Eskimos, Sunsets and Evangelism

I was making by bed the other morning when something on the sheets caught my eye. It looked as though a small tear was forming, ripping through the linen and onto the mattress below. Looking closer I saw that it wasn’t a tear but was actually a shot of sunshine that’d crept it’s way through an opening in the blinds and spilled itself across my bed.

Later that week I took a run by the ocean during sunset. As I was crossing over a bridge near the marshlands I took a break to catch my breath. From this vantage point I could see across the bay and into the setting sun, shattering several shades of pink, orange and purple across the sky. I turned off my music, pulled out the ear buds and paused for a moment to take in the view. That’s when I heard the faint swishhhh of a fishing line moving through the air and noticed a man by the water below me. He glanced up with a wave. I heard another greeting and looked up to see a similarly clad fisherman walking my way.

The three of us exchanged pleasantries about the weather, fishing conditions and related small talk. I learned that the two men were brothers who bonded over fishing although the former had yet to master the finer arts of casting. Several times during our conversation I had to duck out the way as he cast his line; a lure hanging from the power lines overhead testified to this not being an isolated occurrence.

Eventually our discussion turned to religion. There are many who say this type of situation is divine appointment, an example of me being placed in the right place at the right time to share the good news. I prefer to remove myself from the equation and conclude there’s something about haphazard fishing at sunset that ultimately leads to the discussion of the Divine.

The problem was that I had actually wandered into a disagreement between the two brothers. The elder of the two believed in the existence of a Jesus who prophesied against conventional religion and dogmatism while the other adamantly believed that all routes led to one destination. The entire conversation was like watching two ships pass in the night from the top of, what I’m told is, a lighthouse of truth that neither were able to see unless I opened my mouth and lit it.

Annie Dillard tells the story of a priest who was ministering to Eskimos in a remote arctic location. One of the natives asked the priest: “If I did not know of God and sin would I go to hell?” The priest considered this for a moment before confidently replying, “No, not if you did not know.”

“Well,” the man replied, “then why did you tell me?”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked Christ in the most pivotal interrogation of history. And Jesus didn’t say a word; not one word is recorded of the eternal I AM giving response to this essential question. And He was nailed to a cross and that was that… for the next three days.

After the sun set and our bodies had become silhouettes along the bridge, my companions realized they were late for dinner plans. We shook hands and they wished me well. Then they were gone and I was left alone on top of my lighthouse of answers. Somehow, I felt like it was the greatest work I’d done all day.

Preach the gospel, Assisi famously instructed, and when necessary open your mouth. I fear the prospect that anything I say could originate from a fear of apathy instead of a conviction of truth and I’m hesitant not to follow the example of my savior who let His actions speak when words simply wouldn’t do the trick. Because light moves in ways I cannot understand. What looks like a hole is often times the exact opposite, the existence of something that travels faster than I can imagine and exists in a realm that is beyond my comprehension.

Maybe I’m apathetic and this is all an excuse. But maybe sharing the good news is less about talking and more about a pensive presence in the face of questioning. Maybe direction comes from sources other than my lighthouses of intellect; maybe my life can actually bear witness to the belief that it comes from God Himself. Maybe there’s something to be said for sunsets, handshakes and the sound of fishing lines moving through the air but catching nothing, for light shining through the blinds and for Eskimos who were doing fine before I arrived. Maybe there’s something to be said for a transcendent gospel, for a living word, one that lives and breathes whether or not I know when to open my mouth.

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4 thoughts on “Eskimos, Sunsets and Evangelism

  1. Bryn, this is a beautiful moment. I agree: there is something about fishing (and walking in the woods and working the ground) that lends itself to conversations of the Divine. I had a thought this morning (because witnessing has been on my mind a lot lately), that I do not need to woo to Christ; Christ woos to Christ. A huge burden is lifted when we think this way. Yes, our lives show God’s work. Yes, we are to speak when the time is right. But ultimately we are to believe in the power of the Gospel. I hope we can both have more moments like this one.

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