January 6th is known as “Day of the Kings” and is a celebration of the the “three kings” who visited Joseph, Mary, and Jesus bearing the three gifts. Of course, there is more myth and story-telling to the celebrated version than any biblical roots to what really happened, but the reality is that it is a holiday celebrated by giving of gifts to children. In Mexico most people don’t give gifts at Christmas but on the Day of the Kings.
This holiday creates another opportunity to share the Gospel through events that reach out to children and their families as well. Yesterday, we were invited by the parents of a Mexican family from San Miguel de Allende (about 90 minutes drive from here) to whom we minister, to join them and their church and an English-speaking church in SMA, in an annual outreach in San Luis de La Paz, Guanajuato. There is an indigenous group of people there called the Chichimeca who number over 1,500 and who are in the early stages of being reached with the Gospel.
The believers from two churches in San Miguel provided over 1,000 boxed and bagged gifts for the children. A special ticket was given to all the children who entered the public school yard where the event was held and this ticket entitled the child to a box of small gifts. The gifts were handed out after about a 2 hour presentation by puppets and mimes, a story-telling, and a presentation of the Gospel. We didn’t have a part in the program but we got to know the believers from San Miguel and helped clean up the school yard when it was over.
To be honest and in my personal opinion, I am a bit cautious when it comes to events where people are attracted by gifts with the Gospel as an accompanying element. It’s not all bad to do this, but often times the people are only motivated by the gift, often do not pay attention to the presentation while they’re waiting through the “obligatory sales pitch” of the Gospel (reminds me of a time-share presentation), and I fear that that Gospel message may be confused in the minds of the poor with sort of a salvation that comes by works (i.e. we come and listen to the required program, and then we get our free gift). Also, if someone does make a profession of faith in Christ at such an event, it is quite possible that this is not a Spirit-led salvation experience but rather an outward response that reflects an inward selfish or greedy desire to receive more gifts. I guess one could call it a “candy machine Christianity” whereby a person learns to pull a lever (participating in an event or making a profession of faith) and then they look to see what physical reward awaits them for pulling the lever.
Giving gifts as a show of friendship and caring is not a bad thing and there is something to be said for doing so. My current thinking is that giving gifts at a personal level and not on a mass scale is probably more effective as an investment in the lives of others. In fact, generally speaking, sharing the Gospel on a personal level is generally more effective than mass methods. There are always exceptions but I think this is generally true.
When Jesus fed thousands of people with a miraculous, free meal in John 6, these same people sought Jesus out the next day. When they caught up with him in Capernaum, Jesus confronted their motives for looking for him. It was NOT because of the miraculous sign (thus showing them who Jesus really is) but for the food he gave them. Jesus then continued to emphasize the importance of who He is and of the need of the people to believe in him. At the conclusion of that sermon, nearly everyone, including many who were called disciples, “turned away and deserted him.” (v.66) Basically, this is how I tend to view give-away outreach. There may be a great attendance, but in the end, the harvest of believers tends to be sparse. Let’s face it, a candy coated, bloody cross will still require the Father to bring them (v 65). Many will gladly taste the candy coating, but few will really embrace the bloody cross. Nonetheless, we’re always encouraged by the few that the Father draws to Himself, perhaps even despite the method.
I’m not meaning to criticize the motives of those who put this event on, or events like them (I’ve seen many over the years). The motives are pure. However, the method may not always be the best, and sometimes the results over time reflect that the spiritual seeds planted never took root because the Gospel message was hindered by the secondary attraction of goodies. That is especially so if this is the only type of method used over time.
Nonetheless, there may very well be positives that come from such events, and I would not doubt that some people do benefit from the seeds of the Gospel planted during these kinds of events. Of course, if someone actually does come to faith in Christ through the seeds that were planted, then glory be to God!
There is a full-time worker there in San Luis de La Paz who is targeting this people group. At least there is someone working among these people to follow-up should there be any response to the Gospel. As far as I could tell, there were a lot of eyes and ears focused on much of the presentation, and that was encouraging to observe.
Cameron was ill so he and Dayton stayed home with Grandma and we took our two guests from Guanajuato who are still here and who wanted to go with us. We enjoyed the experience and enjoyed the hours afterward with our friends the Martinez family in San Miguel de Allende. We’d never been to their house and it was a treat to enjoy their fellowship and conversation and to discuss ministry with them.