March 10 2023 By Norris Burkes
“Is it true you can’t pray in Jesus’ name or even share your faith?”
These are questions I’ve answered many times from “concerned Christians”
during my 28 years as an Air Force chaplain.
The first one is not true. The second, well, that depends on where and how you “share your faith.”
Military members who are deployed in a combat zone live under “General Order No. 1.” The order not only forbids alcohol and sex, it’s also pretty clear about proselytizing.
The military sees “witnessing,” or proselytizing, to be very risky in a war zone.
Case in point is a well-meaning church that sent Afghan-language Bibles to a parishioner stationed at Bagram Air Force Base in 2009. The church intended for their member to give these Bibles to as many Afghanis as possible.
Chaplains confiscated the Bibles saying that distributing religious literature to convert the local population was in violation of General Order 1. So the Defense Department ordered that the Afghan-language Bibles be burned with the daily trash.
Simply put, the logic was that if Afghans perceived that the U.S. government was trying to convert Muslims, we might have the Crusades all over again. People might die.
The chaplains who supervised the burning of the Bibles taught everyone involved an important lesson: Sharing your faith isn’t an easy gig.
While you’re not likely a military member, the regulation may be a yardstick for church members wishing to share their faith at work or in the community.
First, sharing your faith requires an understanding of your audience. That means we must show empathy toward the listener.
The second thing is the hardest one. We can’t assume that we know what’s best for someone else. This means avoiding the temptation to join the Saturday Night Live “Church Lady” in her Superior Dance.
Having grown up as a fundamentalist, I know something about the Superior Dance and the overly fervent sharing of faith. After all, as a high schooler, I delivered plenty of Bibles to the unsuspecting neighbors who surrounded my church.
Along with the gift, I fired the question: “If you were to die tonight, do you know if you’d be in heaven or hell?”
Can you imagine being asked this question by a pimply faced youth before you’d even had your coffee? Not much empathy there.
Sharing literature, such as a Bible, can be a true expression of faith. However, if done glibly and without humility, it becomes a way to overlook hurting people.
Faith is best discovered when we allow folks to see it for themselves.
To communicate our faith story in genuine ways, we needn’t carry pounds of religious literature to persuade others of our beliefs.
We need to bring our authentic selves into the picture and be the light Jesus said we could become.
Today I fly to Honduras as a demonstration of my faith. While your chaplain will carry a Bible, he didn’t bring any for mass distribution.
Instead, I’m packing nearly 300 pounds of Spanish children’s books to help Chispa Project establish a library for 1,000 kids, kindergarten through ninth grade. We hope these books will go a long way toward satisfying the voracious appetite these kids have for learning.
As they learn, they will become curious about faith, and I hope to be privileged to answer their questions.
Inevitably their parents ask me why we are doing this. The answer is easy.
It’s an expression of my faith.
Because, whether going door-to-door or just chatting with a neighbor, Theodore Roosevelt gave us the best formula yet for sharing our faith when he said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Honestly, we are making this trip in faith because we still need another $9000 to make this library work. If you can help, please give at the website: www.chispaproject.org/chaplain
Or, write a check to “Chispa Project” and send to 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602. Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net. Contact him at at [email protected] or voicemail (843) 608-9715