Saturday, November 23, 2013

God Uses Nobodies and Nothing: A True Story

In 2007 I flew back to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia to visit some of the people I had baptized on a previous trip (for that story, see “What Does Your Faith Rest Upon?” @ Before I left the United States, I had a picture in my mind that I was to play one a guitar in the upstairs area of the Moscow Sheremetyevo airport. I thought God put the picture in my mind, and I expected all kinds of people to come and listen to me play. Ha! Anyone who has heard me play and sing knows that cats wailing have a better chance of drawing a crowd. Anyway, deluded as I was, I took out my guitar and played and sang my heart out. Nobody came except Ingrid, my wife, and Kirstie, my daughter—but they had to be there because they were traveling with me. I played and sang my heart out with all my favorite Jesus’ street rocker songs: Momma Killed a Chicken, Born to Be Unlucky, Why Don’t You Look into Jesus, I’m Feeling So Bad, Outlaw, Great American Novel and such.
No one came. Except 6-year old Eva from Denmark. She was the best audience ever. She was so into it that she got completely worn out. After listening for awhile she had to go lie down and fall asleep. Her dad, Jakob, gave me the peace sign (two fingers), took her by the hand, and led her back to their spot on the concrete a little farther down the balcony. She fell asleep on someone else’s card board/blanket makeshift pad.
A bit of time went by, and Eva’s father Jakob came walking up and held up the two-finger peace sign and said in perfect English, “Peace!” Now, I’m from California so I could have gone with hippy- surfer-dude, but my brain started to go with Matthew 10 and Luke 10—this must be a “man of peace” who opens the door for the good news about Jesus to be shared....Right? Wait. No. He said this: “My daughter is asleep on this strange woman’s bed and I have to go check on my flight. Can you watch my daughter and make sure this woman doesn’t run off with her?” Not exactly my idea of “ministry,” but I agreed, walked over and stood by the rail by Eva and the African woman sitting next to her while Jakob went to check on his flight. He came back, and I tagged off guard duty and went and sat back down. I was a little disappointed. It didn’t appear my Christian rock concert was having any effect.
Later, I looked down Jakob and Eva’s way, and there he goes again giving me the peace sign and smiling. I say to myself, “Self, this must be a man of peace. I’m going down there.” So I got myself up, went to save Jakob’s soul, sat down and tried to talk to him about God. But I couldn’t because the African woman there named Elizabeth kept interrupting me with complete religious nonsense. I looked over at her and she was surrounded by Watchtower materials that a Jehovah’s Witness had shared with her. I looked at these magazines then I looked Elizabeth in the eye and said in a very parental way, “You should not be reading these.” I cannot explain what happened next, other than to say she immediately complied. She looked down at the magazines, gathered them all up in her arms and walked over and threw them in the garbage can. She came back, and calmly listened to me tell her about Jesus and prayed out loud to submit to Jesus as her new owner and boss, and to do whatever he says. I spent some time telling her the six things every new follower of Jesus should know and gave her my Bible and all the trail mix and toothpaste we had, then we had to rush and catch our plane to Bishkek.
Oh, one more important detail. I forgot to mention that I found out Elizabeth was captive in this airport’s transit/transfer area, an international no-man’s-land. The story is still not completely clear to me, probably because she has some shame associated with it.

The part that is clear is that the guy taking her to Palestine from Germany told her that he had to take her passport outside the airport to get her ticket, and he never came back (probably sold her passport, since passports are big money on the black market).

Without a passport, she could not leave the transfer area to enter Russia, and without a ticket or a passport she couldn’t get on a plane. For 18 months, she was stuck there in that cold, heartless, inhospitable piece of concrete.
What did she do after we met? She read the Bible I gave her through many, many times. She prayed. She fasted. She waited for God to provide her food through some kind soul passing through the airport and having mercy on her. She shared Jesus with everyone who would listen and, by my count, evangelized people from at least 19 nations (nearby is a picture of the guy from Eritrea she shared Jesus with, and our co-worker in Christ Steve Hill from Canada who was one of the kind souls traveling through that airport from time to time). With the help of the United Nations’ High Commission on Refugees, we were able to get her out and back to Nigeria where she serves Jesus still.
“God has put his incredible power in cracked pots with the express purpose of demonstrating that the power is from him and not from us” (the apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4).
Brian Joseph Dodd, Ph.D., Orlando, Florida, USA

Nothing or a little bit? None or two? (How Much Money and How Many People does it take to start a church?)

Everybody knows it takes a lot of money and people and a good band and a funny, smart speaker to “start a church.” Competence, training, giftedness, skill, good looks, healthy psychological profile, good health and general goodness and greatness. A beautiful wife and kids doesn’t hurt. Okay, scratch that. You absolutely need a beautiful wife and kids. Go check it out at The First Church of What’s Happening Now in your area. See for yourself. It must be true. Everybody knows it.
There are a four problems with what “everybody knows”:
1. It’s not true. “Everybody” is limited to Americans and American wannabes around the world.
2. It’s not how Jesus taught his first followers to do it.
3. It’s not how the rapidly growing Jesus-follower movements around the world are doing it today.
4. It’s not what the Bible says about the upside-down kingdom where strong is weak, weak is powerful, and poor is rich. It’s not what the Bible says about God choosing to use cracked- pots so no one will confuse his power with human effort and his glory with human arrogance.
So, I raise two questions:
How much money does it really take to start a church
How many people do you need to start a church?

Bear with me. This won’t take long. There are only two answers and they are really short and easy to figure out.

The two, possible correct answers are:
$0. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Squat. Goose egg. Bagel. Jesus doesn’t need money to rule the world and be King of the universe.
Some. A little bit of money—whatever it took the Jesus-follower to get to where he or she was sent by Jesus to meet the person of peace (also sent to that same spot by God).
I’m not sure which answer is the correct one, but I’m pretty sure it is one of these two, and no other answer. I still crack up every time I remember hearing that one First Church of What’s Happening Now requires 50 people minimum to start a church (because that’s what you need musically to make it sound good, I think they believe). My old denominations (I was ordained in two different ones) thought you needed about 200 rich people so you could afford the needed building and salary, pension and benefits to afford a seminary-trained religious professional. Man, are they good managing pensions! I digress.
There are also two, possible correct answers to this question:
0. Zero. No one. Nobody. Jesus is the initiator, the starter, the builder of HIS church.
2. Two. It takes two people to start a church since, by definition, a church exists wherever two or three come together in Jesus’ name and, remember, Jesus sent them and us to go two by two, right?

This question is easier to answer with certainty than the first question. The correct answer has to be the first one: zero people are needed to start a church. Jesus said he is the starter of his church: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Two is almost right, but not quite. Jesus sent them out two by two to “teach people to obey Jesus,” not start churches. When we do our part (teach to obey), Jesus does his part (builds a church that makes hell fear). Two people together cannot start a church by themselves, since Jesus needs to bring them together and show up for it to be church at all.
One person does not a church make, nor two people meeting without Jesus present through the Holy Spirit.

Brian J. Dodd, Ph.D.