Carl Medearis is sort of a celebrity in the middle east, especially with those in the Islamic world. I heard him speak a couple years back and the stories he told about bringing up long and in depth conversations with leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and other Islamic “extreme” groups was riveting. I have followed him on Facebook ever since. Sooo, when he had a book of his published called Speaking of Jesus: The art of not-evangelism, I immediately wanted to get it. When Carl posted on Facebook that Amazon was giving the book away for free, I couldn’t resist.
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into here. Seriously, I work for Dare 2 Share, a non-profit that specializes in evangelism training. How would a book about not-evangelism jive with these views. I am thrilled to say, surprisingly very well. This missionary to the Islamic world, Carl Medearis, hit it out of the park, actually. With a tongue-in-cheek, and very entertaining perspective, Carl does a superb job of helping the reader understand how personal their walk with Jesus should be, returning to the roots of who Jesus is, and the message of hope He embodies.
A story that really stood out to me was when he was in Basra, Iraq in 2003 (giving away Arabic translations of the gospel of Luke during the American invasion). He tells of checking back into his hotel and how the group he was with stood out to the employees at the hotel since they didn’t wear flak jackets, carry assault rifles, or wield cameras like journalists. The manager came up to him and asked what they were doing in Basra, and if they were with the army. He tells of simply responding, “No, we followed Jesus to Basra, so we are trying to find out what He is doing here.” The rest of the story goes like this:
He took in his breath with a hiss. ”Isa?” he asked, using the Muslims’ name for Jesus. ”Isa is in Basra?”
”We think so,” my friend Samir said, “and he wants us to help out any way we can.”
The manager made something of a gasping sound and snatched the phone off the cradle. He rattled off a quick sentence in Arabic, hung up, and came around in front of the desk. “If you please,” he said, “stay right here. I know you must be very busy, but I had to call my brother. He loves to hear about Isa.”
Samir and I looked at each other. Isa was in Basra after all.
Within a few seconds, three other men joined us, all in their twenties and thirties, wearing the dark blue uniform suit of the hotel staff. For a moment I wondered if they were going to ask us to leave. Then, one of the men, with black hair and a thickening moustache, rushed forward and shook my hand. He moved on down the line, shaking hands vigorously, his eyes lit up like candles.
”You know about Isa?” he asked, returning to me.
“Yes,” I said, in Arabic. “We followed Him here.”
“Oh my.” His hands shot to his face. “Let me tell you something,” he went on.
“When I was a young boy, a man came through our city, and he was telling stories about Isa to the people.”
The rest of the group and the hotel staff moved closer, listening intently.
“When this man left, he gave my father a cassette tape with recordings of the stories of Isa, the miracles and teachings of Isa, the people he talked to, and how he lived.”
”Wow,” I said.
“Every night, for ten years, my father would play the tape for me and my brothers and sisters. He played it until the tape did not work anymore.” He stopped for a second, caught his breath. “I love these stories of Isa, and I miss them.”
Carl goes on to tell how this man asked if he had any stories of Isa and when Carl said “yes,” the man got really excited. Carl then went up to his hotel room to dig one of the gospels of Luke out of his stuff, since they had given away all the copies they had on them earlier. When he came back down to the lobby and handed the gospel of Luke to the man, the guy was in tears. He was so emotional. He then picked up the phone and called his father, who showed up five minutes later. When the father was introduced to Carl and told that Carl had stories of Isa, the father was cautious. When he held the gospel of Luke in his own hands however, Carl says, “He wrung our hands, hugging us to his body, so grateful that he shook” (p. 136).
The first huge takeaway I had from this book, The Art of Not-Evangelism, was that maybe I had myself forgotten the beauty of the stories of Jesus. From the years of telling others and hearing them over and over, the novelty, the wonder, had worn off. I was struck by the fact that Jesus was VERY good news to me at some point and His stories of truth are inspiring still. I was also quite convicted that maybe I was communicating Jesus in a way that didn’t do Him justice. I was overcomplicating things. I was telling more than what was necessary to express the wonder, the rawness of His saving love and sacrifice for me.
To help re-inspire the awe I once had for Jesus and the stories of His life on earth, I am taking Carl’s advice from the book and reading through the gospels for a year. Crazy, right? Parking on the stories of Jesus for a whole year! I am already excited to re-engage these stories and stare toward the Savior in awe and wonder. I pray God gives me fresh eyes to see Him. I pray the same for you!
Have you ever over-complexified the stories of Jesus? Could it possibly be that you too have lost the fresh perspective of His miracles and life? What have you done, or what are you going to do to help re-ignite your soul to see His awe and wonder again?