To wrap up June’s focus on the discipline of evangelism (I realize June ended yesterday…sorry I’m late!), I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Emily Cetola. I knew she’d have good things to say, but to be honest, I must say that her answers to my questions have floored me. Wow! Wonderful insights — both inspiring and challenging to me personally. Keep reading if you, too, desire to grow in the area of sharing your faith . . .
Emily, can you tell my readers a bit about yourself?
Iʼve been married for almost 12 years to a wonderful husband, who keeps life interesting with his storm chasing, study of world cultures, and reading passions. We have three kids, ages 6, 3, and 1. Right now I stay home with our kids, and much of my energy goes towards keeping our family rolling along, with all that entails. I love being creative and artistic, especially with music. Someday I would love to write worship songs in Italian. I dabble in all sorts of hobbies, such as reading, gardening, camping, water skiing, cooking, sewing, song writing — depending on the day!
You and your family are preparing to head to Italy as missionaries. That “title” comes with a lot of expectations. In what ways does this coming adventure excite you? challenge you?
This “calling” if you will has been brewing in me since I was a kid. As the time draws closer for our family to actually make the move overseas, Iʼm really excited to see it all come to fruition. Iʼm looking forward to introducing our kids to a new culture, pointing out each step of the way how God is the same no matter where we are in the world. Iʼve come to a point in this journey where I have realized that in many ways, God is leading me on this path to shape my own heart and character. Only in my personal transformation to be more like Jesus will I have any “usefulness” in the Great Commission. This is both exciting and challenging. There is a lot of self-examination that goes on in the process of saying goodbye to a life that is relatively comfortable and familiar. A lot of measuring priorities. Probably the hardest part is thinking through all these issues on behalf of our kids. There are a lot of ﬁne lines between worry & responsibility, trust & wisdom. But thatʼs true of parenting whether it is here or there.
As you know, this month’s topic has been evangelism which is a tough one for me and for many others. What do you ﬁnd personally challenging about evangelism?
To be totally honest, the hardest part of evangelism for me is having to address the questions in my own heart — do I really believe the gospel of Jesus is true? Have I really been personally transformed by it? What tangible, credible stories from my own life point to Jesus? Am I humble? If I am going to put it all out on the line, I want to be as authentic and vulnerable in evangelism as possible. Sliding into the “pat” answers is often easier and takes less emotional energy. But investing in the soul-searching is what makes evangelism authentic and much more natural.
On the ﬂip side, which aspects of evangelism come naturally to you?
I think that compassion is a huge start to evangelism, and thatʼs something I feel strongly about. Every person on the planet has a sin problem, which means every person experiences pain to some extent. Whether itʼs our own sin, or the sin of another, or simply the fact that we live in a broken world, weʼve experienced the pain of sin. I canʼt think of a better place to start than coming alongside a person, learning his/her life story, and identifying with (not correcting!) whatever is “broken” in her life. While some people will open up at a deeper level than others, it rarely takes anyone very long to complain or grieve about something. The greater the trust youʼve cultivated in the relationship, the greater your opportunity to speak of the One who carried the pain of the world on His shoulders, and the healing He is longing to give to anyone who comes to Him.
I think perhaps one reason I feel reticent during some “evangelism” conversations is because I don’t want to come across as an “obnoxious Christian.” In other words, I want to overcome negative stereotypes others may have about Christians (as obnoxious, judgmental, egotistical, poor listeners, un-empathetic, etc.). What insights do you have about how we can share our faith with conﬁdence while striving to overcome obstacles and stereotypes like these?
Hopefully Iʼve already started to answer this in the above questions. I can get pretty worked up when I think about examples of the negative stereotypes youʼve described, but then I have to check myself and determine if Iʼm letting pride eat up precious emotional energy that could otherwise be used on examining my own heart for authenticity. We live in a day and age when everyone is trying to market something. Itʼs an age of information overload. Itʼs a time when real, live face to face relationships are replaced by virtual social networks on our computers and phones. As Christians, we should embrace the opportunities these provide, but we should also take the time to get to know people, invite them into our homes, let them see how our lives are messy sometimes (or most of the time!) and give them the opportunity to see the difference that Jesus has made. And that because we love them, we long to introduce them to Jesus, too. A great place to start is simply offering to read the Bible with them (i.e. the book of John), and create a safe place to dialogue, ask questions, etc. without any fear of rejection.
How do evangelism & parenting intersect?
I love this question, because there are so many opportunities. Every time we discipline our kids (and be honest, some days it feels like thatʼs all we do), we have the chance to share the gospel. To show how it applies in every day life and pray with our kids. Even the youngest kids can begin to understand that they have a sin problem that deserves a punishment, but that they arenʼt left helpless in their problem. They can understand on simple terms that Jesus took the “biggest” punishment for them, so that they could have a right relationship with God and enter heaven. My kids love imagining about what heaven will be like — a great opportunity to encourage the hope and excitement they have about going there. We talk about the gospel a lot in our daily activities. We talk a lot about how God designed the world to work, and what happens when we make choices contrary to that plan. There are so many opportunities to get kids thinking about God and His salvation plan, and of course His love.
As you continue to prepare to head overseas, how can we be praying for you?
Pray for our family, that we would have good time management, and extra load of patience and grace with each other during the stressful times, and that we would always keep sight of the reason for our obedience to this call. Pray for Godʼs provision from individuals and churches that will allow us to leave for Italy in the coming months. For our kids, that God would hold them close to His heart in the days of transition ahead. And for me personally, that I would have time to feed my own soul in the midst of caring for our family and ministry needs.
Thank you, Emily! Please join me in praying for the Cetolas as they continue raising support and get ready for their move. To learn more about their missions adventure, head to www.cetolafamily.com. To view the video on their site, enter “italy” as the password.