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Witnessing and
Sympathetic Knowledge

Abstract: Even a tiny bit of knowledge about another person, sympathetically responded to, can bring about wonderful witnessing opportunities.

“If we would take a man alive, we must first know something, be it ever so little, about that man and his present interests.” These are the words from a chapter entitled “Winning From the Start” from Taking Men Alive. Trumbull goes on to show that Jesus in calling Peter and the disciples, was FIRST concerned about helping them with their fishing—their PRESENT interest—prior to His calling them to be fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11).

He makes a good point when he reminds us that people fishing concentrate on the fish and not on themselves, and carefully prepare bait to attract and entice the fish to respond.

Here Trumbull offers witnessing encouragement in suggesting we don’t need extensive knowledge of the other person, just SOME knowledge—as he puts it, “be it ever so little.”

Sometime back when I was traveling home from a family meeting in Ohio, I stopped at a hotel for the night. Mom was with me and as usual she wanted to visit with the people around. At 87 she has lost her timidity and happily looks for people to talk with—perhaps I’ve become a little boring for her. She suggested, “Lets go for a walk around the hotel grounds.” Now I knew that her motive was to get near people to talk with them, and seeing it was the holiday season, and a  hot day in the middle of the summer, the grounds—particularly the swimming pool area—was crowded with people. So we went. I confess to taking her by circuitous ways to avoid some of them, but she still succeeded in visiting with quite a few. Mom can be very gracious and people are not offended, but she is more persistent than most in seeking conversations. Finally we sat down in a “safe” place where we wouldn’t be disrupting too many people. But wouldn’t you know, someone came along and of course this attracted Mom’s attention. Now I don’t know what to say to perfect strangers, especially when they are in bathing suits and seeming to be quite preoccupied. But this didn’t phase mom, for she quickly called out, “That’s a pretty bathing suit.” Her words were simple, anything but profound, not terribly thought out, but she complemented the lady, the lady responded, and came over to chat. Good for you Mom, I thought to myself. But I was rather amazed as this lady began confiding to Mom about her coming to the hotel from the hospital where she had been admitted for a suicide attempt, in her desire to avoid going home to all the problems that awaited her there. Hm, that wasn’t hard, and what a significant conversation.

It isn’t how much we know, it’s that we know SOMETHING—for Mom it was noticing a pretty bathing suit—that will make all the difference.

In closing let me suggest another phrase to remember, not only “honest commendation,” but "sympathetic knowledge," for some knowledge, even a tiny bit of knowledge, can bring more information that we can sympathetically respond to, and thus bring about a deeply meaningful conversation with the one we are seeking to reach.

I believe Jesus was speaking of this sympathetic knowledge when he told the disciples to pray for laborers—sympathetic laborers—to go into the fields which were already white for harvest (John 4:35). The world IS truly white for harvest, for it is full of people waiting for someone to care about them. Given the right approach many of these people will also became great witnesses, just like the woman at the well that Jesus had just witnessed to.

I hope this helps in your witnessing.

Dan 12/16/2007

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