One of the greatest joys of working in cross-cultural evangelism, or missions, is getting to explore neighborhoods and areas where you would normally never find yourself. You get to dive into real cultural epicenters. These are places where other cultures truly live — not just the Epcot version.
It was in one of these areas that I found myself recently. A section of New York City that you will not find listed in tourist guides. it is a culturally vibrant section of the city where many West African restaurants and shops can be found.
I walked into a small shop adorned with flags from several West African countries. The friend and fellow worker I was with is learning Soninke, one of many tribal languages common in West Africa. It is always an excellent conversation starter.
A divine intervention
He asked the shop owner about local Soninke speakers and expressed his desire to meet some in the area. This was the appetizer before the main conversational meal. He then asked if she was Muslim. This was not an unusual question. Many tribes from that part of the world are predominately Muslim.
“No.” She replied. “I am a Christian. Most of my people are Christians.” She said flatly, indicating that the majority of her tribe in African was Christian.
“Oh, praise God. We are Christians also.” My friend excitedly exclaimed.
Then she asked her own question.
It was a surprise.
It was unexpected.
It caught us off guard.
It was fantastic and brilliant at the same time.
“Are you Christians or are you believers?” She asked.
We both smiled ear to ear.
“We are believers. We are followers of Jesus.” We both said almost in unison.
Sharing in community
From that one simple question, the conversation took off. We told her about our heart to share Christ with Muslims. She shared this same desire. She told us how, as a shop owner, she had many Muslim friends and customers that frequented her business daily. She felt the burden to bring Christ to them all, but she did not know how.
And along came two brothers in Christ.
These are the moments that are truly special. Being present for these divine appointments is an awesome experience. It is like standing on the edge of a mountain and taking in the vastness of the divine creation. It is an encounter with the numinous.
We both knew why God had brought us there immediately. We both had backpacks full of the Jesus Film DVDs translated into over twenty West African languages. We had business cards that gave the web address for a site with pages and pages of information for West African Muslims seeking to know more about Christ.
We had gone out into the world that day expecting to find a lost sheep to share with. But that was not God’s plan. God’s plan was for us to encounter another sister in Christ that needed our help. God’s plan from the beginning was for man to serve and worship him in community. So I suppose we should not be surprised when we find ourselves communing. This is the beauty of missions. This is the beauty of his plan over ours.