Bridging the Gap – part 2

Friendship and an Invitation to Study the Bible

When I met Alejandro[1], the first thing I did was get to know him on a purely social level, outside the religious context of the church.  I could have chosen any number of activities from sports, cultural events, or inviting him to spend some time with my wife and me in our home.  In this case, he and I chose to meet for coffee several times over a period of a few weeks.  During that time, I wanted to get to know as much as I could about him as a person, as well as feel out his depth of spiritual interest and experience.  Alejandro was a student at one of the local state universities, majoring in international finance.  We talked a lot about political situations in Latin America and specifically about what was going on in his home country.  His political convictions were quite different from my own convictions and there was a lot of back-and-forth discussion with him challenging my beliefs and me challenging his.   

During these times together I asked about how he came to attend our church and I casually tried to ascertain whether he was a born-again Christian.  Since he grew up in a predominately Roman Catholic country, his basic spiritual formation was Roman Catholic, but he had been attending our church for over a year.  He told me he had given his life to Christ during that time.  However, from our experience in working with Roman Catholic and evangelical university students in three different Latin American countries, we never take for granted that even “evangelical” students are actually Christians.   So, after a few weeks I asked him if he would be interested in studying the Bible with me.

Even with pastors’ and deacons’ children we always begin by doing a series of four evangelistic Bible studies based on the Gospel of John . . . because we have had pastors’ and other church leaders’ children, after going through those studies with us, admit that they had never really given their lives to Christ.  We sometimes discover little difference between Roman Catholic-background and evangelical-background students.  Often, both have a religion, but not a relationship with Christ.

The leaders of that ESL ministry wanted to start a spiritual ministry to Spanish-speakers and to plant a Spanish-speaking church (or campus) sometime in the future.  However, several years into that ESL ministry, there was no visible movement toward accomplishing that goal.

As we did the evangelistic Bible studies, it was evident that Alejandro had in fact become a believer, although his moral life had not changed much, and we spent time talking about some of his struggles in that area.  He soon asked if he could invite a couple of friends to join us in Bible study.  Those friends began to invite their friends, and within a few months we had our living room filled each Friday night with young people who came to study the Bible.  During the next year and a half at least a third of those attending were non-Christians.  What really blew my mind was that those non-Christians really seemed to enjoy the Bible studies.  Never in all my experience in Latin America had I ever seen non-Christians who loved studying the Bible.  Gradually some of those non-Christians gave their lives to Christ . . . while some others rejected the gospel and gradually distanced themselves from the group.

With a group of around 30-35 attending the studies (not all at the same time!) we began considering starting a Spanish-speaking campus for our church.  At that point the leaders of the ESL ministry joined forces with us (though none of their students ever attended the once-a-month services with which we soft-launched the campus).  Those 20-25 Christian students (several of them new believers) from our weekly Bible study became the core leadership group of the campus when we officially launched the weekly Spanish-speaking worship services.

I eventually came to realize that it was not so much that those non-Christian students and young professionals loved studying the Bible.  I realized that all those young people were separated from their friends and families in Latin America and they felt drawn to our weekly studies because they longed for close friendships . . . and enjoyed the food we always shared together after the studies.  They saw in those Christian students attractive examples of young people who knew how to enjoy themselves in wholesome ways, and were surprised to see Christians who accepted them, loved them, and did life with them.

Today that Spanish campus runs nearly 300 in attendance each Sunday and has grown way beyond a group of young people to include young couples, families with children of a wide range of ages, young professionals, day laborers, and even many elderly people.

[1] Names have been changed to protect these individuals’ privacy.

This article is 2 of 5 in a series.

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