I see the problem of syncretism!

In-ká-hai cover with sticky notesA bright and cheery summer’s day is a great time to explore the local farmer’s market. For years, Sarah* has not only enjoyed visiting the market but has also had a booth—selling jewellery and women’s clothing. On her breaks, she enjoys strolling among the booths, admiring the wares on display and chatting with other vendors.

One Saturday, as she wended her way through the crowds, she passed Michael’s* booth. He was there with his hiking sticks. But these were no ordinary hiking sticks. Attached to the end of each was a leather cord strung with coloured beads: white, green, black, red and yellow. The hiking sticks were free for the asking. As Michael would hand out each stick, he would take the opportunity to give a brief explanation of the gospel using the beads.

On this morning however, as Sarah passed his booth, she noticed something on Michael’s table. It was a copy of By This Name. Sarah was familiar with the book and so asked Michael about it.

“A friend gave it to me. I’d heard it was a good book but I’ve never read it. Don’t have the time.” Sarah thought for a moment and asked, “Can I give you a smaller book that you might enjoy? It’s from the same ministry.” When Michael said yes, Sarah went to get a copy of In-ká-hai: How Sweet it Is! and passed it to him.

Sarah didn’t hear from Michael for some time but then, one morning as she was setting up her own booth, Michael rushed up, waving his copy of In-ká-hai. The book had numerous coloured Post-it notes sticking out from all sides.

“I read the book!” he gushed. “And now I see the problem of syncretism. It’s a problem we have all around us!” Michael understood that, in today’s world, many people have never cracked open a Bible. Consequently, when they hear about Jesus, they don’t know who he is and what he accomplished on the cross. Michael was realizing that many people who have heard bits and pieces of the gospel end up mixing it with other beliefs, resulting in confusion. This was the heart of syncretism. Michael went on to say that he now realized the value of taking the time to lay a necessary foundation by starting with creation and explaining key stories of who God is, what he is like, and the lostness of man’s condition. It helped those who know very little about the Bible gain a good foundation of understanding.

After reading In-ká-hai, Michael had then started on By This Name. He felt his heart fill with excitement at the prospect of sitting down with others and taking them through a clear explanation of the gospel message. “I’m looking into organizing men’s Bible studies. My wife will do the same with women’s groups.”

Sarah asked, “Have you considered couple’s groups? That way, you can partner with your wife and teach together.” That suggestion made Michael even more eager.

“Now at my booth, as I speak to people who want one of my hiking sticks, I use the questions from Appendix A of In-ká-hai to gauge their understanding of the gospel. And, rather than just giving them with a brief presentation of the gospel, I’ve started inviting my booth visitors to a study if they’re interested in learning more about the Bible. I’m now able to offer to do this because I know how to guide them!” Michael added, “You know, when you’ve been in church a long time, you don’t realize how difficult it is to explain the gospel to those who simply don’t have any background knowledge.” Michael was very thankful that Sarah had nudged him into reading both of the books, In-ká-hai and By This Name. And Sarah was very glad to have been able to help a fellow believer become more effective in sharing the gospel message.

(*Name changed as per GoodSeed policy.)


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Author: Amos Kwok

Curriculum development manager at the international office.