You should try it, it’s fantastic,” enthused Anita’s skydiver colleague, as she waxed lyrical about the joys of jumping out of an aeroplane with nothing but a few pieces of string and a couple of silk sheets between you and an early entry to heaven.
“If you come to church, I’ll go skydiving,” said Anita. Not a bad swap, you might think, but Anita’s colleague decided that going to church was too great a sacrifice to make in the attempt to convert another landlubber to the pleasures of terminal velocity.
A year passed and once again Anita found herself listening to her colleague extolling the virtues of skydiving. “I told you,” Anita said, “you come to church and I’ll go skydiving.” “Why do you want me to come to church?” “Well,” said Anita, “You want me to go skydiving because you think it’s a fantastic experience. I want you to come to church because knowing Jesus is a fantastic experience.”
Her colleague went to church. And in due course Anita jumped out of an aeroplane. It’s not clear who thought they were being braver. But it certainly cost Anita more – £375 for the training, the jump and the photos. Entrepreneurially, Anita decided to do a sponsored jump, turning over all the proceeds of her high altitude leap to the Oasis Trust. But after the jump, her relationship with her colleague took almost as spectacular a dive as Anita had taken – except there was no parachute. Eventually Anita asked her why. “You’re too nice. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like you.”
Prayer, initiative, verbal witness, financial investment and a fair dollop of courage – but in terms of her work colleague’s journey towards Christ, things were worse than before. Success or failure?
The Power of Chocolate
Anita Kapila is an enthusiast, an upbeat, life-of-the-party kind of person with a clear desire to both bless and reach her work colleagues. She comes from a Hindu background and became a Christian at 22, whilst at Glasgow University studying pharmacology, and fell into the clutches of the Navigators. And if you fall into the clutches of the Navigators it’s hard to avoid learning how to share your faith. Since university Anita has worked in science – in research for Glaxo and Celltech, sales in Witney, and production at Lonza. In 2001, she re-trained and now teaches science in a secondary school. She loves science, she loves people, and evangelism is her gift. Certainly, she’s had her share of rejections, but they haven’t dampened her enthusiasm for showing and sharing Christ. “I want to bless people.”
And she’s found a whole variety of ways of doing just that. For years wherever she’s worked she’s brought in chocolate or biscuits (fairly traded, of course) for her work colleagues. When she was working in a team where everyone worked alone in single person labs, she made sure people took their breaks at the same time so they would talk. Within two months of her leaving, the team’s relationships had become so distant that the management had to arrange after-hours team-building exercises. As one of them put it, “We miss the fact that you brought us together.” Anita has also always invited work colleagues to a Christmas party – no tracts attached – again just to bless people. Similarly, she once took her whole team to the world’s largest Bingo Hall – just for the fun of it. Anita had never been before. She won £100. And shared it with her guests.
If throwing a party is indirect evangelism, then her Christmas card strategy is anything but – in fact, she doesn’t send them. Instead she giftwraps copies of Why Jesus? or What’s the Point of Christmas? and gives them to all her colleagues. “Why don’t you send Christmas cards?” she was once asked. “Christmas isn’t about Christmas cards. Christmas is about Jesus, and this is it.” Naturally, not everyone is appreciative. One colleague returned a Why Jesus? to her saying, “You can recycle this one.” Another recycled it for her, tore it up and dumped it in a bin where they knew she would see it. Anita painted the scene, called it Persecution, entered an art competition and won £150. Success or failure?
Usually, however, warmth breaks down barriers. At Glaxo, there was one woman she’d pass in the corridor every day and they’d smile at each other.
She didn’t know her name and that didn’t seem to matter. One day, however, they both arrived at the car park at the same time. They introduced themselves. Within minutes, Anita was being told that Gabriella’s (all names have been changed - except Anita’s) four-year old son had had acute eczema and acute asthma since birth and that she wanted to leave her husband. Anita offered to pray for her marriage and asked whether it would be all right if the Christian group prayed for her son. Gabriella agreed. Anita then opened her car boot, fished out a Bible from the boxful in there and gave her one.
The next day they met for lunch. Within six months, Gabriella’s son was completely healed of his eczema and his asthma had subsided significantly.
This got Gabriella’s attention and slowly she found Christ. She’s still following him today and she’s still married.
Kindness and consideration don’t always work, however. “For 18 months I worked for a company at Witney. Every day I’d go and make coffee for all my colleagues. In 18 months I think someone might have made me a cup of coffee just twice. It was a nightmare – they were horrible to me. When one man left, I organised the collection and the card. But two others gave it to him and pretended that they had done all the work. I said nothing, but the man who left came and said, “You did all that for me, didn’t you?” “God revealed it to him. When I left,” she says, recalling Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 10:14, “I shook the dust off my sandals. I’ve never done that before.
Success or failure?
Anita has always tried to meet up with Christian colleagues. At Lonza, the Christian group she set up became strong, and they met to pray and to study relevant books. “We read a chapter of Thank God it’s Monday every week and we’d discuss it. It really fired us up.” (I slip her a £50 note and a box of Swiss chocolates.) “Then we looked at Alec Hill’s Just Business and read through a book by Patrick Dixon whichlooked at a number of the scientific issues which were relevant to our research.” Hers is a holistic engagement with the workplace – thinking about what you’re doing, as well as the people you’re doing it with.
When she arrived at her new teaching job, she discovered three things:
- The deputy head had just become a Christian
- The head was an atheist
- The Christians had been talking about starting a prayer group for years but hadn’t done it.
Anita changed No 3 almost instantly. Similarly, when the headmaster’s brother had an operation and his sisterin- law had a serious car accident, Anita sent the headmaster a card, with two Kit-Kats enclosed, letting him know that they were praying for him.
He asked the deputy head, “Does Anita not know that I’m an atheist?” “Does it matter if she does know?” the deputy replied. “Doesn’t it make you feel nice that someone’s praying for you?” The head beamed like Billy Bunter with a tuck box full of chocolate.
Stories like these abound. Some leading to a decision to follow Christ, some apparently leading to the decision not to follow Christ. Success or failure?
Indeed, we might ask: what does successful ministry at work actually look like?
Life on the vine
In John 15:1-2, Christ makes it very clear that his Father is interested in maximising fruit production:
I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
All the Father’s activities point in that direction: cutting away dead wood to ensure it doesn’t inhibit the good branches, pruning to ensure the maximum yield from next year’s crop.
But what is this fruit? If we don’t know, we run the risk of complacently believing that we are fruitful when we aren’t, or despondently bemoaning that we aren’t fruitful when we are.
Is the required harvest obedience, or converts, or love for others, or growth in Christlike character? The answer, as the rest of John 15 clarifies, is all of the above.
The Father rejoices when we remain faithful to Christ and to his teaching when many around us mock it as “oldfashioned”, “irrelevant”, “19th century”, even “discriminatory”. The Father rejoices when we respond with love and patience to people and circumstances that might have kindled anger, bred resentment or triggered selfishness. The Father rejoices when we reach out in practical love to our fellow Christians.
All this is fruit that the Father desires and delights in – ask and it will be given to you (Matthew 7:7). We do some things because Jesus asks us to do them. He doesn’t guarantee the outcome we would like; he doesn’t guarantee the outcome even he would like – people, after all, will respond as they want to. Jesus heals 10 lepers but only one comes back and kneels in gratitude to him.
This, however, did not mean that Jesus does not yearn for people’s salvation. And people’s salvation is also obviously on Anita’s heart. Jesus, after all, did not come simply to model perfect behaviour, nor just to demonstrate self-restraint in the face of outrageous injustice and sulphuric provocation. He came that many might be saved. The production of that kind of fruit is out of our control. As Paul reminds us: it is ‘God who makes things grow.’ (1 Corinthians 3:7).
However, we are, like the disciples, meant to be involved – through example, loving action, verbal witness, and prayer.
Not many of us have Anita’s perseverance, or her high-octane whoosh and whoompf and evangelistic creativity. But as I look back on the things she’s done, is there really anything in there that I couldn’t have done – apart from jumping out of an aeroplane?
Lord, give us your heart for those who don’t follow you.