Art is the means; the gospel is the end

Don Dolton gathers with his 10 art students.

GoodSeed has partnered with many talented artists over the years to produce beautiful illustrations for our books. One of the earliest partnerships was with a man named Don Dolton, an artist from Eastern Canada.

Around the time when he was planning his retirement, Don heard a line that never left him: “Everything we do ought to be a means, and the end ought to be the Gospel.”

With those words ringing in his ears, Don sought the advice of his pastor who mentioned a Christian school in Mexico that could use an art teacher. In a short time, Don found himself in Puerto Escondido, Mexico .

As Don settled in, a fellow teacher suggested Don teach art lessons at her home on the weekends. The teacher would invite the neighbourhood children and Don would teach them how to draw.

The idea gained purchase in Don’s mind, so he set about to find art supply sets for each one, as the children would have nothing of their own. Don’s friend invited children from the neighbourhood to join “El Clase de Arte.” The students proudly received the art kits, becoming very conscientious in caring for their supplies.

Don considered the approach he should use to develop artistic skills amongst the children while also sharing the gospel. He decided that if he taught using the outline from The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, he could have the kids draw pictures that illustrated the stories.

Don explains:

“It seemed obvious to use the chronological teaching approach to presenting the gospel because it would systematically lead these dear children towards a fuller understanding of who God is, why He came to us and what He’s done for us.

“They chart their artistic progress through the drawings they make from the sequential lessons from creation to the resurrection of Christ. They need to pay attention to the lesson so that they can illustrate it.

“While they draw and paint, I ask each one to explain their artwork to me. This helps me understand their thinking. These children are illustrating the gospel themselves and when they show anyone else their artwork, they will be presenting the gospel again as they explain what they’ve drawn. Artistically it encourages creative thinking, as well as maps the progress of their artwork, which will encourage them to continue to develop the skills they’ve acquired along the way.”

Don’s excitement for this outreach is palpable. With ten students who faithfully attend, he has found a way to communicate his two passions in life. If “everything we do ought to be a means, and the end ought to be the Gospel,” Don has found art to be the perfect means for him to share the end–the gospel.

Each one reach one, each one teach one

This picture shares a beautiful story of how naturally our faith can spread:

  • Meet G, the man on the left end of the group. He met the man next to him (wearing the white jacket) through Facebook and invited him to a conference where he was teaching Worldview Rethink.
  • That man in turn encouraged P, his sister (next to him in photo in the pink top), to also attend, though she had plans for her weekend already. P decided to attend for just a short bit in the morning, but was so gripped by the gospel message, she cancelled her plans and chose to take in the entire 2-day conference.
  • After the first day of the conference, P travelled home and pleaded with her father (Mr. R in the red shirt) to attend with her the following day. He agreed.
  • Mr R heard the message the following day, but seemed unmoved and not terribly interested. He accepted a copy of The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus and read it into the night. The next day, he called together his family and with great excitement, shared what he’d read, saying, “I finally understand the gospel!” B (holding a baby) was one of those members of the family who became a believer at that time.
  • B’s wife then approached her grandmother (in the blue shawl) and shared the Good News with her. Grandmother gladly received the message and believed.

In the space of a few days, all the adults to the right of G (and more besides) became believers, because the ones around them simply shared the good news they themselves had received.

Truly, sharing the gospel doesn’t have to be complicated. The title of this article, “Each one reach one; each one teach one” was a motto I learned from a faithful ambassador for Christ by the name of Thom Cunningham. With 2 Timothy 2:2 as his guiding principle, Thom taught and exemplified that by simply reaching out to one person and sharing with them, we can be a part of a greater multiplication driven by the Holy Spirit.

Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more peoplemay cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 4:13, 15

Reaching out to an unbelieving housemate

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Kaoru* learned about the upcoming Bible study at a local church. The elder explained that the course would be good for everyone: experienced Christians, new Christians, non-Christians and Christians who wanted to share the good news with their friends.

Her thoughts turned immediately to Bronwyn, her housemate. Yes, I want to learn how to share the gospel with her, her heart sang. So, Kaoru signed up for the course and dutifully attended it. The course used the book The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus. During the course, one leader read the commentary, while the second leader read the Scripture verses. They also showed video clips that helped explain the Bible’s story. This way, the leaders explained, those attending the course were already practicing the teaching style so the participants could also lead a study on their own.

Kaoru had been in Australia only a short time on a working holiday visa. Searching for a place to rent, she ended up as housemates with Bronwyn, a local. As a believer, Kaoru also sought a local church where she could worship God with other believers. “It’s pretty rare in Japan to be brought up in a Christian home,” she explains, “but I am from a Christian family and I myself have been a Christian for 15 years.”

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The right key

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9 NIV).

It was one of those days that are irrevocably engraved on his memory, and the small details remain vivid to this day. He can still remember the fresh autumn air on his face, and walking across the field with his two children. It was a warm fall day, a beautiful Sunday… until the mobile phone began to ring in his pocket.

“Tomasz*, please come home!” The voice of his wife sounded strange.

“Has something happened?”

“Just come home, please! Immediately!”

When Tomasz looked into his wife’s face a short time later, he knew something terrible had happened.

“Please call your parents in Poland. Let them tell you. It’s about your brother.”

A despair spread over Tomasz when he heard about the house fire. Then came the crushing realization that his brother had likely died in the flames.

Any remnant of hope was crushed when, a few days later, the police identified his brother as a victim of the fire. In a moment, a life had been extinguished. The life of his only brother.

Until then, Tomasz had lived a traditionally religious life. He knew that God was the supreme authority in a person’s life. Accordingly, he endeavoured to be a man of good deeds. He prayed, revered the saints and visited the church–all in an effort to please God. But the sudden death of his brother highlighted the transient nature of life. Tomasz felt a yearning to change the way he was living.

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Quietly passing along the gospel

20160609-twj_8268Ken and Maryanne Stacey* are a couple of volunteers who live in an area with a high volume of internationals who desire to learn English. They are often in contact with a mostly male population from the 10/40 Window of Asia.

For the last 12 years, the couple has been effective by simply befriending the internationals who came to study English. Maryanne said, “We do what we as believers would consider to be normal kindnesses and then let them see the love we have for them. [They often] start to wonder why we love them when there is no ‘payback’ for us. All through this process we are open about our faith in Jesus, and we are looking for open doors to conversation about him.”

And often those doors do open. Maryanne says that when that happens, she and Ken gladly share the good news of the gospel with their “sons.” But it’s not necessarily a simple matter to do so. Many of those they interact with come from cultures very hostile to the gospel. For them to be seen with a Bible or any Christian literature could invite persecution.

So the Staceys have discovered that quietly passing Christian materials to these men via thumb drives is very effective. The couple is even careful to use a flash drive that looks discreet, so as to not draw unnecessary attention to their method of relaying the materials. In this way, they have passed on Bibles, Christian teaching, and more recently, All that the Prophets have Spoken, GoodSeed’s tool written specifically to those from an Islamic cultural background.

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The gospel in my heart language

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heart languageNelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Today, a growing number of people understand and speak more than one language. Crossing borders, studying, living and working in cosmopolitan cities, people encounter and learn different tongues. In sharing the gospel with such people, does it make any difference if we use their mother tongue or a new language they picked up?

Siriporn* was given a GoodSeed resource in English and then later a copy of By This Name in Thai, his native language. He said, “I read it in English and I understood. But when I read it in Thai, it was as if the gospel message grabbed me around the throat and didn’t let me go.” He demonstrated by putting both hands around his neck. The impact of the good news was far greater in his native language.

As a businessman, it was important for Siriporn to learn and understand English. He used it daily in his business dealings. It was a language he was reasonably comfortable with. However, English is not the language he thinks and feels in. It is not the language he grew up with—the language his mother sang to him as an infant. Thai is his heart language. Thai is his mother tongue.

Spiritual concepts and vocabulary are extremely difficult to convey and explain in any language, and hearing or reading it in a second language can hinder comprehension. For example, the concepts of justification, propitiation, or grace are not easy to explain in English, let alone to someone whose heart language is not English. While it is definitely possible for a person to come to faith in Christ through a second language, there is simply no substitute for the power of hearing or reading the gospel clearly in one’s own heart language.

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That’s my favourite book!

waitingSometimes it’s in the midst of the mundane that the Lord brings about opportunities and encouragement. Here’s one such story that we recently received.

James* is a missionary in West Africa. He has been using L’Homme sur le chemin d’Emmaüs, the French edition of The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, in his ministry with those he disciples.

When the date arrived for his annual vehicle inspection, James did what every other vehicle owner in the African nation does: prepare for a long, hot wait in line for bureaucracy to do its thing. Knowing he’d likely be waiting for more than a few hours, James brought along his copy of L’Homme sur le chemin d’Emmaüs to study and prepare for a coming lesson.

He got his vehicle into the queue and went to the waiting area. James pulled out his book and began to review it, but before long, a stranger walked up to him. “That’s my favourite book!” he exclaimed. James was startled. He wasn’t aware that the book was available in West Africa. The man hurriedly explained, “My colleague and I are going through that book together at work. He told me a young American gave him the book and has been going through it with him.”

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I’m going to have to buy a flock of sheep so I can get right with God!

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flock_of_sheepAs Roger* and Lorraine testify of God’s ongoing work in the lives of people in their church and community, they can only say, “We give the Lord all the glory and praise for what he’s doing in our incredible weakness.”

Jed is one example of what God is doing through their ministry. He is an Australian aboriginal, active in his community despite extremely poor health. About five years ago, he started attending evangelistic meetings. Each month he would show up and sit through the gospel messages. He liked what he heard about Jesus and finally, after four years, was ready for some more in-depth study of the Bible.

For Roger, this was an exciting opportunity. Ever since he and Lorraine had attended a TERM Seminar presented by Paul Humphreys in Australia, they had both used GoodSeed’s materials extensively to teach others the message of the Bible.

When Roger started going through The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus with Jed, he discovered that Jed’s knowledge of the Bible was basically at zero. For starters, he didn’t know who Cain and Abel were and, as time went on, it became apparent that the Bible’s story was completely new to Jed. Despite the fact that Jed had heard many fantastic gospel messages over the last few years, in reality they had meant nothing to him. He had no understanding of who God was. Neither did he understand what sin is and how it impacts our relationship with God.

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A message from Bethlehem

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bethlehemThe faint sound of the Muslim call to prayer from Bethlehem’s mosque blended curiously with the warbling of a bird outside the open window. Nasir’s* fingers hovered over the computer keyboard. He looked at the screen and read what he had written so far:

“Dear sir, I am so honoured and glad that you wrote to me. What I said about the book was not just nice comments. It was the truth.”

Now how to articulate just what he felt. He thought back to when he had first received a copy of All that the Prophets have Spoken. He remembered meeting Dale at a wedding of a mutual friend. They got to talking about how Nasir had come to Christ. As a parting gift, Dale gave him a copy of All the Prophets, saying it was written with the Islamic worldview in mind. This immediately tweaked Nasir’s interest. While Nasir had not been raised Muslim, he lived in the West Bank, in the heart of the Middle East, and knew from experience that reaching Muslims with the gospel was a challenging task.

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Malawi: Reaching the unreachables with the gospel

Malawi“Many say Christianity in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep.”

The words spilled out of Rodrick as he shared his burdened heart for Africa. He explained how many Africans claim Christianity as their religion, not because of a true understanding of the gospel, but because of its social and cultural roots in their history, going back to the arrival of Protestant missionaries in the 1800s.

But Rodrick is not one to only sit and bemoan a sad situation. He is a man of action. When he was introduced to the material found in What are Christmas and Easter All About?, Rodrick immediately recognized its potential for helping the church in his native country of Malawi.

Rodrick’s help was vital in bringing Khisimisi ndi Nyengo ya Pasaka – Zitanthauza Chiyani?, the Chichewan translation of What are Christmas and Easter All About?, to completion.

From his involvement in the translation and distribution, to teaching the book in churches, conferences and through radio broadcasts, Rodrick has been a tireless champion of the simple gospel message that’s taught in Christmas and Easter.

There has been no shortage of challenges and obstacles. Poverty and high printing costs are barriers to making the book easily available. Literacy levels are uneven. The average Malawian may afford to buy a single book but purchasing multiple copies for giving away is sometimes a bridge too far.

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