LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Ruth Ripken shared her vast experience of ministering to women overseas in a seminar for Kentucky Baptist women on Thursday.
Ripken and her husband, Nik, who penned the Insanity of God book series, are retired International Mission Board partners who were on the mission field for 35 years. They lived in seven countries and visited 86 countries in an incredible career.
“What I love is that God has brought the nations to us,” said Ruth Ripken at the Women's Hospitality conference. “It’s not about location, but obedience.”
Obedience requires intentionality, especially when it comes to reaching people with diverse cultural backgrounds, she said.
“Access to women (in these cultures) is a struggle because of schedule differences … language gap is another big barrier.” Those are some of the reasons typically given for not being intentional to witness to internationals, but “recognizing your own inhibitions is the first step,” she said.
Ripken posed the question: “How are we going to engage women?”
The answer came in four parts: learn their worldview, model biblical faith, open your home and build bridges.
“Ask questions, listen and be available,” said Ripken, who explained these are the best ways to get to know a person’s worldview, culture, beliefs and priorities that eventually opens a door to share the gospel.
Ripken said that modeling a biblical faith is often different than modeling an American faith. It means going beyond what may be culturally “comfortable” to engage people who are lost.
“Go with family and friends,” she said, suggesting groups are disarming and children bring a helpful buffer to meet new people. The boldness of a child makes them “our best witnesses.”
Ripken said all ages groups, from children to grandmothers, are important in sharing the gospel, because people are most receptive to the message of Christ when they hear it from someone their own age. “We are ‘on mission’ and we’ve got to do it together,” she said.
Opening your home is also crucial to reaching people of other cultures, said Ripken. She explained hospitality is an important part of welcoming people in almost any culture.
Ripken shared a story of a Middle Eastern student they met at the airport once. She and her husband asked about his time in the United State and he said it was fine but mentioned he was “leaving with all his gifts.” Confused, the Ripkens asked what that meant. He continued by saying he came prepared to give gifts to all the families who would invite him to their homes while he was in the United States, but he was not invited a single time.
This kind of indifference, Ripken said, is what inhibits the gospel from being shared with people who come to the United States. And the starting point for much of ministry is the home.
“Internationals expect to be welcomed,” said Ripken, who continued by encouraging Kentucky Baptist women to model faith in the home — through prayer and devotional times — even when there are guests around.
Ripken also challenged her audience to build bridges with people of other nations in the community.
“We prayer walked every day in our community and, after about two weeks, people started seeing us and they’d wave and they’d talk and then we finally got invitations into their homes,” she said. “Prayer walking is a great tool for getting into communities.”
Building bridges can look like anything from attending cultural celebrations, to eating at an international restaurant, to shopping at an international grocery store, all for the purpose of creating relationships, Ripken said.
Pat Beverly, receptionist at the Kentucky Baptist Convention, who has befriended a lady from India, said the seminar encouraged her to be “more intentional in knowing (her friend’s) story better and helping her understand the story of becoming a Christian.”
Seeking out relationships with internationals at the grocery store was a particularly memorable suggestion to Beverly as a reminder to be evangelistic moving forward.
The most important takeaway from the seminar, Ripken said, is to answer the question, “What’s my message?” The gospel drives everything and understanding and explaining that message clearly is crucial, she said.
Ripken also stressed the importance of accountability and partnership when it comes to sharing the gospel with the nations.
Despite fears and perceived inconveniences of learning a new culture and building new relationships, the core of Ripken’s message was that obedience to Christ, and seeing international women come to faith, is the essence of the Great Commission.