hen I was 10, my Sabbath school teacher taught us children about the blessings of Ingathering. She told us we could become part of a worldwide network of committed people gathering and sharing resources, to be a blessing to people she called “the least of these,” meaning the people most in need of those resources. Then she asked each of us to choose a partner, gave each couple a bunch of pamphlets, and sent us off on our missionary way.
At that time my family lived in a rural area of northern Argentina, where most roads were unpaved and there were farmhouses scattered up and down the hills and surrounded by thick jungle. Classmate Luis and I walked past a few familiar hills as we stepped “into the unknown,” looking for farmers who would pity us enough to spare some loose coins on behalf of relief projects in China, India, or Africa.
As we walked, we noticed several men, about 100 yards ahead, coming in our direction. If we kept our pace, I anticipated we would be face to face in less than a minute. Even though we knew that people in that area were quite friendly and almost everyone knew Seventh-day Adventists, somehow Luis and I felt rather apprehensive. The men drew closer, then suddenly stopped. They are frowning at us!
we thought. With our hearts beating fast, we also stopped. Then the men split up to the right and left off the road, and disappeared in the jungle. A few seconds later they returned, but now their hands held huge stones! Now we were really afraid! All those years of mission stories in faraway lands about missionaries persecuted, hunted down and stoned to death for their faith, were doing their damage to our vulner-able psyche! Stuck to the ground, we weighed our options: We might beg them please not to stone two innocents. Perhaps we should start praying. Maybe we should run for our lives. We may even have thought of what it would be like to die for Jesus.
Then, just as the stoners were raising their loaded hands, and we were choosing the option of fleet feet, we spotted the object of all the dread, theirs and ours. In the middle of the road, midway between them and us, was a large poisonous snake. Their trained farmer eyes had seen it; we had not.
The stones rained down, but we were not afraid anymore. Instead, we became an enthusiastic part of the feverish excitement! The stones were being thrown not at us, but at the poisonous snake, which seconds later was writhing in agony.
Enemies or Friends
One of the lessons I have thought upon from that eventful Sabbath afternoon is about people who seem to be over against me on the spiritual road. As a Seventh-day Adventist I wonder about my relationship to my non-Adventist colleagues, especially those who seem to lack any interest in our recruiting efforts. What, I ask, is my role and responsibility toward my worldly classmates, coworkers, and neighbors?
Them and Us
Persecution is a fact. Many Seventh-day Adventists, as well as many other Christians around the world, are suffering for their faith. For people who have always enjoyed religious freedom, it is very difficult even to picture their daily plight. For most of us, however, our greatest religious danger is not persecution but indifference, our own indifference.
Many faithful Seventh-day Adventists, especially long-established church members, find it quite difficult to enjoy the company of non-Adventist friends. After all, their values are so different, their expectations so unlike ours. Somehow we much more quickly imagine them as stoners rather than helpers on a road of life we all are traveling. Our concern seems to be, to a significant degree, protection from the attack they represent. At a minimum, we commit ourselves to ensuring that they do not lead us astray from the path of virtue.
And yet, if we looked at it differently, more often than not we would be surprised. Hearts unknown around us are as conscious as we are, and at times more so, of the snakes in the road presenting peril not only to Seventh-day Adventist members of society, but to all who would do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Many there are who desperately seek for a remedy to life’s ever-present ills, and a source of water for quenching their ever-pressing thirst. Many a “woman at the well” is waiting to be given the water that will become “a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (see John 4:13-15). Meanwhile, we work on getting to the end of the road without spilling our water buckets filled all to the brim.
Could we but care as Jesus did, we would discover that instead of getting ready to stone us, many of our unchurched neighbors are just waiting for a signal, waiting for God’s people to step up, stand up for something worth believing in, and lead their discouraged hearts to the wonderful light of salvation. We would discover too that like the eagle-eyed farmers of my childhood experience, God is even able to use these neighbors as our helpful friends, to enrich our daily experience, and to make us better sons and daughters of God! The Spirit of God is equally desirous of working in all lives, both theirs and ours.
Engagement, Not Suspicion
Suspicion and prejudice as a first reaction is rarely life’s best approach. Whereas the Holy Spirit is ready to impress human hearts, He may not act unless we properly commit to collaboration with Him in this amazing enterprise: “It is God’s plan that human agencies shall have the high honor of acting as coworkers with Jesus Christ in the salvation of souls.”1
Again: “The worker should ever take humble views of himself, considering his many lost opportunities for want of diligence and appreciation of the work.”2
Far from being a reason for discouragement, this much-needed mea culpa must be an incentive to “renew [our] efforts to redeem the time.”3
God will bring many thirsty seekers to our very door. Many others, however, may never find the light unless we surrender our creature comforts, and venture out in the rain to bring them in from the dark and cold. Our stepping out, venturing “out of the box,” may leave us as startled as were Jesus’ disciples, when He stated that faith and trust in God transcend boundaries and official organizations (see Matt. 15:21-28). And if we are working for Him, boundaries will neither circumscribe our outreach to others, nor control our witness for the cross.
Our task may not always be easy, but God is more than willing to empower His human instruments (Eph. 3:20). At stake is the eternal destiny of human souls. And like two little boys on a long-ago road in rural Argentina, we might be among the first to reap the benefits of such interactions.
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1948), vol. 5, p. 573.
2 Ibid., p. 574.
Marcos Paseggi is a professional translator, enthusiastic writer, and biblical researcher who lives in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, Ontario. This article was published April 26, 2012.