For the past 9 years, I’ve worked as a chaplain for Sweden’s only Adventist primary school, Ekebyholmsskolan. We have a little more than 300 students ranging in age from 6 to 19 years old. You may be surprised to hear me say I don’t try to convert my students to Christianity.
The reason why I don’t try to convert may be more clear with some background information. Historically, virtually 100% of the Swedish population was Christian up until the early 20th century. Today, however, only 1 in 10 Swedes think religion is important in daily life or trust any religious leader. At my school over 90% of the students are non-religious, and even fewer are Adventist.
This leads to several obstacles that get in the way of students coming to a relationship with Jesus. There is a lot of secular pressure to be non-Christian. Many of their role models are famous, smart, influential people who don’t believe in God. Many are even anti-God. Also, students have many misconceptions about Christianity. They recognize words like Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, and faith, but these words are just religious noise to them. They either mean nothing or have negative connotations. As a result, most young people here don’t even consider believing in Christianity, which they view as a fairy tale. To them, religion is outdated and disproven.
This is why I’ve stopped trying to convert them to Christianity. Instead, when I hang out with students, I have a much more modest goal. I just want to “put a stone in their shoe.” I try to leave them with a challenging thought or a question that will bother them in a good way and challenge their thinking. I want to leave them with a little taste of the truth about God. If the interaction goes deeper, that’s great, but if not, that’s okay too.
Remember the interaction Jesus had with the woman at the well? She brought her people back to see Jesus, and He told his disciples, who had done nothing for this particular harvest, that they were about to reap what they did not sow. Then in John 4:36 He said, “He who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.” God has people that play all different kind of roles in His work of salvation. Some sow the seeds while others reap the harvest. None is more important than the others.
I’m always prepared if God puts someone in my path that is ready to commit themselves to a life following Jesus. But in secular Sweden, some conversions take years. Some take decades. That’s a lot of gardening. It means that for the most part I will never see the harvests in which I had a small role.
But that’s alright. I’m a gardener, and God needs those too.