Tools for Cultivating Meaningful Gospel Conversations

A few years ago, in a taxi going from Chicago O’Hare Airport to a nearby hotel, I had the most interesting conversation. By asking a few questions, I learned the driver was from Kazakhstan and spoke Russian. Several years ago, my husband and I served with Cru in what was then considered the Former Soviet Union and learned to speak Russian. Our job took us to many of the Soviet republics, including Kazakhstan. In the one Russian phrase I still remember, I told him we went there to tell students about God. He suddenly got kind of nervous, and quickly reached for his phone, pulled up a YouTube video and handed it to me. The video showed a Muslim and Christian debating the Virgin Birth—the Muslim clearly having the upper hand. In my mind I was stunned as I realized I was being proselytized by a well-trained Muslim in Chicago! We discussed the topic as best we could in broken English and Russian before arriving at my hotel. As he handed me my suitcase he said, “I believe it was Allah’s will that we meet today. I hope to see you in Paradise.” I replied, “I believe it was the God of the universe’s will that we meet today, and I hope to see you in heaven.” Crazy huh? As I related this story to my Cru colleague who works for the JESUS Film Project, she said, “You should’ve left him with something from our app in his language!” Until then, I was unaware such an app existed.

So, today’s post is meant to encourage you, wherever you are, in your evangelistic efforts. Whether you are in a taxi, on a campus, or planting a church somewhere in the world, Cru has some evangelistic resources that might help you along the way. The first is the JESUS Film Project website and app, which offer a variety of ways to use media when sharing the gospel. The second is Soularium®--an image-based tool available for purchase or online—this tool encourages more in-depth conversations around God and spirituality.

Many of you have probably heard of the JESUS Film—a full-length feature film, based on the Gospel of Luke—developed by Cru in 1979. Translated into over 1,700 different languages, the film has been used to bring over 572 million people to faith in Christ. The JESUS Film Project (JFP) recently released a free app which houses the JESUS Film in its entirety and also in short clips of various aspects of the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In just the amount of time it takes to download an app, you are able to share the gospel in almost any language. Also available on the app are several films and strategic initiatives for reaching women. Two excellent resources include the films Magdalena and Rivkaavailable in full-length and short clips. These films are excellent resources for use on the mission field or in your own backyard.

Soularium® is a favorite of mine. This tool includes a packet of fifty original photographic images with five simple questions that help foster meaningful gospel conversations. I have used Soularium® as an evangelistic tool on campuses in the U.S. and Italy, and I find students are almost always interested in viewing the images and engaging in spiritual conversation. These images are great conversation starters for small group Bible studies and discipleship appointments, and I carry a set of the Soularium® cards with me whenever I travel. Soularium is available without cost in the App Store.

Currently, I’m personally researching what evangelism in a 21st century, North American context looks like. Like many of you, I want to better understand how to share the gospel in our complex society. I serve on a Missiology Council with The Send Institute and have published two articles on Cru’s evangelism research. You might find these helpful as you seek to share the gospel wherever you are in the world. The first, “Cru Research,” provides an overview of Cru-commissioned research launched for the purpose of better understanding our culture. A second article, “Scattering Seeds,” provides some simple ways to engage in spiritual conversation based on our research findings. I hope you find these helpful.

Cas Monaco is a missiologist who stands at the intersection of gospel and culture, encouraging others to join her in conversation along the way. As a staff member with Cru, Cas has served across the U.S. and abroad. She currently serves as Cru City’s executive director of gospel in culture. In addition, she is a Ph.D. Candidate at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in applied theology and North American missiology. Cas and Bob, her husband of 37 years, now live in North Carolina. She loves a good cup of strong coffee, exploring Anthropologie and sitting in the sun at the beach.

When the Nations Become Our Neighbors: Understanding Diaspora Missions

Just a few blocks from the east side of downtown Houston is the cultural home of a longstanding and historic Mexican-American community. Walls are decorated with murals that recount their history. Across town, just west of the first interstate loop is a small commercial district named the Mahatma Gandhi District, an official title granted by the city in 2010. Go a few miles further west down Bellaire Boulevard, and the street signs eventually turn into Chinese. Further still and the shops and restaurant signs all switch to Vietnamese as you come upon a large statue of a South Vietnamese soldier fighting alongside an American, a tribute by the large Vietnamese community here. Notably, Houston was one of the largest recipient cities of refugees after the Vietnam war. Continue driving, and you will run across countless mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and neighborhoods where English is barely spoken. 

On a global scale, there are more people moving from one country to another than any other point in recorded history. And of all the countries in the world, the United States has the most foreign-born residents.

Admittedly, Houston is an extreme example, considering it is the most diverse city in the United States, but I use it to demonstrate a reality that is increasingly true across North America — cities much smaller than Houston are becoming hubs of international peoples. In 2019, church ministry looks very different than it did only a few generations ago for many, and it's bringing a concept to the forefront of North American missions: diaspora.

What is a diaspora?

The term is new to many, but it has some old roots. In fact, diaspora is a Bible term that means to scatter, like spreading seed across the ground. In the New Testament, it is the term used to identify communities of Jewish people scattered around the Mediterranean. The Jewish diaspora plays a prominent role in the New Testament. We see members of the diaspora returning to Jerusalem for Passover in Acts 2, gathering for Pentecost. As Acts continues, we find the Jewish diaspora communities taking pride of place in Paul's international church planting endeavors. Often, Paul's missionary teams would stop first at the local synagogue in a town in order to proclaim the good news that the Messiah had come (Acts 17:2). 

Since biblical times, the term diaspora has broadened to apply to any group of ethnic people that lives outside of their native land. Anthropologists and sociologists have adopted the terminology, and if you read carefully you will see it in the news. In fact, diaspora populations are a hot topic today, because immigration is a hot topic today. On a global scale, there are more people moving from one country to another than any other point in recorded history. And of all the countries in the world, the United States has the most foreign-born residents. This means that cities across the United States are developing their own communities of diaspora ethnic groups, just like I mentioned here in Houston. 

The swell of migration within the last generation creates new missional opportunities for the church as it seeks to fulfill the Great Commission. In this regard, a relatively new field of mission studies has emerged alongside the uptick in global migration. According to Chandler Im and Tereso Casiño, "diaspora missiology refers to the study of the geographic or demographic mobility of people in various parts of the globe viewed through the lens of God's redemptive plan for 'all nations' (panta ta ethne). It also refers to the exploration of how the body of Christ can participate in this redemptive purpose and work" (Im & Casino, Global Diasporas and Mission). For the local church in North America, these diaspora groups should be a big deal.

How does diaspora missions differ from regular missions?

Working with a minority people instead of working with a majority people in their home context changes things. In traditional cross-cultural missions, the missionary enters the home world of the group he or she is trying to engage with the gospel. They are the cultural outsider attempting to contextualize as a minority in their new setting. Most often, this relationship is flipped in diaspora missions. 

Additionally, diaspora groups exist in a "third culture." As diaspora groups are uprooted from their home culture, they are introduced to other cultures and eventually the majority culture of their new home. This will influence the diaspora group and begin to create a third culture. Effective missions to these groups will require fresh contextualization and cannot merely be based on assumptions from their host culture. 

The last two decades have created a “such a time as this” moment for the church in North America concerning the Great Commission. Many of the least reached peoples are now within arm’s reach of our churches. By reaching them here, we may be able to engage them back at home.

Finally, many of these diaspora groups (most in the United States), are actually Christian in background. In this regard, local churches should not assume all immigrant groups are objects of evangelistic missions but realize that many are new partners in mission.

Why is this important?

The last two decades have created a "such a time as this" moment for the church in North America concerning the Great Commission. Many of the least reached peoples are now within arm's reach of our churches. By reaching them here, we may be able to engage them back at home. Furthermore, global migration brings us Christian voices from around the world. If we learn to partner with these brothers and sisters in Christ, our churches in North America will only benefit from their diverse expressions of the gospel.

Keelan Cook is an Instructor of North American Missiology for Southeastern and serves in the Center for Great Commission Studies as the Coordinator of Diaspora Missions. He also serves as the Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB. He and his wife Meredith live in Houston.

Passing the Baton: The Missional Legacy of Dr. George Braswell

The eternal value of faithful saints who have gone before us is difficult to put into words. It’s one thing to read about the missionaries of old — the pioneers who heralded the gospel years before we were even a thought. It’s another thing altogether to have the privilege to know and hear from such pioneers.

On September 12, 2019, we honored the legacy and ministry of Dr. George Braswell and his wife, Joan, in the dedication of the George Braswell Missions and World Religions Library. The Braswells were the first SBC missionaries sent out to serve in Iran in 1968, and Dr. Braswell left the field to teach here at Southeastern in the ‘70s. Their passion to go to the field, tenacity in finding a way to stay there, and endurance through years of ministry is inspiring to say the least. As Southeastern President Dr. Danny Akin said, “It would not be an exaggeration to say George Braswell is like the Apostle Paul of Iran.”

During the dedication, Dr. Braswell referred to the day as “a sacred moment.” He reminisced on the great impact of SEBTS in the life of he and his bride. He spoke of dear partnerships in the Gospel. He acknowledged fellow missionaries in the room and pointed toward the Lord’s faithfulness in allowing Gospel seeds to grow and be evidenced around our campus.

It was certainly a sacred day for us, as well, as Dr. Braswell gifted us with a tangible reminder of the work God accomplishes when we entrust our lives and futures to Him. Brothers and sisters, may we walk in obedience to the Gospel of Christ and be faithful to heed so great a legacy!

Below is an in-depth interview with Dr. Braswell. We invite you to grab a cup of coffee or tea, settle in and enjoy. You won’t regret it.

To read more about the life and ministry of Dr. Braswell, you can read an interview from the Southeastern Theological Review. You can also see more photos from the day here. The library is open to all and can be found in the Jacumin-Simpson Building on Southeastern’s campus.