I stopped at the supermarket on my way home from work the other evening. The checker completed my transaction by saying, “Have a blessed night.”
I babbled something nonsensical in response while I sorted through the lovely surprise of a stranger’s talking Christian to me.
The other day, at a book discussion among women from my university, my colleague Jennifer commented that she always went out of her way to avoid talking about Christian topics when she was with nonbelievers—or strangers who might be nonbelievers—and I recognized in that moment that I tend to do the same thing.
Jennifer’s comment was in reference to a scene in the novel we were discussing: Mischa Berlinki’s Fieldwork, about a journalist in Thailand—also named Mischa Berlinski—researching an American anthropologist’s murder of an American missionary, all three of them engaged in “fieldwork” of a sort. When the journalist starts hanging out with the Christian missionary family of the murdered man, he is surprised that, although family members talk about Jesus all the time—almost as though Jesus were a family member—they never try to evangelize their nonbelieving guest. Later, in a heartbreaking scene recounting the lead up to the murder, the mother of the family flat out refuses to tell the anthropologist, also a nonbeliever, the good news.
Despite these two scenes, and despite the fact that the real Mischa Berlinski is also a nonbeliever, the novel is surprisingly refreshingly congenial toward this missionary family and toward Christianity in general.
It struck me, as I was reading the novel and then later as my colleagues and I were discussing it, that maybe evangelism—that is, literally, telling the good news—isn’t just about telling people how to be saved. It’s about telling the good news that God made us and pays attention to us and loves us. That when we don’t love God back, God suffers pain. That God is determined to win back our love. Evangelism is telling the gospel—another word that means good news—present in all of scripture, not just the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The Bible is full of gospels. Which is probably why we’re encouraged, in Deuteronomy 6, to talk about scripture all the time—when we get up and when we lie down, when we walk along the road and when we sit around at home—and not just with our own families and fellow believers but with anyone we encounter along the way.