“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” — 2 Timothy 4:2
During the time I served as a missionary in South Sudan, I worked with soldiers deployed to the front lines of the Sudanese Civil War. My time serving as a missionary started the way many other missionaries begin their service on a foreign field; it started with a short term mission trip. Our short-term team served in a Bible college that trained chaplains who would, upon graduation, be deployed to be pastors to soldiers.
Our hosts planned an evangelism outreach to soldiers in camps in the bush. We took a generator, a movie screen, a projector with a portable sound system, and the Jesus Film produced by Campus Crusade (CRU). Our destination was a barren, desert landscape covered in thorny shrubs, sand, and rocks in all sizes. The only source of electricity in the region was the generator we brought. Many of the soldiers had lived in this kind of setting their entire lives and had never seen a movie. This was going to be a real treat for them.
Our arrival to the camp was surreal. It was near the border with Uganda where flags and barbed wire marked land mines placed all along the border. The soldiers were skinny and malnourished. Their clothes were so thread-bare they were transparent. They were barefoot. The more fortunate of the men went to battle in cheap, rubber flip-flops. The sun was setting and in the fading light I felt like I was on another planet. As I was given a tour, we worked our way through the field of landmines into Uganda to meet with soldiers patrolling the border. I was humbled by the harsh lives my hosts and the soldiers lead and found myself uncharacteristically speechless.
The time to show the Jesus Film drew near so the team unpacked and set up the gear.
The gas-powered generator would not crank over.
The 1,500 men that had gathered to hear from the American visitors and watch a movie stood by watching and waiting with expectancy.
My host asked me if I would address the soldiers and encourage them from God’s Word. This is the last thing I expected to happen.
“Be ready in season and out of season,” were Paul’s instructions to young pastor-in-training Timothy. If you ever wondered what “out of season” feels like, travel to a war zone in the African bush and stand in front of 1,500 rag-tag, battle-hardened soldiers.
Our team prayed and then lifted up my voice and informed these men that I was an American, a former U.S. Marine. When I went to serve my country, I was taught to shoot a weapon and train for hand-to-hand combat. I began to fear what would happen if I died in battle.
“Would I see God? What would happen if I did,” I asked the soldiers.
“I was seventeen years old when I began to read the Bible I was given when I went to Marine Corps Basic Training,”I told them, “and learned about Jesus, the Man who was God.” This was the only connection I felt like I had with these Sudanese soldiers and I used this story to share the gospel. I appealed to them to give their lives to Jesus. Many of them took me up on the offer.
Whether you feel ready or not, sharing the Gospel is something you’ll always be expected to do. Always be ready to connect your story and the gospel with the people you meet for one-on-one conversations or public addresses you may be called upon to give.
No matter where your path leads as you serve on the mission field, because you are an American, you will be offered a platform often. You will be called upon to pray, speak to, or greet groups in public.
Be the guy or girl known for sharing the hope of Jesus Christ at every opportunity.
One thing I learned about working with Africans is they always looked – even in the worst of settings – for a reason to dance and celebrate. The evening I gave that impromptu gospel presentation, over 500 men committed their lives to Christ. A party broke out that night and we danced – Sudanese style – around a huge fire surrounded by men singing gospel choruses in tribal languages and broken English. It was one of the craziest days of my life. I had no idea when I got up that morning that this was how the day was going to end. Sharing the gospel always produces the most unexpected surprises.