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Everyday conversations yield Gospel opportunities in Central Asia

Zaza men chat after a wedding celebration. The men often gather and visit throughout the day of the wedding at the home of the groom. The Zaza are a people group who live in Turkey.

CENTRAL ASIA (BP) – Daily conversations hold possibilities for sharing the Gospel, and International Mission Board missionary Josh Oakes is looking for each opportunity.

Small talk about the weather? Oakes will introduce God as the Creator and Sustainer of life.

A comment about politics? Oakes sees an open door to talk about the fallenness of man and our need for a Savior.

Day to day Oakes uses what he calls “Gospel hooks” to start spiritual conversations. Turning quickly to deeper topics, he listens to discern whether someone is searching for truth or closed and uninterested. In this way, he is using the Gospel as a filter to determine where God is working in people’s hearts.

Gospel hooks vary depending on cultures. Missionaries who live and serve among the lost learn the culture and develop long-term relationships with the people. This 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, but what we have found is what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 is the best approach,” Oakes said.

“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.”

Toward the end of the pandemic, Oakes’ 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.

Oakes began telling the man that “Gospel” translates to “good news” – the term Christians use for describing the gift Jesus gives to us. Meanwhile, two more men walked into the room. The first man’s name was Abraham, and the second man’s name meant “salvation.”

“I laughed and told them that it seemed like God was wanting me to share something very important with all of them,” he said.

The men seemed interested, so Oakes explained the meaning of their names. Their names reminded him of the good news that a descendant of Abraham came to earth, providing 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,” Oakes said. “They laughed and said they didn’t know if it connected with the message I was sharing with them or not.”

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!” Oakes explained.

While none of the men immediately responded to the Gospel message, Oakes believes God orchestrated these events.

“Five men heard the gospel that day, and one of them asked if we could exchange phone numbers. Praise the Lord!” Oakes said.

Leading a team in evangelism and church planting, Oakes encourages his coworkers to be ready at any moment for opportunities to talk about Jesus. He believes 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,” Oakes said.

Josh Oakes’ name has been changed for security reasons.