Frank Viola (author, and blogger of Beyond Evangelical) has asked bloggers to post their answer to a scenario that he says is more common than we might think. Below is the scenario followed with my response. Perhaps you might have some thoughts on how to help this couple! Feel free to add your comments.
The following exercise is from the synchroblog at http://frankviola.org/2012/07/09/gospelforthemiddle
Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.
One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.
Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.
Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.
Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.
Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.
Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.
Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?
First, to clarify a few statements made in Frank’s scenario that affect my answer: 1) the cousin is a ‘practicing Christian’ – if that means the cousin follows the traditional religious requirements of being a Christian – i.e. go to church every Sunday, go to Sunday School, study the Bible, tithe, etc. then that would limit how he could ‘instruct’ Fielding and Felicity. Even the word ‘instruct’ has a religious ring. Perhaps the cousin’s only once a year contact with Fielding shows his walk is more ‘organized’ by a system. 2) the wife has said ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ as her Savior but she confesses to not being ‘evangelistic’ – sounds like she is under guilt for not going out to save the lost – another traditional religious requirement. 3) Fielding believes Jesus is the Savior of the world, died for our sins and rose from the dead (sounds saved to me!) but hasn’t ‘fully surrendered his life’ to God (is that the cousin’s assessment?) – ‘fully surrendered…’ is this another traditional religious term which hinders Fielding in his growth in Christ.
As his cousin, to really help Fielding, next time I saw him my walk would have to be different. I would not be a ‘practicing Christian’ but a Christian who has experienced the organic, natural, ordinary day interactions with Jesus. Given that, I would tell Fielding and Felicia that they really are in a good place because, first and foremost, they believe in Jesus Christ and what He did for them, and that the Holy Spirit will be faithful to perfect the good work that He started in them.
I would tell them about how God sets up divine appointments – that He can and will bring true believers into their lives that will be a blessing to them as in kind they will to them – and that we can pray for those kinds of appointments. While waiting for those new friends they can rest in the assurance that He knows what they need, who they need, and when they need those things.
In the meantime they can know that God is pleased with Fielding’s work ethic and his kindnesses to his elderly parents and with Felicia’s care for their children. God loves the Jesus deposits she is making in her children – He will be faithful to use her little seed teachings about Him in their lives. I will tell Felicia not to be hard on herself about the demands of raising her children – it a season in her life and she can lean on God in unique ways during this time. She needs to know that her child caring is like a special ministry to the Lord. And she sure doesn’t need to worry about evangelizing the lost! Fielding also needs to know that God loves his ‘outdoorsman’ interest and manual labor. Jesus can relate, He was a carpenter and stonecutter!
I would encourage them and their children to ask God more into their daily lives and look for Him more in their days – sharing with each other those discoveries. In addition, encourage them to pray individually and together for things – e.g. for new friends (saved or unsaved); for opportunities to speak of God – maybe an extended family member/neighbor/co-worker is struggling or hurting – it may be an area that God has already helped in Fielding’s/Felicia’s life and by sharing it just might touch them in a significant way – or maybe Fielding/Felicia will offer to pray for them and see God answer; or pray for and with their children – maybe one of them has an issue at school and they can ask God into the situation. They will be amazed at His answers to their prayers! They can also give me prayer request and we could even pray together over the phone. As God answers we will be built up together in our faith.
Since Fielding is not much of a reader I could send him letters about or share over the phone various Bible stories or verses that we could discuss. It might stir him to read the Bible and in turn tell me things he is learning. This might even cause Fielding and Felicia to share Bible verses as a couple or as a family. Again, the three of us will all help each other grow in Christ, even as they wait for God to bring other believers into their lives.
They need to know their isolated place in Maine does not have to be isolated as Christians. With intentionality of connecting, partnering, and sharing there is no limit to what God can do in a seemingly meager and lonely situation. That they would know, distance does not have to disconnect us – and it won’t! In Christ Jesus we are more than just cousins and God wants it more than just that. Our relationship in the Lord is far reaching – as we reach each other over the miles they will find their reach and influence extending into their location. Fielding and Felicia, it will naturally happen just like a seed naturally grows. He will nurture, expand, and complete the growth He started. Be encouraged!