Too Close to Ignore

Introduction

This is an except from a book I am writing called “Close Call: Living in the Image of God.”

The dictionary describes a close call as “a narrow escape from danger or disaster.” I’ve come to think of a close call in two ways. 

First I think of a close call like this: The Holy Spirit prompts me to share the good news of Jesus with someone at a time when I think I’m either too busy or I’m afraid of being rejected. Or, maybe they are already a follower of Jesus and  I’m their messenger of hope. At times like these I sometimes look for any excuse to get out of the calling. It’s a close call when I give in to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and the person is either led to accept Jesus as their Savior or they already have and the prompting was to just listen to their heart ache and maybe share a comforting message from the Holy Spirit. 

The second way I think of a close call comes from the verse of scripture that introduced me to the friendship I have with Jesus. It was a Saturday morning when I was a young boy in our church youth group. For some reason I felt depressed and lowly that day. We were studying the 15th chapter of the gospel of John. When we got to verse 13, it’s as if Jesus came back to earth and was sitting next to me. I don’t recall the bible translation we were reading. I recall hearing these words, “there is no greater love that a man can have than to give up his life for a friend.” Jesus was telling me he loved me so much that he gave up his life for me. At that time, I accepted Jesus as my Savior. 

John 15:13 became my life vase. It told me I could show Jesus’ love to others by giving up my life for them. I soon came to understand that I could give up my life to others by giving my time to them.  I started spending time with people who needed a friend or someone to listen to them. It started with older people on my paper route. An elderly couple sitting on their pooch in the evening. An invalid lady in her last years of life. From there, I was called to volunteer to help mentally handicapped adults with fun activities like bowling. In all these instances, I was called to give up my time and just be their friend. 

I believe we are all called to give up some of our time and let down our defenses and get close to others. It’s a call to closeness. a “close call. “

The future book “Close Call: Living in the Image of God ” is a collection of close calls God has set before me and others. It is intended to encourage you to be on the look out for close calls in your life. 

Book Excerpt

It is the later half of the year 2019. I am writing today conflicted by reason and a heartfelt desire.

For a couple of decades, I’ve led information technology teams in the United States, India, China and South America.  I’ve become close friends with a few of the people on my teams who have come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and some who remain committed to the gods of their Hindu and Muslim faiths. 

My current conflict is due to a Christian pastor named Salmon who contacted me through LinkedIn. Salmon is from a village called Nayakampalli in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh, India. 

Salmon told me how God revealed Himself to Salmon when he was about to enter school to become an Indian police officer. God told him he was going to plant churches in Salmon’s area and Salmon was going be God’s vessel to teach men who would lead those churches. 

Over the course of three weeks, Salmon wrote to me through LinkedIn. He told me that while planting churches he would come across homeless widows and orphans. He didn’t feel right ignoring them, so Salmon and his wife Priyanka started taking them in. Eventually, they started Our Father’s Home Ministries www.ofhm.in in 2010.

Our Father’s Home Ministries is a ministry with a three-fold purpose. First, it is a church planting ministry in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim area where Salmon trains and disciples people to plant Christian churches. They’ve planted close to 100 small churches so far. Second it exists to help widows like a homeless widow I saw every morning during a trip to Pune India earlier this year. Third, they run an orphanage with 50 children. 

His plea was for friendship, prayer, and financial support to help him evangelize and minister to the Christian converts, widows, and orphans in his area. 

Every morning I received a message from Salmon. I responded politely that in America we get lots of requests from people from India and Africa who are looking for someone to scam. My heart wasn’t going to fall victim to a potential scam.

I also told Salmon my wife and I are supporting other ministries and not in a position to provide financial support to another ministry. For some reason, he thought I was someone he should continue to reach out to for friendship, prayer, and financial support.

He asked me to visit his ministry and consider being someone who would rally others in my area around their needs.

To ease my skepticism, Salmon offered to introduce me to several people in the United States who have visited him in order to prove his ministry is legitimate. But, like most Americans, I am skeptical of people who contact me online because of all the dishonest people trolling the Internet for handouts.

One day, I was about to tell him in a nice way that I’m not in a position to visit him and probably not the guy to rally the troops back home around him. But, as I was writing to Salmon, the Lord reminded me of a scene that I have relived in my head several times a week since I returned from a business trip to Pune, India in February. 

The scene is a view from my taxi window every morning as I was being driven from my luxury hotel through the poorest areas of Pune to the nice office where I worked. Every day I saw the same old woman sitting on the ground like a little kid playing in the dirt. Some of the people around her were making bricks out of mud. The bricks were being used to make a wall to hide the desolate neighborhood from the view of the traffic on the busy street.   

The woman looked like she was either talking to herself like someone whose mind was not right or she was chanting to one of the thousands of Gods worshipped in that part of the world.  

Everyday we drove by, my heart hurt for that one woman. “Lord, why did you give me all of this and leave her with nothing,” I thought to myself. “I did not leave her with nothing,” He said, “I gave her you.” 

There wasn’t a convenient way for me to help her on that trip. I left Pune wishing there was something I could do to help her or others like her in India.

On this morning when I was contemplating my response to Salmon, I asked myself if Salmon could be God providing an answer to the thoughts I had in India when I drove by that old woman. Many times, I’ve seen Him act upon my simple thoughts  as if they were a beggars prayer. So I said, Lord, if Salmon’s ministry is legitimate and he contacted me because of Your divine guidance, please direct Jennifer and me to see how you want us to help.

After a couple of weeks of Salmon’s persistence I asked God again to change my heart if Salmon was who he said he was. Then one morning Salmon asked me if we could have a video call through WhatsApp. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to giving Salmon that level of access to me. But God had been starting to change my heart.

I asked God to speak clearly to me about how He wanted me to interact with Salmon. Then I opened my morning devotional which spoke as clear as if God had written the answer on a Big Chief notebook tablet.

The first scripture verse in my devotional was Ecclesiastes 11:6, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

God reminded me how when I am doing business with people in India or China, I speak to them in the morning and in the evening. If I can do this for the people God uses to bring me blessings, it makes sense that I should do the same for the people God wants to bless through me.

So, I started to communicate with Salmon every morning through WhatsApp. Sometimes we use text and sometimes we use video. The first time we used video, he introduced me to the orphans. They don’t speak English but they were jumping up and down waving and saying hello Mr. Bollig. My heart was hooked. 

Salmon has the most beautiful smile. He and the people God put under his care live in conditions that are even less than than what we call poverty in America. And, they are more in love with the Lord than I’ve seen in our churches. The Lord Jesus is all they have.

After getting to know Salmon and the children through video calls, I am confident God has shown me what he wants me to do with Salmon. Now I am searching for His answer to how.  

My prayers for these new friends go something like this, “Lord, thank you for showing me that Salmon’s ministry is legitimate and that he contacted me because of Your divine guidance. I can see that this is another close call. A call for me to develop a close relationship with Salmon, the widows, the orphans and the church leaders in Nayakampalli. Direct Jennifer and me and show us how you want us to help. If you want me to visit, provide a trip to India or a neighboring country through my work. If you want us to give financially, show us where the money should come from. If you are asking me to just pray for now, then wake me as often as You want and put the people of Our Father’s Home Ministries on my heart. We are willing to be a conduit between Heaven and earth for Your love and providence to flow through as You give the people under Salmon’s care a glimpse of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is one of the biggest “close calls” I’ve had in my life. It is a close call because God called me to develop a closeness to Salmon as if he were my own brother. It is a close call because God is calling me to develop close relationships with people who have the means and the heart to provide support. And, it is a close call because I almost dismissed Salmon’s messages as just another person trying to scam me. Whew, what a “close call.”