As a lay evangelist in East Asia, new believers often introduced us to their friends. That was how we met Tom. To get to know Tom, we invited him to basketball and afterwards our Tuesday night Bible study. He gladly joined both. Soon he regularly attended studies, even if there was no basketball. It wasn’t long before he became a good friend.
Tom was smart. When we met, he was getting his PhD in geophysics at a top university in the East Asia. During his doctrinal studies, he published papers in top geophysics journals, in English, his second language.
That said, Tom’s relationship to Christianity always seemed cerebral. As a trained scientist and raised in an atheist culture, Tom merely expressed interest in Christianity, especially in the meaning it gave to people’s lives. But it never seemed to be personal. For Tom, it wasn’t “we believe” but “they believe.” Jesus wasn’t his but theirs.
Fast forward three years. Tom got his PhD and landed a post-doc position in Europe with one of the top researchers in his field. It was time for us to part. I still remember the conversation after our last Bible study. I said something like, “Tom, you’ve come to church and Bible studies for years now. You know who Jesus is and what he’s done. Do you believe it? Do you want to get baptized?” To this, he replied, and I’ll never forget it, “I’m just not ready.” So, sadly, that’s how we parted.
With the distance and life changes, Tom and I drifted apart. Occasionally we’d send a message back and forth, but no real relationship building happened. I heard he’d came back to East Asia and landed a nice job in a big city. Life seemed to be well with him.
Then one day, out of the blue he asked me if I knew any churches in a certain, small coastal city. I asked him if he was visiting that city. He told me he was moving there to teach at a local university. What? It was as if a PhD from Yale, who went to Oxford for a post-doc, worked in Chicago for a time, suddenly decided to teach in rural Montana. I was a little shocked. But I was also profoundly in awe. We did have a local church in that small coastal city (in a country of hundreds of huge cities). Not only that, but it was just blocks from where Tom was going to live. Coincidence?
A few months later, after connecting Tom to the local church, Tom kept coming up in my prayers. Then my wife mentioned him. Then another friend mentioned him. And so, I reasoned, “I’ve got to get in touch with Tom.”
I called him. I called him with the intent of asking him about his baptism, was he any closer to getting baptized? Was he ready? He picked up the phone, we exchanged pleasantries. Then, without prompting, he shot to the point and asked, “Will you come down and baptize me?” Tom went on to tell me that earlier that year his young son nearly died due to a maldeveloped heart valve. Since COVID had just hit the country, Tom and his wife were not even allowed in the hospital during their son’s surgery. Tom told me that the only thing he could hold onto was the hope that Jesus was with him, that God cared for him. So, he said, he remembered the many Bible studies and prayed to God. Some local church members also came to pray with him. Through the experience, Jesus went from being theirs to his.
After talking on the phone, I contacted the local leader who apparently knew Tom wanted me to be there at his baptism. So, just few months ago I got to perform Tom’s baptism. As I look back on this, I can’t help but recall Jesus words, Mark 4:26-27 – He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”
When we scatter the seed, we don’t know how or when it will grow. But we trust the promise and pray to see the fruits of eternal life. Praise be to the God of the Harvest!
Written by a lay evangelist in East Asia.
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