I came to faith, at the age of 33, advanced for most converts to Christianity, through the loving actions of my stepbrothers.
They spent time with me, helped me during a rough period in my life, and they witnessed to me about the new life I could have through faith in Jesus.
Soon after, I began a life of Christian service working in a rescue mission, and then later, as a grantmaker at two foundations. When I began working in international mission philanthropy, I realized how little I really knew about how people come to faith in settings outside the United States.
When you do this kind of work, the ability to visualize how complex and unfamiliar things function is a handy skill to develop. It’s tough to feel comfortable recommending something to be funded if you don’t clearly comprehend what it is you are being asked to fund. Most proposals aren’t lyrically written and probably shouldn’t be, but without descriptive nuance, mere words on paper can struggle to convey the understanding of what are often very complex concepts.
What needs to be clear is the simple idea, the ultimate loving action of the Gospel and the hope that undergirds it all.
In the early years when I prepared for a First Fruit board meeting, I developed a habit of setting aside a specific time alone in my office with my whiteboard and all the proposal ideas listed from the prospective grantees. I had to choose which proposals I would put into our book of recommendations. I considered each of them and tried to picture the loving action of the Gospel that would eventually be accomplished if the grant would succeed in helping the grantee achieve his purpose.
I was working off the idea that most mission comes down to a Christian doing something loving for another person.
It might be telling someone about the love of Jesus, hoping to bring that person into a relationship with him, or it could merely be responding to someone in need.
This exercise wasn’t always easy to do. For example, take the North African Partnership meetings that First Fruit made some early grants to. Essentially, the grants were for costs associated with getting as many of the ministries working for the evangelization of North Africa into one room at the same time to see what synergies could happen as they explored working together.
To find the loving action of the Gospel – that single act that is at the furthest extension of the work – I found it helpful to ask some primary questions, such as, “What happens on Tuesday when a missionary working in a suburb of Cairo starts his day?” Based on my visits in the field and my observations and conversations at the partnership meetings, I learned that one of the key ‘loving actions of the gospel’ was to invite a Muslim seeker to tea.
The missionary who invited the seeker could have been a trained church volunteer, a staff member of a mission, or a full time self-supported worker. In any case, the seeker might have come to their attention by perhaps stumbling onto a satellite broadcast of a Bible study ostensibly meant for Orthodox Christians while channel surfing. Drawn to the message out of curiosity, he responded with his cell phone to the ‘I want to know Jesus’ button on the broadcaster’s website. The collected information was then emailed to workers in the field who invited the seeker to tea. The loving action of having tea on Tuesdays over several months had the potential of a seeker accepting an invitation to a home church meeting and then coming to faith there.
This simple act of having tea came about, I learned, because of a complex array of organizations, strategies and sacrificial outreach, all of which in and of themselves, existed to accomplish their own purpose.
In this grant’s case, all we did was help fund the meeting where the broadcasters, call centers, script writers, web designers and on-the–ground missions came together to work out how to encourage the simple loving action of taking someone to tea. All had a hand in making it happen, including the meeting.
At the end of the day, seekers, like I once was, come to faith through the touch of another person loving them into the Kingdom.