When Jesus saw that he [a teacher of the law] answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. Mark 12:34
“Well, I’m not a Muslim any more.”
So said the young man who was cutting my hair. I had been going to him and his friends for a number of years; they ran a little hairdressers’ business near where we lived.
A barber’s chair isn’t a bad place to have a friendly chat (as long, of course, as his name isn’t Sweeney Todd). Occasionally barbers say hardly a word except to ask you how you want your hair; but usually I find them to be friendly and quite chatty.
An obvious topic of conversation is what job you do; so, for me, that’s a wide open door for witness, because I can simply say “I’m a minister in the church”. The young men I went to were all, I think, Iraqi Kurds, and very open to talking about religion. And, of course, they were Muslims.
Over the years I had had good conversations with one particular young man. To my shame I can’t now remember his name, but I think it may have been Hassan, so I’ll call him that.
When we first talked he was a loyal though not particularly devout Muslim, but he took a serious interest in what I believed. On one occasion I asked if he had ever read the New Testament. The answer was no, because he couldn’t read English. Would he like me to get him a Kurdish New Testament? Yes, he said. So, with the help of the Bible Society, I did just that – with a friendly finger-wagging: “You will read it, won’t you?” He assured me he would, and every time I saw him after that he told me he was continuing to do so.
Then one day he told me this would be the last time he would be cutting my hair – he had decided to head back to Iraq so as to be closer to his aging, widowed mother. I told him how sorry I was and assured him of my prayers. Then, taking the bull by the horns, I asked him straight out if he had yet decided to become a Christian.
Which was when he said what I started with: “Well, I’m not a Muslim any more.” Which meant, of course, that he was on the move…
That was the last time I saw him, and I have occasionally wondered what became of him. Especially, did he ever make the decision to follow Jesus? Did he ever link up with a church in Iraq? Had he kept up reading that Bible? Had he reverted to Islam?
I don’t know. And I suppose I never will, not at least in this life. But I’m glad of the contact I had with him.
Why am I telling this story? Not, please be assured, to show myself up as some sort of super-evangelist. Far from it! We all know how difficult it can be to introduce the topic of “religion” without coming across clumsy or embarrassing. But people like me – people in “full-time ministry” – have an easy head-start. If somebody, while clipping your eyebrows, asks you what you do, well, it’s difficult not to be a witness, isn’t it?
No. My experience simply reminds us that in day-to-day evangelism each of us may very well be just a very small link in a very long chain.
The experience of American evangelist Tony Campolo is extremely rare. As he was strapping himself into his seat on board a plane, the man sitting next to him, a total stranger, turned to him and declared in troubled tones, “Mister, I need God!” As Campolo drily remarked “I could have wished for something a little more direct, but there you go…”
We would all love to be used by God to bring people to Christ in one fell swoop. But that just isn’t the way it is: conversion is almost always a process rather than a one-off event.
Remember how Jesus treated the “teacher of the law” who questioned him about the commandments of God, and which one is “the most important” (Mark 12:28-34). He doesn’t say anything particularly startling or original, but he clearly strikes a chord with Jesus, who tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. “Not far”: like Hassan, he was on the move.
People are on a journey, and God alone knows the exact point they have reached. Our role, therefore, is simply to say or do something – perhaps just to be something – that might nudge them a little further along.
I hope I may have done that with Hassan: as I put it earlier, be a link in a chain. I can only pray that someone in Iraq will have the joy of bringing him openly to full-blown faith in Christ. Will you join me in praying for him?
And will you look out daily for the Hassans in your life?
Lord Jesus, as I go about my daily business please help me to be a link in the chain of somebody’s life, a sower of seed in somebody’s heart. Amen.