Ready to listen and learn

New Order Voice

November 4, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 22
Katie Doke Sawatzky |

My memories of the church I grew up in are good ones. I liked seeing my friends in Sunday school every week and enjoyed singing in the grown-up service. The Halloween game nights, Christmas musicals and Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) were fun. They were also opportunities—at least the musicals and VBS—for people to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts. Having prayed that prayer when I was three or four, I always waited for the general prayer the pastor was praying to end, wondering if any had been saved.

A large part of my young adulthood thus far has been coming to terms with the dismantling of my evangelical worldview. Some might say it happened because I went to a liberal arts university or because I worked for a faith-oriented-but-radical-left-leaning magazine. Some might say it’s just because I grew up.

I think it’s a combination. But whatever the reason, I become frustrated when I read or hear anything about spreading the gospel in the hope of converting others. For example, Canadian Mennonite columnist Phil Wagler’s piece, “Jesus in a world in upheaval,” Oct. 12, page 8—in which he encourages the church to see the Syrian refugee crisis as an opportunity to “look at the fields” (quoting John 4:35)—is hard for me to digest.

I am not interested in converting anyone to Christianity. The time for “harvesting” is over. It’s now time for listening, and for helping with open hands and closed mouths. Hearing survivor testimonies at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Vancouver and reading the indigenous-settler dialogue in Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry (Herald Press, 2013) played a major part in this shift for me. It’s become clear to me that what I “need to do” as a Christian is to listen and love without an agenda.

This makes it interesting as I watch my four-year-old attend Sunday school and learn the Bible stories that I did as a kid. I’m hoping he draws hope and inspiration from them and experiences some sense of wonder when he hears what God’s all about.

But I don’t want him to grow up thinking he needs to tell other people about Christ. I want him to see Christ in the people that he meets in his daily life, no matter what race, religion or economic status, and welcome them. I want him to hear about displaced people, like the Syrian refugees, and think, how can I help, not, “Oh, these people are ready to become Christians because they’re in such great need.” I want him to recognize the religion and culture that people already have, and not assume that his trumps theirs.

I recently read through the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Sunday packet. It’s an excellent resource that nudges us in the right direction when it comes to getting to know “the other.”

While the theme is “Living as people of peace in a time of fear and terror,” I also find the message helpful as I consider the “Christian thing to do” in my interactions with people from different cultures and religions. At the end of the “Welcome and invitation,” the Peace Sunday packet states, “When we look around and see opportunities for healing and mutual transformation, then, perhaps, we are seeing with the eyes of the Lord.”

That’s what I’m interested in: Building relationships with people with a spirit that is ready to learn, not ready to teach. The colonial history of Christian evangelism is a severe reminder of how damaging it can be to preach Jesus as Saviour to people who seem “ready” for it.

Katie Doke Sawatzky (katiesawatzky@gmail.com) writes and edits from Regina.

Share this page:

Comments

Katie's statement that she's "not interested in converting anyone to Christianity" immediately affected my spirit. I assume this statement was borne out of a reaction from some who try to force 'christianity' on people as a doctrine, informed no doubt by our own sorry history in the Indian Residential school system. I can understand a reaction like this, but it is depressing because such a stance of only listening and not sharing neuters the transformative love that is embodied in Jesus. To withhold the this divine love, especially in the face of real pain and brokenness sure to accompany refugees from the near East and East Africa would be a great loss, both to the one sharing this love and the one receiving it. Evangelism isn't about having all the right answers and shoving it in everyone else's face. It is about seeing people from His perspective, recognizing and validating their true value and seeing how Jesus has already been acting in their lives. Being converted from fear or hatred to love is exactly what Christians should do. The verse from 1 John 4:7 comes to mind: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Whenever one individual attempts to persuade another, or whenever one individual engages another for that matter, both individuals are changed through the process. Often, when we talk about converting someone the dynamism of the process is ignored. Katie's statement, "I’m not interested in converting anyone to Christianity", seems to be a response to a closed one-way street orientation to evangelism. Taking such a stance, the converter can mistakenly assume that she (or he) has sovereign ownership of the truth and must engage in a process of transferring this "truth" to the "unbeliever". It seems to me, however, that the one who suffers from such an exchange is the sovereign one, for she fails to recognize and receive the GIFT of truth. The “converter”, or sovereign one, fails to allow herself to be influenced. Or perhaps “allow” is too strong a word, maybe she simply fails to recognize that her own perspective, her own narrow understanding, is always expanded by that of the "other" and, hence, approaches life in an ungenuine way. This is sad, because her failure to learn from an other, an alien or refugee, is the failure to ultimately recognize that she owes her own perspective, her own understanding, to that which is fundamentally outside of her control and beyond her horizon of knowledge. In other words, the failure to learn from the "non-Christian" is a failure of faith.

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.