An interview edited by TJ Neathery
The Entrust communications team had the privilege of interviewing Fuad, who serves in a restricted access region. Here are a few thoughts taken from our conversation on the topic of contextualization. For security reasons, only first names have been used.
Little about Fuad’s ministry could be called “heady” or “abstract.” He serves in a region afflicted by political and religious upheaval. For some in his community, transience is the new normal. Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons flee to the region looking for safety and security. Sometimes their needs are as simple as food and water. When asked about the number of people groups he serves, Fuad says five or six. But this covers a wide swath of tribal, religious and political groups, which means six groups might be a low estimate. And even among those who call themselves Christian, Fuad acknowledges that differences exist between Baptists and Methodists and other evangelicals. Serving a flock with such diverse needs, beliefs and experiences might seem impossible; but Fuad knows unity can be found in the Church. He says, “Jesus is the head, and we are all the body, and we are different. Maybe I am the hand. And you are the Christian in the background; you are the back. And you are the other church; you are the eyes. And that’s what it means to show our relationship together and this image will show the larger Church … that the Church is the friend of others. And that’s what we are teaching the people.” Exemplifying the larger Church and being a friend to others: these are two of Fuad’s main goals for his ministry. And though Fuad doesn’t say it explicitly, I’m struck by how the concept of the body helps him achieve these goals. We are all the body. In the States, we often accept the abstract metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ. But how often do we see the Church as made up of literal human bodies? Fuad does. Fuad contextualizes his ministry by engaging the physical body. Pay attention to how Fuad describes a typical encounter with a refugee family: “[I’m] listening to them and sitting down on the floor with them and drinking from their water or eating with them what they have; and that’s making them really happy; and to say, ‘I can pray for you and there are a lot of people beyond overseas and they are praying for you and they want to know how to pray for you and they want to know your needs.’ ”
In this one interaction, Fuad meets the physical needs of others, he engages with their emotional needs, and in doing so he invites them to participate in the prayer life of the wider Church body. This approach is specifically contextualized to refugees. They need food and water and reassurance that they are not alone. This same approach probably wouldn’t work for a gathering of American PhDs whose needs might be more intellectual. Sitting on the floor drinking clean water wouldn’t meet those needs. Of course, meeting both physical and spiritual needs keeps Fuad very busy. His recent projects include hosting retreats for local church leaders, supporting refugee workers, and distributing supplies to families. He organizes a local wheelchair ministry. He works to restore power and utilities to war-torn villages. His team gives out audio Bibles. And Lord-willing, he hopes to build a new community center. Consider how each outreach addresses the body. Exhaustion. Hunger. Physical handicaps. Sight. Hygiene. Hearing. Friendship. In short, when Fuad sees a bodily need in his community, he begins working to meet that need. And in doing so, he’s able to present the gospel naturally and effectively.
“...there are a lot of people beyond overseas and they are praying for you and they want to know how to pray for you and they want to know your needs.”
Fuad never forgets that sharing the gospel is the ultimate goal. Yet even his teaching is contextualized through the body. Here is a good example. In Fuad’s culture, many people place cultural and religious leaders on pedestals. He hears phrases like this all the time: “[The leaders] are the very highest and we are the very lowest.” But this isn’t Christ’s example of servant leadership. Fuad describes his solution by saying, “We let the leaders clean the [retreat center]. To each leader they have a plastic bag, and they clean after the lunch or dinners. And they’re serving the people. We let the leaders stand up, and not eat, and fill up the plates for the believers. And I want to share that with [Entrust CEO] David Goodman, [who] is coming [to the annual family camp Fuad organizes] this year—to wash the feet of the people, all the camp.” What a powerful example! By imitating Christ’s actions, by coming into contact with the person, by touching their feet, the leaders are able to say, “This is what a Christ-like leader looks like.” Fuad doesn’t lecture. He demonstrates. This demonstration involves the mouth, the eyes, the ears, and the hands. Consequently, it is much more effective. Contextualization through the body involves at least three steps. First, Fuad understands that the needs of the Church are as various as the needs of the body. Second, Fuad works to meet those needs by being present in his community. Third, Fuad uses demonstrations and practical ministry situations to teach others about Christ and the Church. This approach to contextualization is nothing new to Entrust. Across the world, our staff members embody their teachings to better facilitate trainings. Our modules emphasize teaching by doing. Different teaching methods are necessary for different situations. Ideally, the example of Fuad’s ministry will encourage us to continue to find new ways to engage the people we serve and train
This article first appeared in the summer 2018 Engage.