“Should we go?” I asked my husband. “It is so volatile in Paris right now. I must admit I am a little nervous even to fly. Plus, it is so cold and rainy there this time of year. Maybe we should postpone until the Spring when things calm down, and we could add on a few days of holiday. Yes, why don’t we postpone! What difference can we make anyway?”
It was January 2015, one week after the attacks at the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The world was in uproar and my husband and I were scheduled to meet with missionaries to share the Gospel in Europe, starting in Paris. The evangelistic trip had been scheduled over a year in advance, and little did we know Paris would be in turmoil.
My husband and I prayed and discussed how many Christians were losing their lives for the sake of the Gospel throughout the world, especially in the Middle East. We had just heard detailed testimony from one of our pastor friends living in Iraq. With his testimony fresh in our hearts, we decided that we should go to Paris “for such a time as this.”
We landed safely at Charles De Gaul airport and were welcomed by our dear friends who were all smiles and joy. The car was full and there was much laughter but after the car doors shut they turned to us with an intent look, “Are you ready to share the Gospel?”
“Of course!” I said in my jetlagged blur knowing they must mean after we had a shower, a nap, and certainly a security debrief on how to stay safe in Paris post attacks.
“Well we have an opportunity now but we need to go straight there.”
“Gosh, I haven’t even brushed my teeth after the eight-hour flight.” I thought.
“Time is of the essence.” They replied.
“O.K. Let’s go now.” I thought we were probably going to encourage a youth group or something at the church.
I cannot share the details of where we went, but I was able to share the life giving message of Jesus with Salafists and even jihadists family members in one of the most dangerous sleeper cells in Paris. Their eyes were filled with longing, they listened intently as I was able to speak of the reality of Jesus and His unconditional love, total forgiveness, complete acceptance, and membership into His family for an eternity.
I shared how I came to know Him. Then the questions began, “Can Jesus really help me in this situation and that situation?” “Yes,” I said. We prayed with many. This was our first hour in Paris. The Lord continued to open more doors along these lines the entire week we were there.
One of the most striking conversations was with a young man and former jihadist who had been imprisoned and then became a follower of Jesus.
“HOW did you come from growing up in Paris from a nominal Christian home to become a jihadist, willing to kill others in the name of Allah, and even willing to blow yourself up?” I asked.
His response was chilling. “It started with a cookie.”
“Excuse me. Say that again.” I replied.
“Yes. My parents were fighting a lot and I was having a really hard time at home. I really needed someone to talk to about my struggles. I met a guy who happened to be a radical Muslim. This jihadists became my friend and listened to my problems. He began sharing about God. Frankly, the Muslims were the only people who talked about God in my neighborhood, and I know I needed a higher power to help me. One night he invited me over to his house for cookies and tea. There I met a number of young people my age who talked about God and prayed. This is how it started…”
My heart sank and chills went up spine. My first thought was, “Where was the CHURCH? Where were the Christians to come alongside this struggling teen?”
I have pondered my conversation with this young man many times over. What strikes me is that this jihadist did nothing out of the ordinary or heroic. The jihadist was available, listened to the struggling teen, became his friend, shared with him that God is real and cares, and then invited him over for cookies. These seemingly small gestures were a matter of life and death.
Oftentimes as followers of Jesus, we think that our small offerings will not really make a difference. We don’t think of ourselves as evangelists. We don’t feel equipped to share the Gospel because we might not know an answer. Perhaps we fear being rejected or seen as intolerant and pushy. Or frankly, we are so consumed with our busy lives that making time to listen to another person might mean taking on something we don’t have time for amidst our overly taxed schedule.
After returning from Paris, I had a chat at my mailbox with my aging next door neighbor who said, “I just don’t think I believe in God anymore.” If I am honest my first thought was… “Oh dear I am not sure if I have time to have this conversation right now. I have so much to do on my checklist.” Then I quickly remembered the teen and the cookie. God was not asking me to convert my neighbor, that was God’s job. All God was asking of me was to do what I could, and reach out even in the smallest way. So I listened and gave an encouraging word that has resulted in sharing books and more talks.
Many people think that they don’t have much to offer for the Gospel. Our mission starts at home, and our mission trip is walking across the street, making that phone call, sending that e-mail, or taking a little extra time at the coffee maker at work to have a conversation, to listen, to share even in a sentence or two that God is real and that He cares.
Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and YOU will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) God has strategically placed each of us in a sphere of influence where we can share Him. Look around you and think of ways you can share the news of Jesus Christ with others. A listening ear, a life giving word, an invitation, and perhaps a cookie can change a life forever.
Carrie Boren Headington is the Founder of The Good News Initiative, dedicated to equipping others to share the Gospel in their everyday lives. She is a graduate of Yale, Harvard, and Oxford Universities and is an adjunct Professor in evangelism at Fuller Seminary. She also serves as Missioner for Evangelism for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas.