak mostly English, which makes it good for people who want to practice their English, or who are most comfortable in English.

So that's what we do on Wednesdays or Mittwochs. (It's not so hard; in fact, you could do it too—that's why I'm sharing the details).

But back to the friend who is apparently angry at God. In the "1. Look back" portion of the evening, no one is ever forced to pray, but everyone is encouraged to give a request for others to pray for. Communicating personally with God and sharing concerns for prayer is something I take for granted, but it was obvious that sharing a prayer request was something one of our Asian friends had never done before. The first week or two, he didn't really share any concerns or requests, but he kept coming. Then, on Wednesday #3 or #4, he showed he was learning the ropes—he requested that we pray for someone he had known back home.

On the most recent Wednesday, and as we went around the table, our requests were pretty normal ones:
one person wanted direction for his job search;
another wanted safety and success in her studies in Italy;
another wants guidance for a meeting with refugee children;
and I asked that we pray for a sick friend who often comes on Wednesdays.

We came to our Asian friend last, and he said:
"I am very angry at God.
I haven't spoken to Him in a long time.
We...could...pray...for that."

As I said, I've never been so happy to hear someone say that he's angry at God. To clarify, I wasn't happy that he is angry at God. I was just happy and honoured that he opened his heart to us. One of the reasons I love Wednesdays is that our guests are willing to talk about spiritual things. Our conversations are interesting and get more meaningful the longer we know these friends.

But even so, I often wonder how realistic is it for us to expect someone of a completely different background,
(whether that be
secular,
Hindu,
M'slim,
or anything else)
to sit around our table, receive the Word, and "mix it with faith". Can the girl who is daily hearing higher criticism of our text ever accept it in childlike faith? What about the psychology student, who tells me that to believe in God is to go against everything her coworkers and professors believe about how the universe works? What about the Asian with his relativistic morality that allows for anything, really? Does that "mixing with faith" really happen, or would we be better off watching Netflix on Wednesday nights?

We read this book recently, and it reminded us that people do come to faith, and it reminded us how. The author, Qureshi, was raised in North America by loving, conservative Pakistani parents who  taught him to defend their faith. Yet Quereshi tells of his journey to becoming a child of God (which ultimately led to alienation from his earthly family).

The entire book is powerfully written, but the most memorable paragraphs for me were these, in the chapter entitled "Becoming Brothers". Here he explains how important relationship was to him in the transfer of truth:
"Unfortunately, I have found that many Christians think of evang. as foisting Christian beliefs on strangers in chance encounters. The problem with this approach is that the gospel requires a radical life change, and not many people are about to listen to strangers telling them to change the way they live. What do they know about others' lives?
On the other hand, if a true friend shares the exact same message with heartfelt sincerity, speaking to specific circumstances and struggles, then the message is loud and clear. 
Effective evang. requires relationships. There are very few exceptions. 
In my case, I knew of no Christian who truly cared about me, no one who had been a part of my life through thick and thin. I had plenty of Christian acquaintances, and I'm sure they would have been my friends if I had become a Christian, but that kind of friendship is conditional. There were none that I knew who cared about unconditionally. Since no Christian cared about me, I did not care about their message."
It wasn't that Qureshi didn't know any believers, it was that none of them had ever taken the time to be his friend. What I found so encouraging about Quereshi's story was that it really just through one faithful, unconditional friend sowing seeds and loving long that he came to faith. 


Though I speak of Wednesdays, our Wednesdays often spill over into weekends or other weekdays now, when we try to invite a Wednesday friend for sandwiches or popcorn, or receive or offer help with paperwork or moving. Most of the people who've come to our Wednesday gathering have met us or our co-hosts in other settings. Sometimes they've met our co-hosts through their business or are invited by a friend who is already attending. Some have already eaten at our table a few times before they visit us on a Wednesday; a few we met in the town square one weekend. Wednesdays aren't Wednesdays without Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Because if who we are on the other days isn't consistent with who we purport to be on Wednesdays, our friends will see right through us. Authentic relationship means not just giving out a "good for Wednesdays only" friendship voucher, but being accessible and proactive in those relationships on other days of the week, too.

Sometimes it is easier to turn people into projects. The temptation is to replay recorded responses instead of pursuing real relationship. It's easier to push our way through a conversation with our elbows out, defending our beliefs; it's harder to wait with our arms wide open, listen, and learn to ask helpful questions that draw out that which is in another person's heart. As someone who likes to talk and write and be heard, and someone who has strong convictions, this is something I must learn: to be slow to speak, and quick to listen.


People sometimes say that they have trouble finding our flat, because the doors inside our building don't have numbers on them. Recently when someone commented on this, our Asian friend chided her. He had noticed that our apartment is easy to identify: "This flat is the only one that has a 'Welcome' sign on the door."

And friends, it isn't much harder than that. The 'Welcome' sign cost one euro. Making friends and listening long costs more. But if you make people welcome into your life, any day of the week, every day of the week, they will notice.  If your faith is deep, they will notice. And surely they'll see the connection between the welcome you offer and the faith that you proffer. As Quereshi says, if you care about them, it's a lot more likely that they will care about your message and share their hearts with you. We got a glimpse of that, last Wednesday.

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