By now I’m used to my name, and I think I’ve heard all the jokes. But when you walk into a Christian mission conference with a name like Moses, you’re bound to hear them all over again.
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of going to Missionfest for a few hours. If you don’t know what what Missionfest is, think of Comic-Con for Christian mission organizations (except people don’t come dressed up as their favourite missionaries).
I loved walking through the aisles of booths, looking at how people follow their passions and calls to serve all over the world. I learned about a lot of camps, schools, gap-year programs, Bible translation ministries, health and relief organizations, and even a ministry that seeks to re-vitalize rural churches.
I left feeling excited and inspired. But for some reason, I also felt a little awkward. Every single new person that I talked to made some kind of comment about my name. I think I set a record.
“Where’s your beard?” “I’ve read a lot about you.” “Lead us to the promised land.”
The thing is, after every single joke, they would always laugh and say “I bet you get that a lot.” They have no idea.
As I made my way through the booths, picking up brochures and schwag, one of the young men from a mission organization stopped me (I’ll call him Ken). Again, a little awkward. I could tell he wanted to make small talk and show interest in me, but it seemed a little bit forced.
So we talked for a while, when out of the blue he asked me to take the two minute challenge. “What is that?” I asked. He said, “Pretend I’m a person who has never heard of Jesus, and you have two minutes to explain the gospel to me. Go!”
“Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for this. I have to go pick up Jess and I only have a few more minutes to see everything at Missionfest. To be honest, I didn’t come here for a guilt trip about how poorly I explain the gospel and how you, as a missionary, obviously do it better.”
I thought that, but didn’t say it.
Instead, I smiled and proceeded to give the best answer I knew how in a half-hearted, pretending-to-be-really-interested kind of way. Two minutes turned into ten, and after realizing that there were other people around who were checking out the booth, we decided to cut the conversation short and say goodbye.
It was such a strange experience for me, probably because nothing like it has ever happened to me in real life. No one who has never heard of Christianity, the Bible, or Jesus has ever asked me to explain the gospel to them in two minutes.
But I realized very quickly that I do this all the time. I have often gone through the exercise of thinking about how to explain the Christian message to someone in a few minutes, sentences, or words. I think it’s good practice for us to remind ourselves of what the gospel is about and to focus our attention on what’s important.
I didn’t feel it at the time, but I am thankful for getting to meet Ken at Missionfest. His two minute challenge actually taught me a few things.
1) I’m not as good at explaining the gospel as I thought.
I think I started out pretty strong but I soon realized that my answers weren’t what he wanted to hear. He didn’t want me to explain the gospel as I understood it, but how he understood it. So maybe I should rephrase - I’m not that good at explaining the gospel when I know the other person already has preconceived notions about me and my answers.
My tactic then changed to try to tell him what I thought he wanted to hear. I later thought about how often I actually do that and allow what people think of me to dictate what I say. Everyone one comes at these discussions with biases, even me. Can I learn to share the gospel without being worried about pleasing people?
2) Mission happens through relationship.
Again, this was such an awkward encounter for me because I knew nothing about Ken. I knew the town he was from and the country he was working in, but it was really hard to try to give an answer about the gospel without knowing him personally.
Perhaps that’s because I come from a certain context and my experience, even of God and faith, is not universal. I realized just how important relationship is in sharing the gospel, and why screaming on the street corner rarely ever works. But am I willing to invest in people? Am I willing to bring up these conversations with my friends and family?
3) Having an answer is good.
As I fumbled through my words, I realized that although I can explain the gospel very easily to myself, when it comes to real life situations with people who put you on the spot, it’s a lot harder. I think it's good practice to think about these things and how we might answer these questions, to think about how we would speak to people who come from different places and experiences.
I also realized that this kind of practice is more for us than it is for the person we may, hypothetically, meet one day and share our two minute challenge answer. It allows us to reflect on the message of the gospel and pinpoint the core message of our faith. It's an exercise that can help us on our own journey of growth and understanding.
So, thank you Ken. Thanks for putting me on the spot and making me feel uncomfortable. As fast as I wanted to get out of there, I learned a lot from that experience. May we continue to find new and creative ways of sharing the gospel message with the world.