Keller kicks off chapter seven with some questions, “Should Christians work together for justice in society with members of other religions or no religion? If so, how should they do it?”
Keller’s answer to these questions was more philosophical than illustrative. Lucky for me, Jordan had just shared an experience he had that painted an inspiring picture of what it actually looks like when Christians collaborate with people of other faiths in a transformative way:
When I visited the In His Image in India, I was struck by the love and compassion the teachers had for the children. Prior to arriving, all I had heard about was the struggles children with Autism face in India—how many are neglected and hidden away in their homes. What I experienced at the In His Image Center was the exact opposite. I saw a Christ-like love for these children from staff members that treated the children as if they were their own. In talking with the staff many of them told me that the children are loved by God and have value in His eyes. I later said to the In His Image Director that I was surprised she was able to find so many Christian staff for the center. She proceeded to tell me that almost all of the staff I spoke with were not Christian. It was astonishing to see the power of the center’s worldview trainings and how being surrounded by people living Christ-like lives had changed these teachers’ entire outlook in life.
I asked the founder of In His Image to help me understand what’s going on there.
Me: Why do you employ non-Christians?
In His Image: Legally, we cannot discriminate in our hiring practices based on religion. It is also a legal requirement that anyone working with students with autism must have a certification from the Rehabilitation Council of India as Special Educators. There aren’t many Christians in this field in North India, so we hire staff who have the required qualifications irrespective of their faith backgrounds. We find that many of them come with a lot of dedication and a specific sense of calling, which is so evident in the work they do. But beyond that, I employ them because I would like them to understand our Christian principles and to see how the Bible affects all areas of life. I want to bring God’s truth to the field of Special Education, where there is such a low Christian presence.
Me: Does working with people from diverse faiths open doors for ministry that an all Christian staff would not have?
In His Image: Oh, very much, yes. It helps us impact places we would otherwise not be able to go. When someone applies for a position (or enrolls their child) with our school, then we can share in-depth about our faith with them without fear. Also, working with us day-in and day-out gives them the chance to observe how we walk out our faith claims, which has more of an impact. Of course it forces the Christians to live a life of faith, which is good for us too.
Me: What are the lessons you’ve learned and what advice would you give other organization leaders regarding working with staff from other faiths?
In His Image: It is very important for us to ‘flesh out’ the gospel. Living in a manner that is worthy of our calling impacts people. We are being watched, more so because we say we are followers of Jesus Christ. I have learnt that there is a seed of truth in every person, and every interaction with other people is a chance to either draw people to Christ, or repulse them. I have learnt that hope can only come from Jesus Christ, and those of us who live with differently-abled children need hope more than anything else as we face life with all of its difficulties and starkness. I have learnt that love and gentleness is what reaches to the hearts of people and your willingness to be vulnerable impacts more than your strength.
My advice is, walk your talk. Live a life of integrity and gentleness. We need to apply law to ourselves and grace to others, and let the Holy Spirit to do His work. Some will reject, some will accept.
Me: How do you ensure that the work remains grounded in biblical truth?
In His Image: I believe in ‘bathing’ the atmosphere with God’s presence. There is a desperate need for an undergirding of prayer. Constant prayer by the leaders, having prayer partners, using every opportunity to share God’s word and to live out His Spirit. We seek to reflect Christ not only in what we do, but how we do it. It is especially important that the leaders understand the immense responsibility that Christ puts on them to lead as Christ did. One book that has really impacted me is Jesus-CEO.
Me: Do you see transformation among staff and parent volunteers?
In His Image: Yes, I do. Some accept Christ, yet others are impacted with Christ, and the way we work. Parents who used to consider their child as a curse, start valuing the child and working with him or her.
For example, one of our mothers (we’ll call her K) came to us hopeless, scared and convinced that her daughter’s “condition” was the fault of her own bad karma. The implications of disability are far reaching for a family without the hope of Christ. This mother poured her heart out to me. I listened, holding her hand, and finally began to share from my heart. I told her I was a Christian and therefore whatever I shared with her was what God had shared with me, and where I drew my strength from as another parent. I opened my Bible and showed her the source of my hope. And then I said, “Your daughter is made in the image of God.” This was a shocking idea to her that she could not immediately accept. As we continued to talk, I asked K to volunteer at the center.
K became a faithful volunteer and watched me and other Christian staff closely all the time. If the children wet their clothes or soiled them, I would clean them up if the maid was busy. “Why do you change their wet clothes? Leave it for the maid,” K would say. I replied, “There is no distinction between maid and teacher here. All of us are co-workers.” She was amazed initially. Then slowly she started helping out wherever there was a need, regardless of the nature of the work.
Then one day, one child wanted to run away from class. We could not allow him. As I sat physically restraining him, the child spit on my face. With my hands occupied, I could do nothing, not even wipe my face. K was furious, but with my eyes I told her to stay where she was. The child continued to spit, till the spit started flowing down my face. My expression neutral, I said nothing. Later, I talked with K. She was still very angry. She said, “How dare you allow that? Spit on your face!!!” Then I shared how the soldiers had spit on Christ’s face for my sins, and how this story played a major role in my coming to Christ. As a member of a Kshatriya family, it is a humiliation worse than death, and yet Christ took it for me. With that love, how could I not respond? She sat the stunned. From that day to this day, K has never lost her temper with the children, but loves them and sees her work as a service.
K now joins us for worship and prayer, and she reads the New Testament with her daughter everyday. She is preparing to become a Special Education teacher so that she can share the hope she has with other parents. Her life has been transformed by both hearing the Word and seeing it lived out every day.