If Necessary, Use Words
By John Halford
I am writing this from northern Thailand, where I was invited to attend the opening of a new school that some Christian friends are launching. Although Thailand is officially a Buddhist nation, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Consequently there are many foreign missionaries here. However, they have had very little impact — Thailand is only 2 percent Christian.
I suspect that one reason for this is that Thais resist the typical aggressive Western approach to evangelizing. My friends here, both of whom are native Thais, have a different approach. They understand the importance of example rather than confrontation. They have established several schools, language institutes and kindergartens, running them on Christian principles and values, without being overtly "evangelistic." It seems to work — the schools are a success, and several house churches have been quietly established. They are showing the value of St. Francis of Assisi’s famous teaching: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."
Faced with this situation, he was helpless. He wanted to talk. I think St. Francis would have agreed that this was a time to use words.
The guest of honor for the opening was a senior government official (I’ll call him Mr. V) who, although not a Christian, helped us cut through the administrative red tape and open the school on schedule. We were grateful to Mr. V and invited him to come from Bangkok to be the guest of honor. Although influential, he is a humble and sincere man.
The opening went well. The next day was a holiday, and our guest of honor had planned to visit some of his family who live locally. So I was surprised to meet him in the hotel’s lobby when I came down to meet my friends for a late breakfast.
He looked terrible. He was tired and seemed on the verge of tears. What had happened to the sophisticated authority figure of the day before? He told us that he had not slept all night. He had had a serious falling out with a young man whom he had mentored for many years and loved like a son. He had been looking forward to spending the day with him. Instead the young man had left him after an insulting and angry outburst.
Change of plan
Poor Mr. V was distraught. He was used to being obeyed, but faced with this situation he was helpless. He wanted to talk about it. So talk we did, for several hours. Our plans for the day had to be shelved. I think St. Francis would have agreed that this was a time to use words. We spent a long, long time discussing the best way to attempt a reconciliation — forgiveness, tolerance, mutual respect, and being willing to overlook and forgive. Mr. V found Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son especially comforting.
By the end of the day, Mr. V was much relieved. And next day, thankfully, he and the young man were able to meet and reconcile. At dinner that evening Mr. V was his happy self again. He told us later that he was impressed that we, who were really total strangers, had given so willingly of our time and our love. Of course, he didn’t decide on the spot to become a Christian. As with King Agrippa (see Acts 26:28), you can’t expect a high official to make a decision after only a brief exposure to Christianity. We simply showed him how Jesus’ teachings would help him in this situation, and he was impressed.
As we go about God’s work, we often need the favor of this world’s governments. We show respect and deference to people in authority, but relationships with authority figures are usually based on what they can do for us. Mr. V allowed us to do something for him. We saw that behind the influential authority persona was a vulnerable human being who was bruised and hurting. He already had our respect and gratitude, but what he needed was love. Love can be hard to come by in the dog-eat-dog arena of power politics. But it is the inexhaustible resource of our kingdom, and we were privileged to share it with Mr. V.