John Crilly is the national field director at Q Place >>, a ministry empowering Christians to engage in meaningful conversations about God with people who believe differently.
"Going" Near or Far
We have all heard Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples.” But “go” where? I assumed I would have to go someplace far and someplace difficult. So I tried all kinds of different opportunities.
I tried going into the big city to serve the urban homeless at a soup kitchen.
I tried connecting with suburban under-resourced folks at a care center.
I tried tutoring kids in a struggling part of the city an hour drive from my home.
All of these experiences were formative and powerful, yet none were sustainable activities I could integrate into my daily life. I didn’t want to do “hit and run” disciple-making only a few days or weeks of the year. I wanted to follow my Master’s command right where he had placed me. I wanted an opportunity to build relationships, engage with people, and create a longer-term connection that integrated with my daily life.
Where Should I Go?
It seemed to me that God’s plan for His Kingdom to come meant I had to “go.” As I prayed that God would reveal to me where I should “go,” I had the desire for a greater global understanding of different people in our pluralistic, melting pot of a society.
I felt like the world was getting smaller and I wanted my heart for the world to get bigger. I specifically prayed for a chance to engage with people of different race, color, and religion. But that prayer seemed unreasonable.
How would I, a white suburban guy, have that prayer fulfilled and not have to travel somewhere far?
But I prayed anyway.
In a series of amazing events, God intersected me and my wife with some folks who were tutoring and mentoring African Muslim refugees less than five blocks from my home. In fact, I came to discover that several of the refugee families lived in an apartment complex only two blocks away! Only God could pull off a global intersection like this. That was over eight years ago. My wife and I have been involved with these refugee families ever since. The close physical proximity has allowed us to develop and deepen relationships with one specific family of twelve and many of the older boys over time.
Because they are nearby, we have been able to sustain the relationship over the long haul, connecting on a consistent basis outside of the regular tutoring time.
We have learned together – math, science, reading, and writing.
We have had fun adventures together, like taking them to their first baseball game.
We have experienced deep sorrow together, like the death of one of the younger boys after a struggle with leukemia.
Now, as the boys have transformed into young men, we are able to have meaningful spiritual conversations with them – to seek to understand their culture and religious perspectives, to answer their questions about my faith, and to challenge them to seek truth for themselves, not blindly embrace the faith of their fathers.
Cultivating the friendship naturally, over time, we have earned the mutual trust to speak openly to each other about God, our faith, and our questions. In friendship, we can engage in spiritual conversations without hostility as we try to love and understand each other better. As the older boys have now turned into young men, we have been able to do many more social activities with them, including inviting them to attend special Christmas services with us. The past two years, they heard (and some even sang!) some of the great Incarnational carols and listened to the story of Christ’s birth with us, spurring wonderful conversation.
The relational capital invested has begun to take root in their hearts as they are slowly discovering Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah). It has been wonderful to watch God’s Spirit reveal truth to these men. In response to this year’s Christmas service, one of the young men wrote a poem entitled “Love and Praise the Lord” about what he experienced. Here are a few lines he shared:
All the poetry ever written
Every verse and every line
All the love songs in the world
Every melody and rhyme,
If they were combined,
They would still be unable to express,
What I want to define
When I try to describe my love for you.
I am experiencing the joy of discipling young men to Jesus and seeing God’s power and truth revealed to them. It is a long walk in the same direction – but it is worth every step.
Where Should You Go?
That's my story. What about you? Where should you “go” to live out the Great Commission?
Recently, I drove past a familiar corner in the town of Wheaton, Illinois. Yes, Wheaton – the home of Wheaton College, with its beautiful Billy Graham Center that chronicles the wonderful history of the Billy Graham ministry and of evangelism in America. In fact, Trivial Pursuit claims that Wheaton has "more churches per capita than any other town in America."
I knew this corner because it was the site of a once-thriving church. The church had come on hard times and had foreclosed, leaving the property inactive for the last year. As I drove by, I noticed that there was new activity in the parking lot. What I was surprised to discover was that a new church had not moved into this foreclosed property, but a mosque – the first mosque in Wheaton.
It hit me again that the world – all colors, religions, ethnicities – is right in the neighborhood already. It also revealed to me in a graphic way how important it is for me to go into my own community.
You may be surprised when you look around just how close “all the nations” already are. You may also be surprised by how spiritually hungry and confused people are right where you live. Most of us don’t have to “go” too far. You can go to the office or cubicle next to you. You can go to your neighbor or roommate. You can go to the park or to the pub. You can go and walk alongside your own son or daughter. Disciples are waiting to be made all around us.
I’m reminded of what Jesus said to the man from the region of the Gerasenes in Luke 8. The man, whom Jesus delivered from demon-possession, begged to go with Jesus away from his home. But, “Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”
We can all make disciples of Jesus, but we will have to put one foot in front of the other and “go.” I think that many of us will find out that we don't have to go that far.
Will you pray that God will show you where to go?