EDITOR’S JOURNAL: A Tale of Two Cities
While the Baker family is in transition, we abide between two cities far apart from one another. Living between two worlds has provided us an objectivity that forces us to notice cultural differences and ideas which have shaped (and perhaps clouded) our own thinking regarding people, places, and events. Recently, at a hotel in Oklahoma City, we met a young immigrant from Beirut, Lebanon. Having lived in Oklahoma City for approximately 10 years, he was about to begin college in order to become an optometrist.
Discussions with him first began about general matters—the weather, our children, the heat. Over the course of the week, however, I began to talk with him about various issues confronting the United States which led to even more conversations finally leading to some spiritual questions. A devout Muslim, David (not his real name) had numerous questions about the Bible. He had never understood the doctrine of the Trinity, and wondered why Christians worshipped three different gods. Abraham was also a problem in that all three world religions claimed him as the father of their faith. Yet, not one agreed on the purpose of Abraham’s life, and the land he established has been the source of wars for centuries.
As we talked, it became apparent to me that David had never read the Bible. Later, he told me I was the first Christian with whom he had ever conversed about these matters, and while the ideas I shared with him about the person and work of Jesus Christ were interesting, he actually believed that there were many ways to God. While he believed Islam was correct, he could see why people thought Christianity and Judaism might be helpful ways to think about “a Supreme Being.”
Fast forward one week and I found myself at Pullen Park—an old park near downtown Raleigh, N.C.—which my children enjoy visiting. There is a train and a 98-year-old carousel they are always eager to ride. A man was sitting on the stone wall near the train and commented on the energy level of both my children. One thing led to another, and I inquired of him as to his life and what was currently happening in his world. I learned that he was once a star athlete at a local university. Heroin, however, had robbed him of most of his adult life.
Thomas (again, not his real name) mentioned Jesus to me several times. When I probed and began to talk about the basics of the Gospel, it was as if I had begun to speak in some strange unknown code. He had no idea what I was saying, and he admitted that he had never read much of the Bible. For about 20 minutes, my children played on the old train caboose as I walked him through the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—explaining to him the Fall, God’s judgment, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the ascension and the soon return of Jesus.
As I left him I thought of the similarities between my encounters in two very different cities. Raleigh-Durham is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. It is home to some of the finest universities in the world, and boasts of a growing young population in search of the many opportunities present. Oklahoma City also is experiencing its own cultural renaissance as downtown has been revitalized and more urban professionals flock to the city for opportunities in technology and commerce. Yet, in both cities, a devout Muslim and a man who had struggled with drug addiction had never had a conversation with a Christian that resulted in a better understanding of the Gospel. Both, and countless others like them, need Jesus.
What I learned from both encounters is that the world of today is almost totally different from the world I inhabited as a child. There was once a general understanding of a Christian worldview present, even if people refused to believe the Gospel. A “church” culture seemed to affect everyone—unbelievers included. No longer.
Today, the very concept of truth is lost to a generation who has been trained to think of truth as little more than opinion capable of being quickly changed to fit the situation. Sin and guilt are so foreign to the modern mind that to speak of sin is to be met with blank stares. In the wake of Freud, guilt is a neurosis which must be quickly reasoned away lest unhealthy feelings of self-abasement follow quickly behind. Both men shared a search for meaning in their lives, but both refused to believe that a text (such as the Bible) could state with any certainty a view of the world which conveyed true meaning. Everything was a matter of one’s own interpretation and perspective.
I quickly realized I was now on a mission field in the United States just as much as my friends who serve around the globe with the International Mission Board. An erosion of biblical truth in a post-Christian society now made it possible for people like David and Thomas to live in the shadow of a Southern Baptist church, but never encounter the Gospel or the people of Jesus. Both David and Thomas were literally two miles and a world away from life inside the walls of notable SBC churches.
The challenge remains for Southern Baptists (and all evangelicals) to show people how their particular struggles, sins, hopes, and all issues of their cultures find ultimate resolution and meaning in Jesus alone. This will not come easy to an overly programmed people. Yet, the Great Commission commands all Christ followers to bear witness of the salvation of Jesus in ways which strike at the heart of idolatry and unbelief. Not to do so assigns us to the ash heap of history and a well deserved death by inaction.
“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Matt. 9:37-38 (HCSB).