We sat in on a Bible study on Thursday at the International Evangelical Church here in Quateria, Portugal. I was quite surprised by the combination of a mostly British study group led by two young men with Irish ancestry. Indeed, one of the young men was headed back to Belfast, Ireland in the next week. As I listened to the beautiful and melodic Irish lilt of the two men speaking of Jesus and His love, I was thinking about how worship binds us together in a mutual love for Jesus Christ and God the Father who sent Him. There were people from the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, Portugal, and, of course, the United States, among others.
As we studied John 9, we were in agreement about the love of Christ and the importance of living a life pleasing to God. The chapter began with a man blind from birth receiving his sight, and it examined who sinned that the man was born with the affliction. It was not sin on anyone’s part, but the event was being used to bring glory to God.
The man was healed both of physical and spiritual blindness, even as the Pharisees could physically see, but were spiritually blind. As people talked about spiritual blindness and the need to see Jesus as paramount to the story of salvation, I thought of an encounter that I had experienced the day before, but being new to the group, felt that I should stay quiet and not be seen, but God was not having that at all.
I reluctantly relayed an encounter that I had with a gentleman who was originally from Africa, but who had lived twenty-three years in Portugal. He was a Jehovah’s Witness, and when he saw me sitting alone at the beach, he stopped to try to sell me the Watchtower magazine, which I refused politely. He would not accept my refusal, insisting on showing me Scriptures. I try to never cause offense, and I think he took my smiles as consent to continue.
I was somewhat taken aback to be accosted on the beach, as I generally do not think of it as a place of evangelism. But, that may be because I think of it as a place of rest from the cares of the world, and I am not good at one-on-one encounters with people about their beliefs and the sharing of my faith. I can preach to a thousand people, but going one-on-one causes rivulets of sweat to run down my back.
The gentleman’s English was nearly non-existent and I could not speak Portuguese. As he kept showing me Scriptures to read, I took out my telephone, and although there was the dreaded sweat running down my back, whether from the heat or my fears, I pulled up my Bible on it and used it to try and discuss salvation without a mutual language. Amazingly, we were able to communicate with the Bible verses, as I showed him the Scriptures that reinforced my faith, namely ones that speak of Jesus as the only way, truth, and life, and of the resurrection of Jesus and His return as the bases of my faith. He wanted to speak only of Jehovah, but without recognizing Jesus as key to salvation and eternal life.
We went back and forth trying to convince the other, as we examined Revelations, Genesis, the four Gospels, and Acts. I wanted him to understand that while I agree that the world will come to an end someday and that people need their hearts in the right place, living a life pleasing to God, that no truth or doctrine that did not include the man they call Jesus, as the happy, newly-seeing man called Him in John 9:11, was acceptable to me. For me, Acts 4:12 is paramount, “There is salvation found in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven bu which we must be saved.”
While we never seemed to agree, we did so in a way that left us both feeling that we had done what we thought necessary to try to save another soul, and I was glad that he was not confrontational nor in any way showed anger. Douglas came and saw us, and after a short conversation between the two men, the guy got up to leave. I shook his hand, and I prayed that he would come to know Jesus.
After I told the Bible study members of the encounter, we discussed the fact that many people of other religious doctrines tend to go wherever people are, evangelizing them to their ways of thinking about salvation, but often Christians do not, as we stay seemingly happy in our churches. But, thankfully, in nearly every nation, including here in Portugal, there are people of God, including missionaries who have left families and all they know to spread the Good News, who are willing to tell people everywhere the stories of Jesus and His love. Also, thank God that we can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ across language and in ways that uplift our souls. This church has someone translate in Portuguese as English is spoken and translate in English when Portuguese is spoken.
As the Bible study ended, prayers were asked for people in many different countries as well as for those of us there with health issues. As various individuals prayed, I was amazed at how the man they call Jesus unites us and helps us love one another across all of the things that so easily divide us. Neither time nor countries of origin can separate those who love God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit, and our fellow human beings.
The encounter with the African gentleman was eye-opening for me, as I would never have even thought it possible for me to hold my own against a male, especially with my history of avoiding confrontations with males on any topic. But, I learned that when you are proud of your relationship with Jesus, then God gives you the words to say, just as Jesus promised the disciples in Matthew 10:20, and as God promised Moses in Exodus 4:12. We must just open our mouths, or, in my case, open your Bible, and God will do the rest. I must remember this lesson when I return home in a couple of weeks.