Over the next weeks and months, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will be sharing reflections from our CBF field personnel serving around the world. These are stories of impact and outreach, Gospel-sharing and relationship building, long-term presence and abundant love.
The following is a reflection from CBF field personnel Rick Sample, who serves with internationals in the San Francisco Bay area alongside his wife, Lita. You can learn more about their ministries and support their work at www.cbf.net/sample.
Prior to the coronavirus, I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) with a group of Afghan refugee women at a local Afghan cultural center. During one lesson, teams were pantomiming verbs by acting them out with the others trying to guess the verb. One of the verbs was smoke.
I announced that I’ve never smoked even one cigarette in my life. This pronouncement was met with mild acknowledgement; after all, there are many Americans who don’t smoke; so this is no big deal. One lady said, “Your wife is very lucky.” I responded that I imagine that a lot of Afghan men smoke and they all agreed that was true.
The next verb to pantomime was drink; so I told the group that I had never had any drink in my life—that I have never consumed alcohol. (I know I’m one of the very few remaining teetotalers!) This announcement was met with shock and surprise. Suddenly, I appeared to them to be a very squeaky clean American. Several ladies said, “Your wife is so lucky!”
Suddenly, one of the women asked me, “I thought you drank alcohol in church?”
I replied that I didn’t know what she was talking about. She said that she had once visited a church and people were drinking wine out of little cups. Then I said, “Now, I know what you’re talking about.” I told the group that some churches do use wine, but that all the churches I’ve attended used grape juice. I asked the group if they would like me to explain the meaning of the ceremony taking place when churches use the little cups; they responded, “Yes.”
From that point, I had the wonderful opportunity to explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper—about how the bread and the cup represent the body and blood of Jesus when he died on the cross. One of the Afghans said that she knew Jesus is alive, but that she didn’t think he had actually died. I agreed with her that He is alive, but that we Christians also believe that He died on the cross. I was then able to explain about the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This all sounds so simple to me, yet if I had walked into the Afghan cultural center that morning and said that today my lesson would be the explanation of the death and resurrection of Jesus, I would have been asked to leave and not come back. But a casual revelation that I was an American who didn’t drink alcohol allowed me to share the gospel by thinking quickly and asking permission to explain the meaning of the Christian “ceremony” of the Lord’s Supper. It was such a joy to share the gospel with people who really haven’t ever heard the message of Jesus.
When we first came to the Bay Area, this same Muslim-based center warned Afghans not to trust Christians. Gradually, the center came to ask us to provide ESL classes, computer classes, and to help with other projects including asking our church to host several of their cultural and holiday events. Now, we are blessed to be salt and light in this Muslim cultural center.