Last week, I took a quick look at theology—our beliefs about God. We've all got theology, but we all don't believe the same things. By "we," I mean humanity.
Why don't we believe the same things? Because we're all different, with different backgrounds, and different life stories.
This week, I want to look at the intriguing life story of a friend of mine.
My Ethiopian friend
I first met Benjamin (pronounced Beny-a-min) at a church service and liked him immediately. He was the first Ethiopian I met, but not the last. His life story intrigued me, yet it stirred some controversy. He has a common name, but his life story is far from common.
He was born in rural Ethiopia into a muslim family. When he came home from school and saw smoke rising from his home, he was happy. He knew his mother was cooking a special meal for his father, who had other wives than his mother.
He came to faith in Jesus through dreams, as I've heard take place for many of Islamic faith. Because of his choice to follow Jesus, he was ostracized by his family, which sent him on a search.
Benjamin set out to find help to learn about his new faith and was directed to missionaries in Kenya. Along the way, he was captured by Communist soldiers who tortured him for his faith in brutal ways. Eventually, he found the guidance he needed, and came to America for education.
A passion for his people
I met Benjamin as he raised support to work with a mission in Kenya. He became a missionary to Ethiopian refugees gathered in neighboring Somalia. These were his people and he wanted them to know the Lord Jesus.
I had him preach at our church a couple of times in the mid-eighties, so I heard much of his story. We also spent time talking about his mission and passion for reaching his people with the gospel.
I found Benjamin to be a man of great faith and integrity. He was childlike in the ways of American culture and social norms, but well-read and intelligent. I trusted him.
An interrupted testimony
He told me of a time when he shared his testimony at another church. The pastor invited him on the recommendation of someone in his congregation. As he told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christ, the pastor interrupted him and had him sit down.
The pastor told him he didn't believe in such things (the supernatural experiences), and discounted his life story. This stunned my friend Benjamin. It saddened me as he told me of it. Needless to say, this pastor was not one of his supporters.
Here was a man of integrity and without deceit who shared his personal encounter with Jesus, but he was not believed. Why? Because the pastor couldn't get past his own theological filters.
I'm glad for my encounter with Benjamin. His life added more depth and fullness to mine. He was one more encouragement for my own missionary experience. Years later I would visit his homeland (see photo above).
When we moved to the Philippines and he moved to Kenya, we lost contact with each other. But I will never forget Benjamin and his faith.
We're not all the same
Our experiences and encounters in pursuit of the truth shape and impact our faith and understanding of God. Identical experiences don't produce the same results. A simple reading of the gospels reveals this.
All of the apostles were afraid of Jesus as He walked on the water. Only Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Him (Matt 14:22-33). The Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus realized He was innocent, unlike his fellow soldiers (Luke 23:47). After Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19).
Each of us view things differently. We often draw different conclusions with different perspectives from similar experiences. So, how can we possibly have any unity in the Christian faith? Benjamin and I shared the same faith in Jesus, but our life stories were very different.
The Christian faith is a personal faith because it's centered on the person of Jesus. The closer we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more unified we become as a group. This can be seen during a worship service, as the Lord intends (1 Cor 12:12-14, 25).
A question and a challenge
Last week, I mentioned two things I hoped to get more response on, so here it goes again.
Would any of you reading this post be interested in learning more about inductive Bible study? If that sounds interesting, let me know.
Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—
- Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important to your spiritual growth and why?
- Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
- What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?
I'd love to hear your responses to any of the above. You can post it in the comments for this post, or post it on the Word-Strong Facebook page.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post!