Witnessing to unbelievers can be a very challenging feat, especially when someone else has already caused these people to stumble. Which is why it was an utterly humbling experience as an avalanche of events shook the seemingly hopeless ground I stood on after I cried out to heaven and said, “God, if you would just give me one … just one, from all the rest of them. Show me this person who is willing to receive the gospel.”
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8
All the people from my mother’s side of the family shut us out after they learned we’d become born again Christians. To them, “switching religions” was an abomination, and we felt that they deemed us no longer worthy to be called family. To make matters worse, the stepfather who brought us to Christ caused everyone else to stumble when he abandoned us in our time of need. Everyone else told us to go back to our old faith for the sake of our souls, and my grandmother told my Mom that hers was already burning in hell. Because of this, there was a silent period when I didn’t get to see my relatives for about five years.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matthew 10:21-22
Eventually the tension mellowed down, and we were welcome to visit again. They greeted us with warm hugs and happy smiles, but I could tell that things were no longer the same. It was as if there was an invisible barrier between us and them, and we could feel them talking about us and our faith behind our backs. My aunts and uncles didn’t blatantly attack the subject, but what was unsaid was as tangible as the words that would have come, resulting from complete prejudice and a sad ignorance of what Christianity was really all about.
My relatives from the US and from all over the Philippines reunited last December 2012 for a holiday reunion. I knew beforehand that this wouldn’t be easy for me, being alone (my mom and sisters had just recently migrated to the States and couldn’t come home) with so many unbelieving relatives who had their walls up every minute of the day. I had this nagging apprehension that they were constantly on their guard in case I would try to “convert” them. And believe me, having almost completed my course in pastoral theology didn’t help to keep my mouth shut and let it all pass without even attempting to witness of Christ to anyone.
And that’s when I prayed. “Just one, Lord, just one.”
Taking the Detour
When my uncle told me I had to go with him and my aunt (my mom’s sister) and cousins to this other family reunion that was scheduled right after the day we had ours, I had no choice but to agree. They had planned to meet with me only after the event, but in order to save time they decided to take me with them instead. And since the other reunion was of those from my uncle’s side of the family, I basically had to show up at a party I had no business attending. But still, most of the people there already knew me as a kid so I wasn’t really a complete stranger.
My cousin Kathy and I stood in silence as we were led to a room with two beds, which was one cottage away from where the rest of her family – her parents and younger brother – was staying. “Why can’t we all be in the same room together?” We whispered to each other, “Why do we have to be isolated all the way over here?”
Now that was an interesting question.
Most of the activities were scheduled in the afternoon so we had the entire morning to ourselves, looking for ways to let the time pass. Kathy and I sat on the benches in the front porch overlooking the beach, and talked about hobbies, interests, and boys. She went on to tell me how weird it was that she always ended up dating guys from different religious backgrounds. “And my parents would always be so skeptical and paranoid,” she said. “I just wish they would be more open to learn about other religions, you know.”
And that’s how it began.
The Aftermath of Honest Truth
Kathy was rather silent for the rest of the afternoon. Most of the time she would sit on the bench and stare blankly into what seemed to be an endless ocean of thought. Her sudden mood shift began some time after I finally shared the gospel with her. Sometimes I’d look at her at the corner of my eye and I’d worry because I’d never seen her so serious before. But then at the same time I was happy that she was that way, because that only meant that she took what I said to heart.
Every three minutes or so, she would ask me all kinds of questions. “What can you say about the other religions? What does it mean to be saved? If we aren’t saved by being good, then what’s the reason for us to do good? Why isn’t it enough to just believe that God exists in order to get to heaven? So what is really our purpose on earth?” That I actually knew the answer to these questions amazed even myself. There was a time when I was the one wondering about the same things.
Conveniently enough, the separate room that I now understood was part of God’s little arrangement allowed us to continue talking through the night. “I was basically just thinking,” she said, after I asked her if she had been okay for the remainder of the day, “how sad it is that not all of us will be able to see each other again in the afterlife. And I just couldn’t stop thinking about life in general … it was exhausting.”
Taking the Leap
I kept asking God to help me to control myself so I wouldn’t smother her with everything I wanted to say about Amazing Grace. I knew that it wasn’t easy to adjust to a different life perspective, and I was afraid that if I kept bombarding her with detail after overwhelming detail about Christianity, she would actually begin to form a defensive mental barrier that would eventually retard the work in progress and ultimately defeat the purpose of witnessing.
After a break from the subject of God and salvation and a lot of small talk through lazy afternoons, I felt that I had to let her listen to one of the sermons from Eastlake Church (my family goes there now). It was entitled “Jesus Came To…” and was delivered some time in Christmas some years ago. In a nutshell, the sermon was all about the free gift of grace that God gave to sinful man through Jesus Christ and how, by just receiving the gift, we can have eternal life.
We prayed together as she accepted Christ after that. I took a deep breath and thanked the Lord for the opportunity of bringing one more soul into His kingdom.
When the Pieces Fit Together
“That sermon was really good,” she said after we had prayed, and went on to talk about the humorous parts that got her laughing. “So are all the church sermons available on their website?”
“Yes,” I replied. I loved it that I felt like she was planning to visit the site. “There’s still a lot more of them but I only downloaded those delivered by that pastor because I like him best.”
“There was actually this nurse that used to work in my hospital before, and I think she said that her husband was a pastor… I forgot to ask what his name was. She doesn’t work there anymore. But I think she said he was preaching at Eastlake, and I was like, ‘Hey, my aunt and cousin go there!'”
A bell rang in my head. “Wait,” I said, with growing anticipation as a memory in the back of my mind slowly transformed itself into conscious thought. “I think I do remember him actually saying that his wife was a nurse. Yes, a labor and delivery nurse!”
“What was his family name again?”
“Hmmm… that does ring a bell. And what was his wife’s name? Did he happen to mention her?”
I stared at the wall trying to remember. “… Becky.”
My cousin’s face lit up. “Her real name was Rebecca.”
I’ve prayed for a really long time for my relatives to be saved. And it pained me to know that the very person who led me and my mother and sister to know Jesus (my stepfather) would be the reason why the rest of my family wouldn’t hear any of our “religious crap.” But then, everything that had transpired these past few days has become solid proof that God is indeed working in the lives of the people I love without me knowing. He brings them into specific circumstances — and lets them date specific guys with different religious backgrounds — and allows them to meet and work with specific people so that when the right time comes, they’ll be more open and receptive to the gospel. Even more amazing is the fact that in His great and awesome power, God has made a way to overcome that barrier I thought was impenetrable and has even allowed me to become the instrument to fulfill the answer to my own prayer for their salvation. If only I had more faith and believed that He was greater than any stumbling block that anyone on earth could create…
Just one, Lord, just one… and that would be enough to start a fire that in God’s time, will burn in the heart of every single person I call family.