Jesus said to her, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband – for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.” … Many Samaritans from her village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did.” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay at their village.[i]
When we come as outsiders to a new community, how do we enter it? Who are the people who give us admittance, who open up relationships to us?
The gospels of Matthew and Luke talk about finding a person with whom we can stay for a short time while we are in a local village community. This person is often referred to as a ‘person of peace’. In actual fact, the gospels suggest that we are the peace-bringers, but where we find someone ‘worthy’ [Mt 10:11] or a ‘son of peace’ [Lk 10:6], then the peace which we bring will stay with them.
So the first reminder is that we come to a community, and the people in it, not antagonistically, but in peace, and in vulnerability, dependent on the community to which we come, with our only resource the power of God
And this dependence underlines our need for local people who will help us. We depend on local people first for hospitality – and the importance of the theme of hospitality in Muslim culture and also in the Bible, is shown by the number of blogs here that refer to it.
We also need local people or connections that will testify to the community that we are trustworthy people (and therefore that the message we bring can be seen as trustworthy). This important issue of how we gain trust is drawing increasing attention.[ii]
It is local people who will become our patrons in the community, giving assurance for or protection to us, opening the door into networks of local relationships. They may be our landlady or landlord. They may be people of influence in the community, whose words are listened to. Or God may use surprising outsiders to help us. Think of the woman at the well (Jn 4) who brought her whole community to Jesus. I have heard of other examples of a single mother, or a chain smoker, being the person who brokered entry into a community. A colleague rented a house in SE Asia: and only later found out that her landlord was the most powerful black magician in the region. As her landlord / patron, he committed not to harm her or her friends, and no one else dared touch them while they were under his protection.
Nowhere does the text in Matthew or Luke say that the person actually has to become a Christ-follower themselves. In two situations we had insiders open up networks of relationships to us, bringing many to join the exploratory Bible studies in our home. In one community, that insider never put his faith in Jesus: another woman became a follower of Jesus some years after the Bible studies. But God used them as clear gatekeepers into their communities for us.
We know that without these people who are our sponsors or benefactors, who give us their hospitality, sometimes of their homes, and in particular of their relational networks, we get nowhere.
These people who open the door to us may or may not be the same people as those who influence the community, gatekeepers in the sense of guardians, rather than those who give entry. In some communities these people are not immediately obvious, not necessarily sitting in prominent places at meetings or the first people you meet. Every pastor knows that when they come to a new church that if they want to make headway, they need to find out who the people are who significantly influence public opinion: it may be the organist, or the woman who organises the flower roster. We need to ask God to help us understand who these people are.
As well as learning who the influencers or guardians are, it is worth finding out what they are concerned about. What are the community values that they want to preserve? What outside influences do they see as potentially threatening, and why? What fears or past experiences might be motivating them? We learn who they are and what is important to them, and as we get to know them, we can pray for them. Some, like the apostle Paul, may be violently oppositional at first, and then change. Others, such as Elymas the sorcerer, we may need to challenge, and see God neutralise their power. Or others, like Lydia, may be open-hearted recipients of the gospel, and open their houses to us and to the newly-forming church.[iii]
Photos: Thanks to Keith Hardy on Unsplash; Bernardo Ramonfaur on Unsplash
(c) When Women Speak… May 2021
Moyra Dale spent over two decades in the Middle East (particularly Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) with her family working in education, specializing in Adult Literacy (Arabic) and teacher training. She is an ethnographer whose research has included exploring adult literacy in Egypt and the women’s mosque movement in Syria through women’s accounts and understanding of their own lives and realities. Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, she writes, teaches, trains, and supervises students in Islam and cross-cultural understanding, with a focus on Muslim women.
Moyra holds a PhD in Education (La Trobe University) and Doctor of Theology (Melbourne School of Theology).
[i] Jn 5:17-18; 39-40. NLT
[ii] See the insightful discussion by CH in the forthcoming July edition of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly.
[iii] Acts 9:1-19, 12:4-12, 16:13-15,40.
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