“Baptist” or “Evangelical”?

We moved to the heart of Minneapolis this summer and immediately found ourselves surrounded by Somali immigrants. There is a Somali ‘mall’ directly across the street, including a mosque, and many of the local shops are owned by and cater to Somalis.

The first week we were here, I stopped in one particular deli and ordered a large Americano (from a Somali deli, I know). Since then, I’ve stopped in about twice a week and ordered the same thing. It’s cheaper than Starbucks, and I think I like it even better.

I’ve gotten to know the shop-owner by name, and at this point he starts making my drink before I even have to order it. I’m starting to care about him as a person, and pray for his salvation.

This morning I asked if he was religious (of course — 99.9% of Somalis are Muslim) and he reciprocated the question. It seems like Somalis love to talk about religion — there was no guardedness about him at all, actually an eagerness to compare our beliefs, and in a very friendly manner.

When I told him I was Christian, he asked what kind, Catholic . . . ? I froze for a second. What label could I give him that would mean anything to him? I didn’t know, and I grabbed “Baptist”. We talked for a couple minutes about the Torah, the Injil (New Testament) and the Quran. “What to Baptists believe about the Quran?” he asked at one point, and I briefly told him. It was a good, if brief, conversation, and I think the door is wide open to go further. Pray for this man if you think of it.

I kept thinking, and I’m not satisfied with “Baptist” — I wish I would have said “evangelical” instead. It’s not that “evangelical” would be any more meaningful to him than “Baptist” but using “evangelical” would give me a straight and direct excuse to talk about the evangel that defines me as a Christian, rather than the mode of Baptism that distinguishes me from other Christians. For evangelistic purposes, one term keeps us focused on the gospel, the other opens up rabbit trails that are totally meaningless at this point. Even in encounters with Americans, I think “evangelical” is a more useful term. Regardless of how the broader culture defines (or vilifies) a particular label, we define the terms for the people we interact with. “I thought evangelicals were _______, but I know Daniel, and he says he’s an evangelical.”

I’m not ashamed of being a Baptist. I’m as strong in that conviction as I have ever been. Yet, I’ve determined that for purposes of evangelism, I need to identify as an evangelical.