Last time, I discussed the idea of witnessing by accident. If you missed my last post, you would be best off to go and read it, then come back to this one. Otherwise, this current story will have a less profound impact on your life, and we wouldn’t want that, now would we?
Ready? Let’s go…
Romania, 1990. I was on a mission trip, and had the opportunity to preach. It was a brutally humbling experience, during which I learned that the word “gypsy,” while innocuous in the West, is a full-blown racial slur in Romania.
In any case, after the service a young man about my age came up to me and introduced himself as Ovidiu. He spoke creditable English, and asked if he could show me around the city. Anxious to escape the whispers and stares caused by my inadvertent racial epithet, I jumped at the chance. Off we went.
The two of us spent several hours sightseeing and conversing. Ovidiu told me about life in Romania, and how it had changed since the fall of the dictator Nicolai Ceausescu (which had occurred just three months before my visit). I told my new friend about my life in America, and how God was at work, not only in my country, but in me.
That evening, we returned for the evening church service, where I managed to bring greetings without causing an international incident. After I finished, the pastor took over. At the end of his message, the pastor gave an altar call, and my new friend came forward to accept Christ.
My new friend who I thought was already a believer.
I had assumed I was fellowshipping; it seems I was witnessing.
Later, we talked, and Ovidiu explained the situation. His mother was a member of this church, and was constantly trying to get her son “saved.” He had no interest in such things. She had finally persuaded him to come to church that morning to see the American speak (and, as it happened, humiliate himself). Ovidiu had invited me to go sightseeing, not for fellowship, but simply to practice his English. During our time together, Ovidiu had listened to me talk of Christ. “You made it sound so normal, so natural,” he said to me. “You made me think that it might really be true.”
Praise God that I didn’t know I was witnessing to Ovidiu. If I had, I probably would have driven him miles away from God with Christianese and lofty blather.
Because I’ve done that too, you know.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t witness on purpose. I’m just saying that we should speak normally to people about our life with Jesus. Witnessing is not an isolated action; it’s the overflow of our lives. If my vocabulary changes because I am suddenly “witnessing,” then there’s something seriously wrong with either how I speak about Christ, or how I speak in my everyday life. In the end, the way we live–our day in, day out approach to the challenges and the people around us–says more about our faith than any words we speak.
Especially when we use the wrong words completely, like, oh, “Gypsy.”
Lest you think I am being a bit heavy today, let me finish with a story about how my wife inadvertently started a cult. Once upon a time, she who would someday be Wife of My Heart was a new Christian on a missions trip to Mexico. She was talking to a little boy, trying to tell him about the love of Christ. My bride’s love for God is boundless; her command of Spanish, less so. She told the boy that Jesus died for his sins, but the boy seemed puzzled. She repeated her message; he looked at her strangely, but listened intently.
In Spanish, “Pecado” means, “sin.”
In Spanish, “Pescado” means, “fish.”
I picture this little boy going home and telling his family about the angel who appeared to him to tell him of Christ’s love for the family goldfish. I see the word spreading through the land, and a whole new understanding of bumper sticker fishes coming to light.
O.K., so I guess words are important, too.