When I sat down to eat breakfast in a hotel dining room recently, I quickly realized that of the sixteen people at the tables around me, four were Amish adults and eleven were young amputees. In a split second I went into sensory overload! Thoughts flooded my mind. Being somewhat of a curious kind of person, I soon decided to engage my fellow diners in conversation.
I was sitting closest to the Amish couples, so I greeted them with a polite hello. One of the men responded in German, which is the primary language many Amish people use in their communities. Most all of them also speak English, so I had felt comfortable reaching out to them. The man, however, didn’t look up or make eye contact. Instead, he responded, “Ich spreche kein Englisch.” Basically, that means “I don’t speak English.” Having studied German for a number of years, I responded back to him in the language, but still he didn’t look up from his breakfast. Clearly, conversation with this outsider was not welcome
Some Christian and pseudo-Christian groups believe in a doctrine of separation. They point to Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14, and John 17:13–16. They believe Scripture teaches that Christians should avoid association with the worldly people around us. The Amish call those outside their community “the Englisch” as a designation of detachment. In reality, the Bible does not teach Christians to be separate in that way. Instead, we are to avoid conformity to the world while being witnesses to non-Christians by life and deed.
Sometimes parents ask me if they should try to shelter their children from non-believers, and I advise them not to. We need to teach our kids the truth, and then encourage them to be witnesses in the world. There are exceptions to this principle, but generally, we do not help them by keeping them from associating with those who are not yet Christian.
Since I couldn’t breach the wall of separation with the Amish man, I decided to talk with another diner—a young, happy man who was missing his left arm. As it turns out, he was visiting from Florida and was part of a group of wounded warriors. They were attending a meeting and doing some sightseeing. We had a delightful conversation, which included him asking what my profession was. As I explained my work, there was not a moment’s aversion or hesitation from him.
His story was that he had lost his arm fighting in Iraq. He was only days into his first tour of duty when the vehicle he was riding in hit an explosive device. In fact, all of these young men had lost arms or legs in much the same way. It was humbling to listen to him tell his story, and it didn’t take long for several other guys to join in the conversation. We talked for nearly an hour. A couple of them had questions about the church and Christianity, and they were amazingly open and receptive.
I left the breakfast room both encouraged and disheartened. These guys were so inspiring. They seemed not to be bitter and were working hard to move on with life. They laughed and kidded with me, and I felt blessed to be in their presence. However, there was the other side of the morning. Religion can be bad if its regulations, rules, and laws separate people from the world around them. How can we be effective witnesses by avoiding people who don’t act and talk like us? The length of your beard, suspenders that you wear, or absence of makeup on your face does not measure holiness. Avoiding people will never help us reach the lost.
I encourage you to hang out with people who don’t know Christ! Invite them into your life. Go out to eat with them, ask them to your birthday party, and engage them in conversation. You just might be surprised what happens.
Henderson Hills Baptist Church