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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stories of the Thirsty
Overcoming Misconceptions and Dispelling Stereotypes

By Jerry Wiles, President Emeritus, Living Water International
Special to ASSIST News Service

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- “Why didn't you come sooner? I wish I had done this years ago.” Those were the words of a lady that a friend and I had the opportunity to share the gospel with in the slow part of the day in a restaurant. After confessing her need for the Lord and placing her faith in Christ to save her and make her a new person, she shared some of her background. She told us about growing up with many hardships and difficulties and making bad decisions.

A new well and clean water -- something to smile about

Hearing of the lady’s problems, broken relationships and disappointments, I was once again reminded of how the Lord often uses those experiences to make us aware of our need for Him. Often when people face hard times, it creates a hunger and thirst for change and a better life. Scripture tells us that the way of the transgressor is hard. 


However, in many people’s lives, it is the hard times, the troubles and turmoil they experience that captures their attention and causes them to turn to the Lord. On the other hand, it is the goodness and kindness of God that leads us to repentance, according to Romans 2:4. God knows what each of us needs and is actively seeking to get our attention in whatever ways that He can. However, there are certain people who never pay attention to God’s activity in their lives.

I once had a conversation with a wealthy medical doctor about spiritual matters. After some casual remarks and small talk, I asked him a question that I have asked many other people over the years. I simply asked, “Have you noticed any signs of spiritual awakening?” He said, “No.” A little later in our conversation, I asked if he had noticed that many people are coming to an awareness of their need for the Lord. Again his answer was, “No.” On another occasion I asked those same questions of a high-ranking military officer who was ready to embrace the gospel. Two weeks after my conversation with the officer, I received a letter from him thanking me for sharing with him on the plane that day. Actually, I have probably asked hundreds of people those two questions over the years. Not all, but many people have been open and have expressed their faith in Christ in those short encounters.

When thinking about misconceptions and stereotypes, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, when He told us not to judge according to appearance, but to judge righteous judgment. People who are spiritually thirsty are not always those who seem to be in the greatest need. Nor, is it often obvious on the outer surface. Some people, who seem to have it all together, are sometimes the ones who are hurting on the inside and are eager to hear and respond to the love and truth of Jesus.

Blind beggars and lepers are still common in in some countries where
LWI works

In our work with Living Water International we get to work with all kinds of people all over the world. We interact with a wide variety of people, with very different levels of spiritual needs and interests. For example, in our Orality Training Workshops, one of the stories we learn is the one about the blind beggar, from Mark 10. Beggars and blind people are quite common in many of our countries of operation. People can readily identify with the characteristics of blindness and that of beggars. 

A blind man in an Orality Training Workshop in a Central American country, learned the story of the blind beggar, got up and retold it to a group of about 200 people. A lady at another workshop, who was legally blind in one eye, told of learning the story and the impact it had in her life. At home after the training, she said she closed her eyes, was meditating and praying and said to the Lord, “Lord I believe, Lord I believe, Lord I believe.” She shared in the training session the next morning that when she opened her eyes, she could see.

Desperate and needy people are often eager to call on the Lord when they hear and understand the Word of God, while people who seem to have all their physical needs met and have good health are often not interested or thirsty for anything outside themselves. However, a crisis can change all of that. People who lose their health, their wealth, or are displaced because of armed conflict or other crisis situations, all of a sudden realize their need for God. They have a new hunger or thirst for God and an interest in the spiritual and eternal that they did not have before.

When it comes to sharing our faith, it’s easy to stereotype or profile people in our own minds. Sometimes the people we think will be open to the gospel are not, and those we think may be closed or resistant are open, interested, and receptive. Even with those who are believers and active in church activities, not all are equally interested and passionate about the things of God and sharing their faith with others. In our Orality Training and disciple-making efforts, we find that only a small percentage are really committed to becoming faithful witnesses and reproducing disciple-makers. A friend and brother in Christ emphasizes the importance of focusing on the few. It is liberating to realize that we are not responsible for the way people receive or respond to the message of Jesus, but we are responsible for giving them the opportunity.

Spiritual darkness –
a worldwide problem

I was at a public park once and saw a very rough and rugged man who had several tattoos on various parts of his body. He looked like the stereotypical street gang member or ex-convict, at least from my perspective at the time. One of the tattoos on his shoulder said, in bold type, “SINNER.” As I greeted him and engaged him in conversation, I found him to be very friendly and open. I said, “That’s a very interesting tattoo on your shoulder. I guess you really do see yourself as a sinner?” Those comments led to a conversation, and I was able to share the gospel and have prayer with him, and he confessed his need for the Lord. It would have been very easy for me to miss that opportunity, but that experience confirmed for me the reality that you can’t judge people by their outer appearance.

Jesus related with and reached out to various kinds of people. He didn’t always go after the brightest, wealthiest or the most prominent. He demonstrated His concern for people of different races and ethnic backgrounds. He was interested and concerned about women, children, social outcasts, blind, crippled and demon-possessed people. Those who participate in LWI’s Orality Training and disciple-making efforts gain remarkable insights when discussing these topics. It is exciting for many when they are made aware that God is no respecter of persons and He is concerned for and uses the least, the last, the seemingly nobodies, by the world’s standards.

What we learn from I Corinthians 1:20-31, from biblical examples and Church history, is that the Lord often uses the most unlikely candidates to accomplish His most significant work. We now know of major movements of God around the world that are being led by men and women who have very little formal education and few of this world’s resources. Some of them have never learned to read or write. However, they have learned to tell the stories of Jesus and they are passionate about the Lord and sharing Him with others. Many of them have been set free from witchcraft, idolatry, and spiritual bondage.

Retelling and discussing stories enhances the effectiveness of Orality Training

Some followers of Jesus seem to be surprised at the idea that we are all to be reproducing followers of Jesus. In other words, every disciple is to be a disciple maker. Every true follower of Jesus is to be a fisher of men. In Mark 1:17, Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It is important to realize that the One who calls us is the One who will make us fishers of men (people). He will make us disciple makers. It is the indwelling life of the Lord Jesus that makes us disciples, disciple makers and fishers of men. The Apostle Paul tells us that, “Faithful is He who calls us, who also will do it.” He also said, “It is God who works in us both to will and do of His good pleasure.”

It is liberating to come to the realization that, in and of ourselves, we can do nothing, but that everything God expects of us, He has enabled and empowered us for by His very life in us. He is waiting for us to discover, in the words of the late Major Ian Thomas, “We can’t, He never said we could, but He can, and He always said He would.” It is wonderful to realize that our real responsibility, as followers of Jesus, is our response to His ability. He is our Source, and He will clothe His divine activity in our humanity, as we trust and obey Him.

For information about the Orality Movement and training opportunities, visit – www.water.cc/orality


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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.
Jerry Wiles serves as president emeritus of Living Water International (http://www.water.cc) Living Water is one of the world’s leading faith-based water solutions organizations with operations in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Having gotten involved in orality-based evangelism and disciple making strategies in the 1980s, he has been a paradigm pioneer in the orality movement and presently serves on the advisory council of the International Orality Network. Wiles has more than 35 years experience in ministry and international mission work. He can be contacted at JerryWiles@water.cc

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