by Titus Regional Director Jenni Bartling
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
When one of our clergy here in Pittsburgh asked me, “Who are you discipling?” I began to recite the names of some Christians in my sphere of influence…and surprised myself when I also listed my friend Linda Thomas.* Linda is not a believer. Raised in a Jewish home, she, her Protestant-raised husband and unchurched son consider themselves to be Secular Humanists.
Linda and I met nearly 15 years ago, when our boys were best friends in Kindergarten. After a few play dates, she told me, “Jenni, I know you are really religious, but I like you. I hope we can be friends.” “Ooooh, Harvest field ready for the pickin’!” I thought, smiling to myself. I was very eager to develop this friendship.
Although our sons have grown apart, Linda and I are still close.
Throughout the last decade, I have been intentional about this special friendship. Ours is a safe place, where Linda can freely question my faith, and I can challenge her lack thereof.
We have agreed to disagree.
Still, I am the one to whom Linda turns when she has spiritual questions. When the 911 terrorist attacks took place, she called me and asked, “What are we going to tell our boys? How can we explain this?” I reminded her of the role my faith plays in my perspective on life, noting that God was not happy about the tragedy, nor was He surprised by it. Her response? “I know what I’ll do. I’ll tell Brian (her son) that no human being, no mother, would ever raise their child to do such an evil thing.” “Linda,” I replied, “That’s who it was—human beings–who just orchestrated these attacks.” Silence.
Awhile back, Linda phoned me because she was disconcerted after participating in a religious-based Facebook dialogue. She was distressed—and appalled–at the way in which “Christians” were poking fun at another religion. “This is why I don’t trust Christians,” she said. “How can they be so mean?’ God used the opportunity to talk with Linda about the fallen nature of humans, and the importance of looking to Jesus, rather than men and women, as the true model of Christianity.
Most recently, Linda and her family teamed up with a community service organization named “People Helping People.” One Easter, she and a group of folks served a special dinner to the guests at Pittsburgh’s Ronald McDonald House. (The Thomases do not celebrate Easter, so they had no other plans that day.) Linda’s desire to serve others has given us another opportunity to examine our “religions.” She told me that she feels like she “has to give” because the act gives purpose to her life. I told Linda that I “get to give,” because of the life that Jesus has given to me.
Linda has not yet developed a relationship with Jesus, and still tells me she is not a “seeker.” (We have been friends long enough now, that I laugh out loud when she says that.) But it is Linda who consistently raises the spiritual matters when we are together. She is being discipled, and I pray that what she is learning will someday lead her into the arms of Jesus.
Now, it is my turn to ask you, “Who are you discipling?” How many non-Christians are on that list?
*not her real name