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One of the things I have found difficult during this period of lockdown is being bombarded by statistics on a daily basis. Mark Twain popularised the saying, ‘There are lies, damned lies, and statistics’, and despite my fondness for the Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’ which deals with statistics, I generally find that statistics overwhelm me, and I run from them. I’ve found it hard to deal with daily death tolls, numbers of confirmed Coronavirus cases and other statistics being thrust at me by news briefings and struggle to put these into any meaningful context. Awful though these statistics have been, for example, it’s probably more shocking to look at other causes of death (including abortion) and see how these figures compare. They are generally so much higher that it’s mind-numbing.
We generally don’t cope well with statistics because most of us need the personal touch to identify with situations. Thousands of deaths wash over us; the death of someone we know touches us personally. It’s the reason war films often focus on a family or group of characters for whom we care and with whom we can identify: ‘Saving Private Ryan’, for example, brings us the horror of the D-Day landings, but gives us real individuals whose destiny matters to us.
It can be a little bit like this in the Christian journey too. We need the personal stories in the Bible to give us insight into God’s personal dealings with individuals. Not only can we relate to these stories so much more easily, we see from these that God really does care for and value the individual. Jesus said, ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ (Luke 12:6-7)The abstract truth that God loves the world can be just as daunting as statistics; this reminder that we are personally known to God brings the truth home to us in a much more vivid way.
Luke tells us many stories of evangelism in the book of Acts, but these are often filtered through the medium of personal stories. We hear about the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius and his family, Saul’s conversion. When it comes to the first missionary journey to Cyprus (Acts 13:1-12), we find that the main focus of attention is on the Roman governor there, Sergius Publius, and on a sorcerer named Elymas. This type of personal detail reminds us of the proverb: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’
World evangelisation sounds as scary to me as the daily statistics being poured into my ears each evening. How on earth can we evangelise the whole world? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and therefore to give up. But, as with so many other things, the method is the same throughout history and wherever we are. How do we evangelise the world? One person at a time.
Every person matters. Every conversation is important. Every prayer, every testimony, every time we share something of God’s goodness with someone else, we are involved in the Great Commission. Never forget the personal touch (even if you can’t physically touch someone right now!)