Recently my son, Air Force Captain, Todd Afshar, posted this video on Facebook. I watched it with tears in my eyes. I marveled at the courage of the young soldier, but even more at the encouragement she received from her fellow soldiers, which reminded me of the following story and how much the followers of Christ are in need of encouragement from each other.
In 1978, I established the first Iranian Christian organization in the United States. It consisted of several house churches. I was a civil engineer during the day and a church planter/evangelist at night.
At the time, I desperately needed all the help and moral support I could get from the Christian leaders I knew, but the support was quite few and far between. After all, majority of the American leaders I looked up to, were mono-cultural. They had no understanding of what I eventually coined as “reversed contextualization”.
My philosophy was very simple. If every oversees-missionary is taught to share the Gospel within the context of the culture he/she is sent to, why not develop the same approach in reverse towards the displaced people whom God has brought to our doorsteps in America—in my case, the Iranians?
One of these leaders was the director of missions for the denomination I belonged to at the time. On numerous occasions, I called his office with the hope of getting an appointment to meet with him, but I never heard back from him. The only person I ever got the chance to talk with was his secretary, Pat.
About 15 years went by. I was conducting a workshop on Muslim evangelism at a convention when I ran into Pat and had the following conversation.
Me: “Pat, please remind me, how do we know each other?” I’d completely forgotten the genesis of our relationship.
Pat: “Don’t you remember? You used to call me all the time when I was Matt’s secretary.” And, then she continued with the following story.
Shah, I’ve never told you this, but one of those days when you’d called to talk to Matt, he walked into my office as I was talking to you. Although, he didn’t know you, from my side of the conversation, he knew I was talking to you. That’s when he leaned over my desk and whispered, “Hang up on him!” I shook my head and refused to do so, and again, he demanded the same. Eventually, he stomped out very angry.
Later, after I’d finished talking to you, he walked back to my office and said,
“Next time when I tell you to hang up on him, you hang up on him. Do you know why I want you to hang up on him? BECAUSE HE IS RIGHT, AND WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT!”
Can you imagine how encouraged I would have been if the man had at least said those same words to my face? If he’d said something like, “Shah, you’re right, but you’re way ahead of your time and our denomination. We don’t know what to do with you.”
Thirty years ago, all I wanted to tell the man was what will soon become the church’s war cry—Let’s reach the world for Christ one next-door neighbor at a time. Remember, you heard it here first. Yes, I was mostly talking about Iranian neighbors, but the principle still applied.
In any case, the man refused to meet with me. Was it arrogance, ignorance, pride, or simply a desire to control that prevented him from having a cup of coffee with a man who desperately needed that leader’s support and encouragement? Or was it the fear of not having an answer/solution to my question? After all, shouldn’t a Christian leader have an answer for every question thrown at him? Wouldn’t an, “I don’t know!” reveal a weakness that a mature Christian leader shouldn’t possess?
I am sure there have been times when I’ve come short of following I Thess. 5:11 mandate, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” For that, I’m deeply sorry. May the Lord have mercy on us to be better encouragers. Let us not forget that we are all in this together.