The Little Things Matter

In certain of my courses I assign Bible memorization. The goal and requirement of these assignments is “word perfect.” In this context, “word perfect” means the words appear exactly as they do when you read them in a published Bible. Each mistake (e.g., missing word, additional word, wrong order) reduces the score by ten points, and five mistakes is the maximum allowed. If a student makes more than five mistakes, their score is a ZERO. Thus, the possible grades for this type of assignment are 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, or 0.

The above explanation seems fairly simple and straightforward, but students often offer push back. Sometimes they wonder why five mistakes is acceptable and six is not. My answer: Even five mistakes is not acceptable; word perfect is the goal. And, although six mistakes is only one more than five, there is a certain point at which the student simply didn’t get enough correct to warrant credit or demonstrate any level of mastery. And, five mistakes is where I draw the line. While feeling “unfair” to those who make more than five mistakes, the above system seems to offer a measure of grace while still expecting perfection; i.e., it allows some points for mediocre, even poor performance. Yet it still requires the student to produce something.

The most interesting push back, though, is from those scoring 90, which means they made only one mistake. Frequently, the complaint is, “It’s just one word.” I understand the point they are trying to make, but I’m not sure they understand the point they are actually making. To whit: “one word does not matter.” Granted, all mistakes are not equal. But since this is a training exercise and the goal is perfection, all mistakes are treated equally. One must also remember that this is God’s word the students are memorizing, so forgetting or adding one word can be critical.

On a trip to Israel in 1995, my flight boarded but was delayed. A fifteen minute delay turned into a three-hour delay, before the flight was finally rescheduled for the next day. As the captain made the announcement of the cancellation, I was standing in the doorway beside an Israeli man whose countenance dropped to the floor upon hearing the news. I tried to cheer him up by saying (in Hebrew), “Don’t worry, they will give us a nice halon.” His puzzled look, puzzled me. He didn’t say anything; he simply turned and walked away. We deplaned and were bused to the hotel the airline had provided for us. I didn’t think anything more of the oddness of my “conversation” with the Israeli man until I saw him at breakfast the next morning. Immediately upon seeing him, it occurred to me what I had said. What I intended to say was “They will give us a nice hotel” (malon). What I actually said was “They will give us a nice window.” No wonder he looked puzzled. Embarrassing, to say the least. Oh well, sometimes a mistake is simply a mistake and amounts to nothing … but a little awkwardness or humor. On the other hand …

I once read an evangelistic blog article that was making a good argument for trusting in Christ, until … “all you have to do is except Jesus.” What she meant was “accept,” which means to “consent” or “receive.” What she actually wrote, “except,” essentially means the opposite, “to exclude.” But, it’s just one word; in fact, it’s just two letters. However, those two letters can make all the difference … in eternity.

A Parable: The College Student

And he spake many things to them in parables, saying, …

As he rode the bus to work each day, the young man scanned the car lots for the perfect car. He knew his life would be changed for the better if he could find the right car, so each day he scanned the car lots as the bus moved past them. Then it happened; one car caught his attention and he knew that car was the car he needed to get where he was going. He promised himself that he would get that car, and the next day he rang the bell, requesting the bus stop at the stop immediately in front of the car lot. Nervously, he descended the bus and approached the lot.

He knew he needed a car but now, he wasn’t sure if this was the right car. A salesman approached him as he circled the car, looking in the windows. “Want to look inside?” the salesman asked. “Sure,” came his nervous reply. “How does it run? Can I start it? Can I take it for a drive? What about a warranty? How many miles?” he nervously asked in rapid fire succession without giving the salesman a chance to answer. Finally, the salesman got a chance to reply, “Yes, yes, yes, yes and we’ll have to see the odometer. Let me get the keys.”

Buying this car was a big decision because the young man knew it would change his life. Sure, it would take some work to get it and keep it up, but whatever it took to get it would be worth it.

When the salesman returned with the keys, what the young man knew to be true was, in fact, proved to be true. It was the perfect car for him. He knew it would be, and it was!

After negotiating the price, which was not cheap, the young man agreed to the deal. “Let’s go inside and do the paperwork” the salesman said with a smile. Inside the office, the salesman began to gather a stack of papers that had to be completed in order to finalize the sale. As each document was pushed across the desk, the young man thought to himself, “This is silly. I don’t need to do all this stuff.” Once, he accidentally let his private thoughts slip out as he mumbled, “I don’t think I really need to do all this paperwork.” The salesman smiled a knowing smile and said, “I understand that it doesn’t make sense, but we’ve collected and organized the paperwork in a way that helps you get everything done, so that you can own the car. Trust me, I’ve done this a lot of times, and although it doesn’t make sense to you now, in the end, you will have the car you want.”

The young man haltingly went along with the salesman. He filled in most of the requested details … multiple times on multiple forms. He also signed most of the places marked by an X. He skipped some details here and there, since he knew those details couldn’t be that important. As the salesman looked over the papers, he noticed the deficiencies and asked the young man to correct those “oversights.” “Really?” the young man thought to himself. “This is getting overbearing; this stuff just isn’t necessary.” The salesman noticed how indignant the young man was becoming with each additional request. “If you haven’t ever done this before, I know it seems crazy, but believe me, every page of the paperwork is necessary … if you want the car.”

Almost finished, the salesman was required to explain in detail the terms of the loan, including the amount of the monthly payments, the due date for those payments, and the date of the final payment. On the 5th of each month, for the next 4 years, the loan required a payment of $427.38. “Sign here, accepting the terms of the loan, and we’re almost done” said the salesman. The young man scribbled his signature with the flair of a new car owner.

Then, the salesman said, “One more document. We need to complete the title transfer document so the car can be put in your name.” “Nah, I’m done. I’ve signed enough papers and I’ll make the payments on time” said the young man. With that he got up and  walked across the lot to the bus stop. He got on the next bus, paid his fare and went to work.

On the 5th day of each of the next 48 months, a check in the amount of $427.38 arrived at the bank. And five days a week for the next 40 years, the young man rode the bus past the car lot, remembering the car that he bought but never got.

For those with ears to hear, let them hear.

Words: Be careful how and when you use them

In his book You Bring the Bagels, I’ll Bring the Gospel, Barry Rubin says, “It’s important to understand that whereas a word may mean one thing to you, it will often convey a different meaning to someone else” (p. 93). In this, Rubin provides an important caution for those who work cross-culturally.

One morning while picking up people for our worship service, we picked up a man who, prior to the collapse, had fled the Soviet Union for the relative freedom offered in Israel. He was an unbeliever and this was his first visit to our congregation. Since we didn’t know him, we began the customary “get to know you” conversation, which was very enlightening and pleasant. However, things changed quickly and dramatically when the driver concluded that portion of our conversation with words he had probably said one thousand times before . . . back home in the United States.

“It’s good to have you.”

I happened to be looking over my shoulder into the backseat where our guest was sitting and the look that came across his face was startling. Upon hearing those words, his countenance immediately changed to one of fear. The implications of those words – “It’s good to have you.” – would be difficult to understand for those who had grown up in the 1940’s United States and had never been inside the borders of the old Soviet Union.

Our guest’s response is still fresh in my mind some twenty years later: “Not only do you not have me, you will never have me.” In that event, I learned an important lesson about the challenge of saying things cross-culturally and about apologizing when I inadvertently offend.

Have you ever had one of those “oops” moments? Share it in the comments.

Palestinian Muslims Converting to Christianity

Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank

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This document is my PhD dissertation, which is ©2014 University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.

It should be cited:
Dunning, CA 2014, “Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank”, PhD thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria.

Interviews about the contents of this document can be obtained by contacting Prof Craig Dunning at (817) 461-8741, ext. 143.

ABSTRACT
This thesis provides the findings of an explanatory case study that utilized elements of ethnographic research to discover effective evangelistic methods being practiced among Palestinian Muslims in the West Bank. With the assistance of gatekeepers, twenty-four former Muslims were asked to explain how they were evangelized, with a particular focus on evangelistic methodology, the barriers to faith the respondents encountered, solutions to those barriers, and motivations to consider conversion.

This qualitative study follows the research model of Thom Rainer (2001) by asking those who have actually converted to describe the things that were helpful in the process of their coming to faith. For a theoretical framework it utilizes a nuance of McKnight’s (2002) theory of conversion with an emphasis on crisis providing an intersection of the natural and supernatural for the purpose of conversion.

This thesis investigates examples of effective evangelism within the context of the West Bank, giving thorough consideration to Palestinian Nationalism and Islam as overarching cultural influences. It considers fruitful practices being practiced globally among Muslims, comparing those with what was found being practiced in the West Bank. The advocates represented in this report were primarily Palestinians born and raised in the West Bank, with the exception of three messianic Jewish Israelis and an American missionary. Additionally, they were evangelicals who generally utilized a contextually sensitive, traditional mission approach rather than an Insider model.

The end result is a knowledge base that can be helpful for future evangelism of Muslims in the West Bank or other similar contexts.

Too Good to be True Rental Phones

Shortly before my recent trip to Israel, I was made aware of TalknSave, a company that rents phones to tourists for an unbelievable [to me] price of $5 per day. That $5 per day provides unlimited calls to/from phones in Israel, Canada and the United States.

Having lived as long as I did in Israel, I was skeptical of the offer as being too good to be true. However, rather than dismiss it altogether, I contacted the company and started an interesting “you gotta prove it” relationship with Elie Mamann, the company rep.

I explained my reluctance, which was based on typical Israeli marketing of large promises followed by zero customer service. Eli had heard the same reluctance by others, and he confided that he, too, was skeptical before he began working with this company. He assured me that the service was everything promised or he would not work there. Of course, that sounds like all the other “trust me” sales pitches I have heard in Israel. However, he said one thing that gave me enough confidence to give it a try: “I’m from North America, so I know what you have in mind regarding customer service.”

He convinced me, … sorta. I’m afraid I’ll be eternally skeptical of salesmen from that region. But, I told Elie that I would give him a try … and if the service is all he’s made it out to be, I promised to be his biggest supporter. On the other hand, if the service was fluff, I would be a megaphone warning others to stay away.

The result of our group’s use of TalknSave was total satisfaction. Elie provided all the personal service he promised, including meeting the group at the airport to deliver the phones at the bus. They also provide pre-paid mailer envelopes and a drop box at the airport for ease of return on the way out of the country.

We had 15-18 people rent the phones (a few different plans), and all were completely satisfied. We also had a few bring their home plans for various reasons. Some were happy with the home plan decision, even though they likely paid more. Those that brought Verizon service were sorely disappointed. Verizon agents may tell you that they provide service in Israel, but members of my group (and a previous one, too) found out that isn’t true.

I know that some will wonder, “what’s the use/need of having a mobile phone while touring Israel?” Here are some of the benefits:

  1. A growing number of tourists are on vacation, but still managing things back at the office because of the instant contact culture (calling, texting, surfing) that we are moving toward. These phones offer unlimited, instant contact at a very low price.
  2. Most tourists’ families are unaware that when they hear news of rockets coming into Israel, those rockets aren’t landing in every location. These phones offer unlimited calls that might be helpful in assuring folks back home that things are okay.
  3. In the case that something serious – like war, or the Arab Spring, or hospitalization – happens, these phones are an inexpensive way to be in touch with people back home. That might be helpful for the tourist and their families.
  4. As the group leader, my phone gave me an inexpensive way to be in touch with the guide, driver, and other people I needed to reach.
  5. Tourists aren’t always where they are supposed to be. Those that had phones were easily located. 

Be aware that there are different plans available, including data and text plans. For those that want to take their own “Smart Phone,” a SIM card is available in this plan. Also, groups (10 or more) get some perks that singles don’t, so it’s wise to order the service under a group name, which can be arranged by calling Elie prior to ordering.

If this recommendation interests you at all, whether you are a single or group traveler, please call Elie Mamann at 212-444-1503 or 1-800-941-4909. Tell him that Craig Dunning recommended you do so.