As missionaries in Russia, we’re always looking for ways to steer conversations towards spiritual themes. Sometimes, you get asked directly!
My wife and I were on the bus, going home from a Romans’ seminar that was held at our church downtown. On Russian buses, there are sections of four seats that face each other, in pairs of two. Like a booth at a restaurant, but there’s no table and your legs are often intertwined.
Our Russian language MacArthur Study Bible was sitting on Nansi’s lap, the description written on the spine. The man across from her leaned over and asked what a “study bible” is. Talking to strangers is highly unusual behavior for Russians in public, so I was a little confused at first. I took the Bible, opened it up and showed that the text is at the top and commentary at the bottom of each page.
The man asks, “how do you know to trust what the commentary says?” That’s a brilliant question, one that I did not expect from someone in a nominal Christian culture where nobody reads the Bible. “He’s a known, respected and trusted author,” I respond. Nansi adds that we compare what we read against the text – which was actually a much better answer!
“You shouldn’t read any commentary, just read the actual text,” the man replies. As if to prove something, I show him my English Bible, which doesn’t have any commentary.
“People pray here about the Kingdom of Heaven, but they have no idea what the kingdom actually is.” Presumably he’s referring to the Lord’s Prayer, or as even Russian Protestants call it, the “Our Father.” I took the bait, “what is the Kingdom of Heaven?”
“A government in heaven, ruled by Christ, established 100 years ago in 1914. If I give you some literature, will you take it?” Let’s find out who this guy is, I think – not knowing this piece of JW theology. As he’s getting ready to exit the bus, he pulls out a magazine – the Jehovah’s Witness style is unmistakeable.
My wife made an insightful comment, that would have been pertinent had the man not left. We’re not supposed to read commentary, just the Biblical text … but we should read the Watchtower? How is that not commentary?
This is the second time that we’ve been engaged by Jehovah’s Witnesses. First, while in Bulgaria waiting for our visas – now, on a bus in Pskov, Russia. They definitely deserve an “A” for effort.
Granted, he had a very helpful hint that we would be a good target, we were carrying a study Bible in plain view. Still, I can’t imagine that many Protestants are looking to start spiritual conversations in the city bus.
I know, from speaking to other Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they need to earn their place in heaven, to be one of the 144,000. It is a religion of works, and he’s trying to do his part to evangelize not just because he’s concerned about us, but also because he’s concerned about himself.
He is trying to earn salvation by his evangelism. That may give him greater impetus to do it – but are we, who are secure in our hope, silent?
The conversation continued with the man’s neighbor in part 2: Evangelism on a City Bus – Russian Orthodox