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Sharing the gospel in Central Asia is rarely easy, but daily conversations often hold possibilities for getting started. International Mission Board missionary Josh Oakes knows all about it because he is there, living and serving among the region’s lost. His calling includes taking advantage of each and every opportunity. He doesn’t want to miss a single one. The power of the gospel to transform lives is his motivation – even if it takes years.
So Josh looks for ways to bring that powerful message into daily encounters. He calls these “gospel hooks.”
Small talk about the weather? Josh introduces God as the creator and sustainer of life.
A comment about politics? Josh sees an open door to talk about the mistakes people make and our need for a Savior.
Turning quickly to deeper topics, he listens to discern whether someone is searching for truth or closed and uninterested. In this way, he uses the gospel as a filter to determine where God is working in people’s hearts.
Gospel hooks vary depending on cultures. Missionaries you support live and serve among the lost. They learn the culture and develop long-term relationships with the people. This steadfast presence leads to an understanding of how the gospel can best be shared to a particular people group.
“Different people think about anthropology or factors like age or gender as whether or not this person is going to be interested in the gospel. What we have found is what Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 2:15-17 is the best approach,” Josh says.
“We want to smell like God, be the aroma of Christ to everyone. For those we smell like life to, then they are going to want to be around us more. When we smell like death, they are going to distance themselves.”
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Toward the end of the pandemic, Josh’s readiness to seize opportunities using gospel hooks started a spiritual conversation with a man named “Good News.” Names provide a great opportunity in Central Asia for launching into deeper topics, because they usually have special meaning.
Josh began by telling the man “gospel” translates to good news — the term Christians use for salvation that Jesus offers through His death and resurrection. Meanwhile, two more men walked into the room. The first man’s name was Abraham, and the second man’s name meant “salvation.”
Yes, really. And Josh saw the divine humor in the meeting. “I laughed and told them that it seemed like God was wanting me to share something very important with all of them,” he says.
The men seemed interested, so Josh explained the meaning of their names. Their names reminded him of this good news: A descendant of Abraham came to earth and provided salvation for the world by giving His life as a sacrifice for sin.
At just that moment, a man named Hussein walked in the door.
“I froze and told the other men in the room that Hussein was an Arabic name, so I didn’t know what it meant. They laughed and said they didn’t know if it connected with the message I was sharing with them or not,” Josh remembers.
Hussein looked confused, but then he turned to the man named Good News and said that he had come to this office because Isa (the Arabic rendering of “Jesus” and a common name in Central Asia) had sent him.
“The men in the room then all looked at me surprised. Isa had told Hussein to go to the office of ‘Good News’ to ask a question while Abraham and ‘Salvation’ were there hearing the gospel!” Josh explains.
While none of the men immediately responded to the gospel message, Josh believes God orchestrated these events. He made a way for the gospel to be accessible and clear to people who are lost without Him.
“Five men heard the gospel that day, and one of them asked if we could exchange phone numbers. Praise the Lord!” Josh says.
Leading a team in evangelism and church planting, Josh encourages his co-workers to be ready at any moment for opportunities to talk about Jesus. He says the more they speak of Him, the more readily they will be able to discern where to invest in deeper relationships.
“Time is our most valuable resource, so we want to be intentional to engage in these spiritual conversations.”