25 Years of “The Stranger”

It’s amazing the impact one book can have.

When The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus was published in 1997, author John R. Cross could not foresee it would be the catalyst for a global ministry. It’s clear in hindsight the birth of The Stranger was guided by God years before it appeared on the horizon.

John didn’t plan to be an author—he didn’t even like paperwork! So God led John into a position where he gained unique knowledge of the gospel being taught in a wide range of circumstances, all through observation. In the 1980s, John’s role in New Tribes Mission (now Ethnos360) took him to some of the remotest places on earth. He saw firsthand the Bible taught to isolated tribes previously ignorant of the Bible’s message.

He saw that success wasn’t about numbers, but about understanding.

In some locations, he observed whole villages putting their faith in Christ. In others, he saw that only a handful became believers. In some situations, tribal people came to Christ without the age-old problems of syncretism and being “rice Christians*.” In others, new believers struggled with those very issues.

As John visited these locations, he asked the local missionaries and national Bible teachers questions—many questions. Without really seeking it, John received a God-engineered education in cross-culture communication—what worked well and not so well. He learned what it meant to cross worldview barriers. He observed that when the Bible was carefully presented from creation to Christ, it made profound sense; God would be at work and lives would be transformed. He saw that success wasn’t about numbers, but about understanding. He witnessed how the Holy Spirit always worked through his Word. When the Word was taught with clarity, the Holy Spirit would bring conviction and enlightenment to the heart. It became clear that an understood gospel is a powerful gospel.

When the Word was taught with clarity, the Holy Spirit brought conviction and enlightenment.

Then, as John interacted with people in North America and other areas of the developed world, he realized that often those he rubbed shoulders with differed little from remote tribal people. Here too, people knew little or nothing about the God of the Bible. They didn’t understand who Jesus was or why he came to earth. The western world had become a post-Christian culture.
Building on the experience gained overseas, John began sharing the Bible in North America using many of the same methods.

It was in this environment The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus was birthed. John incorporated into the book four principles of learning that proved so effective with tribal groups. He designed The Stranger as a stand-alone book, to be given away on its own. It could also be used in small groups as a guide for teaching a clear gospel.

An understood gospel is a powerful gospel.

Within weeks of The Stranger’s release, requests came pouring in. “Can we have a German translation? Do you have an audiobook? Can you adapt this for a Muslim reader?”

Thus, GoodSeed International was formed.

More than just one book

GoodSeed’s mandate is to partner with churches and ministries around the world, creating tools for different:

  • Ages (children, teens, adults, elderly)
  • Worldviews (Christianized, Islamic, Eastern, Secular, Children)
  • Learning Preferences (read, watch, listen; individual or group)
  • Needs (sight, hearing, literacy, etc)

As part of that mandate, visual aids are a significant component in communicating to these groups.

In the last 25 years, GoodSeed has become an international ministry. Books, videos and curricula are used in homes, churches, kids clubs, VBS, camps, prison ministries, retirement centres, community outreaches, rehab programs and Bible colleges. They have been translated and printed in scores of languages.

The impact and power lie in the gospel itself.

In 2001, All that the Prophets have Spoken was published to address the Islamic worldview. That same year, The Lamb, our fully illustrated children’s book, was released.

No Ordinary Story

In 2007, By This Name was produced for the Eastern, New Age, post-modern worldview, which includes those from atheistic or agnostic backgrounds.

Sensing a rapidly developing, disinterested/secular worldview, the No Ordinary Story series was written in 2019. In 2021 GoodSeed released an adaptation of No Ordinary Story as a radio theatre.

Each tool follows the same structure as The Stranger. All are creation-to-Christ presentations of the gospel, tailored carefully for different worldviews, ages and learning preferences. Hundreds of Scripture verses are incorporated into each book, allowing the reader to constantly interact with the Bible and get direct exposure to its life-giving message.

In 2019, a sequel to the evangelism books was released called The Captive and the King’s Will. Written for new believers, it gives a logical next step for those investigating the Bible. A training curriculum in worldview evangelism and discipleship was created called TERM for Small Groups (TERM=The Emmaus Road Message).

We regularly receive stories and testimonies of how people from around the world have come to faith in Christ through reading the books or being guided through a Worldview Rethink course. And it is not only unbelievers who have been impacted. Longtime Christians have been strengthened in their understanding and faith.

Twenty-five years. Yes, it is amazing the sort of impact one book can have. But ultimately, it isn’t the book at all. It also isn’t any of us–writers, teachers, staff, volunteers or those who give and guide through the materials. The impact and power lie in the gospel itself. It is God who does the work, bringing people to understanding and faith through his Word. We simply get the privilege of participating in bringing him glory.

Alive with a Roar

Celebrate the incredible story of the Cross and the Tomb with this animated presentation of the poem “Alive with a Roar.” And then share it widely.

[If you would like to download it to share in your church’s Easter services, please watch it on Vimeo and click the download button at https://vimeo.com/695892980 ]

Walking beside those who hesitate to believe

Last week we looked at the story of Robin, a woman who was taught through By This Name, but seemed hesitant to acknowledge her need for a Saviour.

This week, we’ll take a look at some things that helped Robin move towards Christ, as well as things we realized we needed to avoid.

  1. Be willing to re-teach. Robin wasn’t necessarily interested in learning new material; she wanted to get the same material firmly established in her mind. Another couple (we’ll call them Joe and Della) volunteered to teach her through No Ordinary Story. As they studied, they took time to discuss Robin’s questions. Don’t assume that the gospel truths will be easily absorbed by your student. The Bible stories that seem so basic to you may require much more effort for your student to understand. Don’t underestimate the darkness of the unsaved mind and how much it may obscure the truths of Scripture. Only the Holy Spirit, prayer and exposure to God’s Word can break through that darkness.
  2. Give time. Robin needed time for the Holy Spirit to work; time to process everything she’d heard; time to weigh the truth and consider how she should respond. Don’t push for results, especially if it’s simply for the sake of being able to announce a new believer. Often we feel pressure to see our student make a decision right away, but we must be sure we’re allowing the Holy Spirit to guide the process.
  3. Be available. If Robin needed to discuss for the 5th time a particular hang-up, Joe and Della took the time to gently point her to Scripture. Slowly, we saw Robin trust her questions to God and choose to believe his Word. Don’t get exasperated and be careful of a judgmental or condescending attitude towards your student. Patience is key.
  4. Keep the spiritual battle in mind. Pray compassionately for your student. Don’t forget there is a great struggle going on that we can’t necessarily see or understand. Only the Holy Spirit is mighty enough to break through the darkness and oppose the obstacles thrown up by the enemy. Pray for them!

There came a point when Joe and Della realized that Robin no longer held the gospel at arm’s length. She began to respond in faith, even if she didn’t fully understand everything. Robin started to identify herself as belonging with those who believed the Bible. Sometimes, they’d read a few sentences that pertained to the gospel and Robin who say, “That’s what I believe.” She began to acknowledge that her former way of thinking was wrong.

She stopped attending her New Age classes. After years of despising organized religion, Robin was now interested in attending church. She spoke with unbelievers around her about the Bible. Her speech and demeanor began to change. She grew hungry to learn the next steps in the journey.

This all came gradually over the course of many months. There was no “lightbulb moment,” no clear hour of conversion. It simply became apparent over time that Robin was a believer. At some point, Robin crossed over from death to life, the exact moment known only to her Saviour. But it was undeniably clear that we now had a new believer in our midst. Oh, the rejoicing!

Next week, we’ll look at the next steps taken with Robin as she began her new walk with the Lord.

How should I view a vague response to the gospel?

It’s been about a year since our Bible study with Robin, using By This Name. Robin is an older woman who knew a few Bible stories, but not much more. She had gotten deeply involved in spiritism and was dismissive of the Bible for most of her life.

I think it was curiosity and a desire to be informed that caused her to join us for a Bible study. She was a respectful student and we were hopeful as we finished By This Name. When the time came to ascertain her understanding, however, she gave us a somewhat cryptic answer: “Yeah, I agree with all this. It’s what I’ve believed all along.”

Now, there was a part of us that really wanted to assume her answer meant that she had become a believer and we could move into sanctificational teaching. But, we didn’t feel that was actually the case. What should we do?

Here are some factors we had to consider:

  1. Pride. We felt that pride was a stumbling block for Robin. It seemed she wasn’t ready to admit she needed a Saviour.
  2. Teaching. There was one area of teaching that Robin seemed stuck on. She needed more teaching.
  3. Blindness. Robin was dabbling in New Age teaching even during the time we taught her. We underestimated how spiritual darkness poses such a barrier to accepting the gospel.
  4. The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s work is unique in each person’s heart. It seemed he was at work, but things weren’t as far along as we had hoped.
  5. Personality. Robin is a deep thinker. She doesn’t make decisions lightly. It wasn’t in her nature to make this monumental life change quickly and without great consideration.
  6. Space. We realized we shouldn’t push her. Robin needed to work through some things and have time for the Holy Spirit to work in her heart and bring her to conviction. She just wasn’t there… yet.
  7. False Assurance. We felt that if we moved on with Robin in the assumption that she was saved, this might give her a false assurance and even bolster the pride already at work.

Robin’s story is still unfolding. Next week, we’ll see how her understanding developed and how it can help us interact with those we seek to reach.

When a student is reluctant to believe

“Do you believe this message?” Elaine asked Rose upon completing their study through By This Name.

Rose hesitated. There were a few things holding her back. Her entire family was antagonistic to Christianity; she feared their derision. She also had some lingering questions she wanted to look into more. And since she wasn’t the type to make decisions lightly, she needed time to think.

For weeks, Elaine and Rose’s visits consisted largely of small talk, with only occasional discussions about the Bible. It was discouraging for Elaine. What should she do? Should she push harder for a decision? One friend even suggested that because Rose hadn’t believed in Christ right away, her hesitance exhibited a hardness of heart which meant that Rose wouldn’t ever believe. Elaine didn’t want to view Rose in that light, but the doubts niggled.

Many weeks later, Rose finally made a clear statement of her belief in Christ. It had taken time, but Rose’s decision was now clear.

In truth, Rose’s response is common. Most people don’t make life-changing decisions (whether a house purchase, marriage partner or becoming a Christian) without at least some reflection. We have found several weeks of consideration to be fairly typical in the studies taught by our staff.

Rose’s fear of derision from her family was well-founded. She did become an object of mockery, but she had taken the time to count the cost and still chose to trust Christ. More than 10 years later, she consistently walks with the Lord, despite scorn from her family members. Two other close family members have also recently become believers.

C.S. Lewis, famed author and thinker, also spent a long time wrestling with truths about Christ. On the night he made his decision to believe in Christ, he wrote that he was “the most dejected and reluctant convert … a prodigal who [was] brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”

Reluctance to believe should not be seen as a failure on the part of the teacher, nor viewed as a reason to give up on our student. We must not fall into the trap of pushing our students into a decision they are not ready to make. We must remember, it is God’s job to do the saving; we are merely the messengers. Our responsibility is to ensure the message is given clearly and accurately; the convicting is the Holy Spirit’s part.

So, what should we do when a student is slow in coming to a decision?

  1. More teaching. Some students get hung up on a particular topic. Often they need time and a little more information to work through their questions. Some may want to go through the material a second time as they work to put the pieces together correctly.
  2. Remain in touch. At this point, your friendship may feel a little awkward, but it’s crucial that you stay in your student’s life however you can. You want them to know that your friendship is not conditional on the decision they make and you want to be available for questions that may come up.
  3. Don’t push, but do gently remind. This requires some discernment. Remember it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. You want to stay out of his way. However, there may be a moment that naturally arises when it’s appropriate to remind your student that a choice does need to be made. Ultimately, you want your student’s faith to be an act of conviction by the Holy Spirit, not due to pressure from you.
  4. Don’t give up hope. When a decision isn’t forthcoming, we may be tempted to relegate a person to the “hopeless” list. How God works is as varied as the individual; sometimes it just takes time.
  5. Pray. And then pray some more.

Living 2022 with Purpose

[God] has made every nationality . . . and has determined
their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.

Acts 17:26

Living Intentionally
No matter our New Year’s resolution, a significant agent of success depends on our “intentionality.” Am I going to purposefully work towards the goal I set at the beginning of the year?

Living life “on purpose” is a big component of accomplishing anything of value. We were created on purpose and for a purpose. Paul tells the Athenians in Acts 17 that God has determined both the period of time, as well as the location on earth in which each of us will live our lives. If this is the case, we’re here, now, for a purpose. We’re told elsewhere in Ephesians 2 that good works have been prepared in advance for us to accomplish.

In grasping that God specifically placed me in this time and place to accomplish certain things, I begin to consider seriously what it means to live as a Christ-follower during this time and in this place. “How should I think? How do I reach my neighbour? What is the best way to share the Good News with them?”

While we cling tenaciously to the unchanging truths of God’s Word, we must be willing to part with old methodologies that are losing effectiveness. We need to be sensitive to other worldviews, aware of the challenges of the current cultural climate and be willing to learn, flex and, above all, live with intentionality in the time and place in which God has placed us.

Kids these days

Sixteen-year-old Ethan would be the last one to “leave the nest.” Mark and Joy Thompson wondered how they could make his final years at home a meaningful time. So, they proposed three options to Ethan. “Would you like to study a certain Bible topic once a week as a family, watch a series on something about the Bible as a family, or would you like to use that night to do a Bible study with some of your non-Christian friends?”

After a short silence, Ethan responded, “The last one. Do a study with my friends.”

“Wow. OK. Cool,” Joy thought.

Ethan was tasked with speaking to his friends to gauge interest. A while later, when one of his friends asked about God, Ethan proposed the idea of doing a Bible study. His friend expressed interest, so Ethan quickly asked a few other guys. By evening, each one had indicated a desire to study the Bible.

The next day, Joy sent a note to all the parents letting them know what the boys wanted to do. She heard back quickly from them all, each one positive about the idea. So much optimism from both the young people and their parents took Joy by surprise, reminding her that God had been working in the situation long before the idea of a study was proposed.

“So much optimism from both the young people and their parents took Joy by surprise.”

Mark and Joy purchased The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus to guide their study. Each teen was sent home with their own copy so the parents could take a look at it and give their approval. Once again, the Thompsons received positive feedback, so they made plans to meet as a group.

At the last minute, a couple boys decided they wanted their girlfriends included in the study, so the study began with 8 teens, 6 guys and 2 girls.

Mark teaching the group the story of the Bible from creation to the cross.

The group would arrive at the Thompson home after school. “Can I tell you the noise and energy and hunger of six teenage boys and two teenage girls in a small dining area? Crazy, but so fun,” Joy describes.

Early on, the group said they wanted to have “tests” about what they were learning to ensure they understood. Joy joked about giving them stickers for the right answer. “Yes!” came the answer. So, with great laughter and fun, Joy came up with a chart that included stickers and prizes. Each session had a review game.

Putting stickers on a chart as a reward for correct answers

It reminded Joy of teaching VBS. “Noisy, team playing, being crazy answering questions from the last teaching, putting stickers on the poster… they loved it,” Joy said.

The group started out meeting once a week, but soon, once a week wasn’t enough. One fellow joked that he’d like to live at their house–go to school, play his sports, but then come back and do the study every night.

“What is happening?” Joy thought to herself at times. It astounded her how eager these students were to study God’s Word. Sure, they enjoyed hanging out together and eating homemade dinners. But she also recognized that more was going on behind the scene. Many were praying fervently for these young people. Others were giving the Thompsons money to help pay for the considerable amount of food they were going through; another took it upon herself to prepare a dessert for every meal. Clearly, the Lord was doing a work in many lives.

Starting in Genesis, Mark began sharing the story of the Bible. Each teen got a Bible and early on, Joy made a point of teaching them to use it. Since the stickers and chart had gone over so well, she decided to add sword drills to their evening. “It sounds nothing like what you would expect kids with driver’s permits to like, but what a joy to watch them now find passages in their Bibles, something that was completely foreign to them before,” Joy shares.

“They began to view the Bible as a place to turn to for answers.”

Early on, it became clear that while the students knew a few stories from the Bible, they had very little idea of what God was doing in those stories. As God the Creator unfolded in their minds, they were amazed at his power. Micah began to incorporate a phrase into his conversations: “Well, if God can make trees, then… [fill in the blank with all the thousands of other things he can do].”

Barrett frequently remarked about how much sense the Bible made. The group began to view the Bible as a place to turn to for answers.

When they discussed the story of God calling Moses to rescue the Hebrews from Egypt, Mark asked: “Would it be dumb for Moses to trust God?”

“It would be dumb not to trust God,” Micah replied.

When the sacrificial system was explained, one comment was, “I’d have to give a sacrifice every five minutes!”

Bit by bit, the Thompsons progressed through the Bible, receiving constant feedback: on the sinlessness of Jesus (“Dang! He’s a trooper!”); on the deity of Christ (“Wait. I thought Jesus was a separate thing. So Jesus is basically God walking the earth?”); and on the Trinity. (“We need to discuss this for like, hours until we figure it out.”)

“Does that mean I believe?”

The weeks of study provided many profound moments. One night the question was asked: “Do you think we are believing? I was thinking about this the other day. If God talked to me through this lamp (like Yahweh talked to Moses through the burning bush), I would do it. I would trust. Does that mean I believe?”

The statement came only halfway through the study, but even by then, it was clear that all the members of the group were believing what was being taught. By the end of the study, Mark and Joy could confidently say:  “All seven kids have believed that only through Jesus’ sacrificial payment of death on the cross and his resurrection they are forever safe in Jesus’ arms. Praise the Lord for rescuing them!”

Since finishing the creation-to-Christ material outlined in The Stranger, the Thompsons have been teaching the group what it means to walk with God.

Barrett stated: “I want to be confident in my thoughts and confident in my decisions to do right.” Joy realized that, without knowing it, Barrett wanted to understand what it meant to live in the fact that Jesus has paid his debt.

Another recent conversation reveals the willing and tender hearts that have grown amongst the group:

Mark: “So because the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of what’s to come…”
Barrett and Ellie:  “…our goal is to please Him.”

Barrett: “We don’t have the right to sin.”
Sarah: “It’s being selfish [to sin].”

Barrett: “All this…makes me feel I want to do this [tell others about Jesus] when I grow up. I just keep thinking about it. I just need to put it into work.”

Mark and Joy hope that by sharing their story, others will be emboldened to step out in faith to share the gospel with others around them. May we all look expectantly to the Lord to do great things through us and in the lives of those around us.

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

Sharing the gospel is easy

An easy way I’ve found to share the gospel with others is to include a booklet or book along with a gift for a special occasion.

At Easter, I gave each girl in my youth small group a gift bag of goodies, including a copy of The Story that Matters. As an incentive to actually read it, I told them I’d give them a small gift card if they read it and could come the following week and answer several questions from the book.

One Christmas, we included with our usual gift of goodies to the neighbours a copy of By This Name.

At Halloween, we’ve given out paper bags with chips, candy and a copy of The Story that Matters.

Know a new mother? A gift of some cute clothes, diapers and a copy of The Lamb can be very meaningful.

When giving the books to people as part of a gift, we always try to make sure we’re generous with our other gifts. We want to present the gospel amidst generosity and we never want the person to walk away feeling like they were somehow shortchanged — “All they gave me was this book.”

What happens with those books? Well, often we never find out. But there have been times when we’ve been blessed to get feedback. One young girl received a copy during a children’s program at church. She had read the book What are Christmas and Easter All About? several times on her own during the week and was so proud of her accomplishment. Her attendance at the children’s program was her one exposure to the Bible’s message. I was thrilled to know that she now understood the basics of the gospel message.

Of course, if you share enough books around, you might have a book thrown back into your yard, apparently not appreciated, as once happened to us. But other than that once, the responses have been positive and appreciative.

Whatever the case, we are thankful we have materials we can so easily use to share the gospel with a variety of people in many different ways.

Sharing the Gospel at Easter

Staff Writer
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Easter is an open door to engage with the people around you, often resulting in giving a book or even guiding a study. This next month may hold opportunities for you to share the gospel with your boss… or your brother… or the neighbour who has gone through cancer this year… or the jogger who passes you every day on your morning walk.

Easter is an open door to engage with the people around you, often resulting in giving a book or even guiding a study. This next month may hold opportunities for you to share the gospel with your boss… or your brother… or the neighbour who has gone through cancer this year… or the jogger who passes you every day on your morning walk.

Continue reading “Sharing the Gospel at Easter”