Last week, I had the privilege of hearing a very powerful testimony. “J” and “E” were visiting my church from the mission field in Turkey. E is a native of Turkey who is working with J, an American, to reach both Turks and Kurds living in Turkey. Here’s what I’m sure will be an inadequate synopsis of E’s story:
E grew up in an influential family in Istanbul. At the age of 12, he felt empty and started searching for truth in the holy books of major world religions. He started with the Koran. He then read the Old Testament and the New Testament separately, since he had been taught that Jews believed the Old Testament alone, and Christians believed only the New Testament. He also explored Buddhism, but none if it seemed right. Finally, he saw a book titled “The Holy Bible” at a bookstore. The woman working at the bookstore explained to him that Christians believe the Old and New Testaments together. So he read them again, this time taking note of all the connections between the two, the prophecies made in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. At the age of 14, E put his faith in the God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ. At that point in his life, E had never met another Christian.
E was forced to make difficult choices and suffer for his faith. He was kicked out of his parents’ house as a teenager because of his faith. He has been imprisoned for telling others about Christ. E and J are now ministering to the Kurds, a highly discriminated-against group in Turkey. For awhile, it was illegal to write, speak or listen to anything in the Kurdish language, Kurmanji. J and E are trying to provide a way for Kurdish Christians to worship in their own language. They have held one worship service so far, in the storage room of a church whose pastor was willing to let them meet there. There is no guarantee that they will continue to be able to meet in that storage room. It is unusual and unexpected for them to receive any help from the Turks in this endeavor.
After E shared his testimony, he had some tough words for us as we sat comfortably in our pews. He said the church in America is sleeping and needs to wake up. He said he doesn’t want to have to send his grandchildren over here to evangelize our grandchildren someday. And he is absolutely right.
In America, we have the awesome privilege of worshipping in our own language, at our choice of a church, and without fear. We don’t have to watch the door anxiously, waiting for soldiers or the police to appear. We have beautiful buildings that are kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We have facilities for Sunday school classes, youth group meetings, basketball games and yoga classes. We have extensive children’s ministries, music ministries, Vacation Bible Schools, youth programs, college ministries, and on and on. And yet the church in America is shrinking every day. Children who are raised in the church are leaving in droves.
Thinking about E’s words, I am more firmly convinced that the American church at large has put its faith in all the wrong things. We are trusting in our buildings and our programs. There is nothing wrong with these things. They can be used for good. But that is not where our faith should lie, because on their own, they are powerless to change lives. The power lies in the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. E did not grow up in Sunday school. No one outlined spiritual laws for him or loved him to Jesus. Again, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these things. But E’s testimony shows where the true power lies: in the Gospel of Christ, given to us in the Word of God and made clear to us by the Holy Spirit.
I spend a lot of time worrying about who my kids spend time with now and who they might choose to spend time with when I’m no longer in control of their every waking minute. I want them at Sunday school, children’s church, Bible study, and Christian schools and preschools. And E’s testimony didn’t change my mind about that. But it did remind me that these things are simply tools. Without God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, these things are powerless to change my children’s hearts. My own Christian pursuits are also powerless unless I am digging into God’s Word and living by the Spirit.
What are you trusting in: for yourself, your church, your kids? Are you attending a church that preaches the Gospel of Christ? Is His Word preached, or is it an accessory in the worship service? For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16.