Opinion: Evangelism — faithful or offensive?
When Anne and Daniel Garber Kompaoré talk of their work in North America, they are often met with questions. Anne works as a Bible translation consultant with Mennonite Mission Network and has lived in Burkina Faso since 1982. She loves to tell people about Jesus, and so does her husband, Daniel, a Burkinabe pastor of an Apostolic Mission Church. The following are Anne’s edited responses to questions about the ethics of evangelism.
Is evangelism imposing one’s faith on others?
Several years ago Daniel and I were speaking in a Mennonite church and were asked this question. Daniel responded, “No, the missionaries shared Jesus Christ with us, and we had full liberty to accept or reject the gospel.” In fact, on his mother’s side of the family, the entire family changed religions: His grandparents and two uncles became Muslims; his mom and another uncle became Christians. Both Muslims and Christians were evangelizing in the same town at the same time. Here in Burkina, there is a lot of promotion of religion, and each side is eager to present their perspective, whether Christian or Muslim. Many people are searching and are open to change. When people are searching, when there are multiple voices, they have a right to be informed of their options.
I think the many people who have become Christians through missionary efforts will feel a little shock when hearing a question like that. They could easily ask you, “What? You want to keep Christianity to yourselves?” Can you imagine? If the first Christians really had this attitude, I don’t think that the Christian faith would exist today, except possibly in some little corner of the Middle East.
I also do not agree that one should impose any faith on anyone else. There is nothing wrong with advertising. If companies promote their products, if Muslims work at bringing others to Muslim faith, surely those of us who are excited in our joy in Christ should share what we consider good news.
How would you feel if people from other religious backgrounds moved into your neighborhood and tried to convert you and your children?
I’ll respond by sharing about how I and another young single women arrived in the village of Kotoura. We were to learn the language and prepare the way for evangelistic missionaries. We were linguists, not evangelists. But as soon as we arrived we were peppered with questions by the son of the chief. We read him the Bible story of the prodigal son. He loved the story so much that he asked for more and said he would share those stories with his people. He wanted to know more about God and his power in the world. After one year, and a thousand questions later, he believed in Jesus Christ. He was so excited about his new faith he started sharing with others. He received no handouts from us, only our friendship and the good news.
I do not agree with any religion being imposed on anyone. But I think it is healthy for children, especially young adults, to be exposed to different religions. It helps them make an informed decision. I was challenged by various currents of thought, religious and political, at a secular university. This helped me to examine my beliefs and to make more solid faith decisions. I believe in a political system that allows religious diversity. And I believe in freedom for everyone to share their faith.
If you visit us in Burkina Faso, you will find few foreign missionaries. Most missionaries and evangelists these days are the Africans themselves, who are much more vocal about their faith than most North Americans are, including myself. You will find first-generation Christians who will gladly share why and how they became Christians.
No one denies the abuses of missionaries and colonialists in the past. But that should not be used as an argument against sharing one’s faith.
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