At the end of a long, arduous overland journey below the Tropic of Capricorn on the island of Madagascar in January 2013; I along with a team of Southwestern Seminary students went out for one more stroll into the streets of Abovombe, in the southwest part of the island, to talk to willing listeners about the Good News of Jesus Christ. We were on our first team trip to find and share with the Antandroy people of Madagascar. The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention challenged the Convention to respond to the call to Embrace the remaining Unreached Unengaged People Groups (UUPG) of the world. Little did I realize how literal that term, Embrace, would become for me at the end of that long day.
Our group went down a side street where a new roadbed was underway. A set of workers rested on the shady side of one building, and we struck up a conversation. Several onlookers gathered, intently listening to what these foreigners were chatting with people in the streets about. One in our group spoke and rendered a compelling testimony through our translator. Maurice, the man that seemed most hardened to the discussion, spoke up and emphatically told us he does NOT believe that any god exists, and he did so with the passion of a fiery preacher, but in reverse. The tense moment passed and things quieted down.
I am still not sure why, but I sensed something deeply moving disturbed Maurice. I sat down and explained to him that my family and I once lived and worked in Cameroon, West Africa for many years. I told him that of the many, many Africans I have met over the years, he is the only one that has ever said to me that he does not believe that there is a god. Seated beside him now, I reached out my arm and embraced him while asking him why he says that there is no god. This sort of physical gesture is a bit unusual in Africa, but he welcomed it.
Seated beside him now, I reached out my arm and embraced him while asking him why he says that there is no god. This sort of physical gesture is a bit unusual in Africa, but he welcomed it.
Emotion welled up in his eyes, and he said that his brother recently had passed away and that his brother was a professed Evangelical Christian. I could tell that he was still deeply grieved and somehow blamed whatever god he had imagined would take his brother away. From his description of his brother, he indeed was a transformed man after coming to Christ and lived a joyous life afterward. His lifestyle left an indelible mark on Maurice. Yet, still he mourned. Calmly he told me that actually he does not think there is no god, but that he just mourned. I reminded him that the happiest days, by his own admission, that his brother had lived were those when he walked with Christ. Squatting down by this point, I took out an EvangeCube and illustrated the gospel message visually with that device. Interestingly, an older man was sitting just to my left, and when the invitation came, that man emphatically responded that he for one did want to believe Christ. Maurice did not trust Christ that day, but he wanted to know where he could learn more about Jesus. Fortunately, a local believer was with us, and he stepped up to get both of their contact information. God is reaching out to Maurice, and a literal embrace was what it took to soften a mournful heart in the process of hardening closed.
This vignette from the life on just one Antandroy man shows that indeed the fields are white unto harvest. Daily I pray that God will make me sensitive to those around me, to recognize when He brings a lost person across my path, and to grant me the boldness to Embrace those hardening hearts at just an arm’s length away, whether it is in the vast “down under” or in Fort Worth where I live. This reminds me simply to be ready in season and out season to tell that old, old story anew every time.