I sat in the living room of a one-legged Tanzanian named Bernard. Together with another missionary, we spoke to him about his sin and need for the Savior. During our third visit, growing increasingly burdened for Bernard and his eternal state, one of us spoke up and told him: “Bwana (Sir), you just need to stop and trust Christ! You’ve already heard these things and you know they are true! I’m telling you, you just need to do it now.” Bernard’s response was: “Okay! Right!” We all bowed our heads in prayer and Bernard made a profession of faith.
After that, we often crossed paths with him in some far-off place where we would greet him in the Kimeru language as well as Swahili and English. He knew as much English as we knew his tribal tongue—enough to impress, but not enough to converse! You would think that a one-legged man living in the middle of a rugged and hilly forested terrain surrounded by pine trees, banana plants, and coffee fields wouldn’t necessarily get around much. Oftentimes we would ask him about coming to church to which he would reply that it was too far; nonetheless, he would come next Sunday. He never did. We don’t know if he was lying to avoid confrontation, to escape embarrassment, or to show respect to a pastor which African culture holds in a place of honor. One way or the other, the fact that he was being disingenuous was clearly the case.
As we prayed and deliberated about the problem with Bernard, we were at a loss as to how to help him further. Should we give him a lift in our car on Sunday mornings? Should we hold Bible studies for him each week in his home? Should we start a branch church closer to his area? All these seemed to be viable solutions. However, we quickly realized that Bernard’s problem was not feasibility, it was fear! He was afraid of shaming his childhood pastor from a counterfeit church by publicly attending the westerner’s church. We realized that if Bernard’s vice was indeed the fear of man, then his initial profession of faith was also most likely based on that same fear! He was afraid of embarrassing himself and shaming us by not “obeying” what we told him to do. “Just stop and trust Christ! You need to come to church!” Avoiding cultural shame was far more important to him than escaping the Second Death! This is the very reason why Revelation tells us that it is the fearful who will “have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” (21:8)
The desire of missionaries is not to see private professions, but life-changing conversions! Pray that your missionaries will, with wisdom, give such witness to the Gospel that the lost will confidently exchange their fetters of fear for redeemed lives of righteousness found in confessing Jesus as both Lord and Savior! (Rom. 10:9-13)
Weeping & Rejoicing! (Ps. 126)
Rodney Myers – GFF General Director