by Laurel Bunker
(Editor’s note: This is the 4th post in an 8-part series called “What’s Your Evangelism Style?“)
Have you hugged a blindfolded stranger today? If not, you may have an opportunity to do so sooner than you think. It seems that a rather interesting social experiment has been going on in some cities here in the United States and throughout Europe, Australia, and other parts of the world. This experiment is pushing people to question whether they would be willing to step out of obscurity and step in to embrace someone quite different than them, someone that they may have been taught to disregard, distrust, or to dislike because of race, religion, gender, disposition, or otherwise.
In Paris, a man who identified himself as a Muslim balances a sign on his feet which says, “I am told that I am a terrorist. Hug me if you trust me.” A young aboriginal girl, familiar with the racial and ethnic stigma placed upon her people in Australia, offered herself in a similar experiment. The sign at her feet read, “I trust you, do you trust me?” In America, an older woman with piercings and tattoos stands blindfolded in a purple bikini on a boardwalk, every out of shape area revealed. Curious onlookers watch from a distance as individuals walk by sizing up the scene. Her sign stood reads, “I am told that I am ugly, what you think of me?”
All three of these individuals stood with their arms outstretched wide, vulnerable to the judgments and jabs of those around them. Listening to the shuffle of feet around them as onlookers passed by, each waited patiently for the moment when someone would take the risk of offering them the gift of acceptance and peace.
Reaching out to embrace the “curious other” is a must if we as believers are going to share our faith effectively with those around us. As uncomfortable as this may feel due to the unpredictability of the world around us, God calls us to be bold, love those who may not love us in return, welcome the stranger, be merciful, and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
On the other hand, Satan our accuser seeks to paralyze us and make us afraid of those unlike us and to hold them suspect rather than to reach out with love and compassion. We must resist this paralyzing fear and instead trust God, while being wise, in everything.
Matthew 25: 35-39 offers us a picture of the final judgement, when God himself separates the sheep from the goats and the joy of the inheritance of His kingdom. The criteria God used to determine those who would enter His kingdom in this portion of scripture was not based on who had the largest church, most dynamic worship team, fanciest church van, or largest youth group. The criteria was based on Christ-like love-extending hospitality by meeting the basic needs to those without, food, clothing, community, or the kindness of a visit in time of trial:
‘For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
What a beautiful example of kingdom hospitality, a key ingredient in friendship evangelism! We are called to be salt and light to the world, to reach out and embrace the stranger with the good news of Jesus Christ through kindness, listening, and sharing our lives alongside them as they learn to trust in God!
That is how I came to faith in Christ myself. A small group of women in college invited me into their circle and walked with me, even when the sign at my feet read, “needy, wanting, insecure.” I was blinded by lies of the world. I could not see the way out, but that did not stop them from pursuing me. They didn’t just embrace me from the start; they overwhelmed me with kindness and showed me Jesus, which led me to the arms of my Savior and Lord. Once the blinders came off and I could see, I wanted to help others in the way that I had been helped.
As we consider the blessedness of friendship evangelism, let us remember the great gift of salvation given to us by our Lord, who reached out to us when we were “the other,” strangers and enemies of God, blinded by our own sin which held us at bay, making us unable to reach the peaceful shores of His heavenly kingdom. The signs at our feet read, “Adulterer, liar, angry, unforgiving, abused, wounded.”
But Jesus Christ,the rejected and despised One, took our sin and rejection upon Himself. He was unembraced by the very world that He created, made a way for us by enduring a roman cross, despising its shame and stretched His arms open wide and died for us, thus making a way for all of humankind to embrace and trust Him.
May we be unafraid to embrace others with the good news of Jesus Christ today. As you come out from obscurity and step forth to be known and to know others, lives with be changed for eternity.
Laurel Bunker is dean of campus ministries and campus pastor at Bethel University. Laurel’s mission is to radically impact the lives of individuals through empowered teaching and preaching and through mentoring others to be influencers of culture through Christ-centered leadership development.