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‘Change doesn’t start in the White House, it starts in your house’

In Conversation

Posted on August 9, 2019  - By Tobin Mattackal

Video Transcript

Tobin Mattackal: Hello friends, I’m here with Nate Bramsen at Southwest Brethren Conference in Dallas, Texas. And Nate Bramsen, if you don’t know who he is, he works as a missionary in North Africa and he has a deep heart to serve with children and discipleship and going around the world, especially to unreached places, with the gospel. And I’ve known Nate for a few years through social media and I had the privilege of meeting him last year, face to face. He’s been a great blessing for my life and [Nate] it’s a joy to interview you. 

Nate Bramsen: It’s a privilege to be with you too. 

TM: And we’re looking forward to having a good conversation. 

NB: Yes, indeed. 

TM: So, Nate, we have a few questions that we want to ask you. And I don’t want to take any more time, we’ll go straight into it. 

NB: Yeah, that’s great. 

TM: So, you’ve been working for the cause of abandoned children. Kids who have no parents, who have gone through disastrous circumstances in their life, and who have been abused — and you started having that burden at the age of 16. I just want to ask you what what was the cause of that burden?

NB: Yeah, that’s interesting, because I grew up around that my entire life in Senegal, West Africa. And even though I grew up seeing boys sleeping on the street in front of my house and constantly begging with tomato paste cans, every day of my life, it actually bothered me in a… sinful way, as in, I didn’t care about them and I wished they wouldn’t annoy me. That was how it was for the first 15 years. 

And then, we moved halfway across the world for me to pursue my dreams of a basketball career. And it, all of a sudden, hit me — after the Holy Spirit started really working in my life — I would wake up and go to bed in the United States and never have kids sleeping on the street in front of my house and never have kids coming up asking for rice or money or something. And, at that point, it just became a reality saying: Nathan, you can ignore hurting people in this world if you want to, and live a very sanitised, safe life — or you can give your life to serving souls that I love and that I died for, who might never hear [of the Gospel]. And so, it’s actually the absence of those kids, not the presence of those kids that touched my life. 

TM: That’s great. And praise God for that. So, what are some of the key challenges that you’ve faced being in North Africa when you moved there? 

NB: Well. I think — okay, when I say this, I say this with a 100 per cent respect to the individual I mention, because I think he’s a great example. It’s not a Billy Graham crusade in North Africa. And what I mean by that is — again, praise the Lord for Billy Graham’s ministry. But when you’re working in Islamic contexts, it’s about relationships. And relationships aren’t built in a five-minute, knock-on-your-door kind of way. They’re built over time, as you invest in lives. You truly love them, you ask questions, you walk with them during difficult times of life. And I think that it’s not a roadblock — even though that’s the word, the question you asked me — but I would say, it is a lesson that had to be learned and that is that: go there and truly love lives. 

Relationships aren’t built in a five-minute, knock-on-your-door kind of way. They’re built when you invest in lives

Don’t go there with an agenda saying, I’m just gonna love you until I show the gospel and then, if you reject it, I’m done. No, genuinely love them, regardless of how they respond to the Gospel. Because, again, our calling is to show and share the character of Christ. And so, I would say that was the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn and am learning in ministering in Islamic context — but, really, any context, because it’s always appropriate. 

TM: Yeah, that’s great. That’s great you brought that point [up] of relationship, and I think that’s exactly what Christ did too. He made relationships. He made relationships with people and His disciples — and that changed the world. So, glad that that’s exactly your vision too. So, just moving forward from your ministry in North Africa, the next question is specifically — I know this role has a big part in your heart: working with youths, young people. 

So, my question is: you know, in this day and age, we’re seeing a lot of youngsters really not having a lot of passion for spiritual things, right? They don’t have passion for God, to read the Bible, to go to church, and you see this all around the world. So, what are some of the reminders you would give to teachers of God’s Word or leaders in the church — or churches in general, or even parents or people who stand up there to lead them — some of the reminders for them or some of the solutions to these situations? 

NB: That’s a phenomenal question. I’m not claiming authority, I’m not claiming that I have the ‘inside scoop’! But I think we have to go back to the approach of Jesus Christ. Christ didn’t try to convince people to follow Him. He actually gave them a message that, according to John 6, many turned away and followed Him no longer — because Jesus didn’t water down what the call to follow him meant. And that is: “If any man desires to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” And I think that a lot of times, what young people are getting is… they’re getting a watered-down version of Christ’s call. 

What I mean by that is we pollute the message by almost encouraging more a good college education, a good career, make sure that they’re married — not make sure that they’re married to someone who passionately loves Jesus Christ and a relationship that will together bring God more glory than than being single. But when we put the emphasis on these things rather than on Christ — who promised persecution, who promised difficult times, who says blessed are the poor in spirit, the broken, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, peacemakers, the persecuted — I think one thing young people see is, they see, hang on a second. You’re encouraging this life, but the Jesus of the Scriptures really is drastically different. Like, what if Jesus meant what He said about all this? That’s one aspect.

I think the other thing is this: whenever we nurture faith as ‘rules to follow’ or ‘things to avoid’, we’re missing the point. See, when our young people come to know Jesus Christ, we need to encourage them on the mission; the mission of God to see this world know Jesus Christ. And how does that happen? Well, first, it happens through our own life — experiencing, knowing God, through His Word; and then, obviously, through the Holy Spirit’s guidance on a day-to-day basis. And so, it’s not about me: “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t—” 

Whenever we nurture faith as ‘rules to follow’ or ‘things to avoid’, we’re missing the point. We need to encourage youngsters in the mission of God: to see this world know Jesus Christ

We need to see our young people as how can we [best] equip them. Sending them maybe to trainings or giving them opportunities in the local church, but just in every way pouring into them, so that they can be fully equipped and encouraged to get on mission, because their mission doesn’t end until the day they see Jesus Christ face-to-face. 

TM: Yeah, that’s a great insight. Thank you for that. I just want to [say] something about this book that you wrote: What if Jesus Meant What He Said. And I personally want to say this book has been a blessing in my life. This is a book where you specifically encourage your readers to live the gospel. It’s so important to live the gospel and today, also, you spoke about this, that the world reads the gospel through our lives and, regardless of what the message is, what is the gospel for us, and that’s one thing you mentioned in this book. To be honest, you have travelled all around the world. The question to you is: have you felt it difficult to love some people? 

NB: In the flesh, absolutely. Absolutely. I know that — and I say this with no reservation — I think a lot of times, we hide our stories. And when we hide our stories, I mean, I get discretion. But at the same time too, I think we have to be open enough to communicate with whoever is watching or listening. And at one point, when I was living in the Middle East, I was… I would say, more than harassed, more abused, sexually abused twice by groups of men in the Middle East. And it was very… I won’t necessarily say violent, but it certainly was headed in that direction. And I share that because that was actually the hardest time in my life to respond in love to people that God had called me to actually minister to. In fact, I remember coming back to the United States and sharing with my family saying, pray that I love the people I’m around. Because even though it was just this group of military individuals or this other random individual, I have to say that it all of a sudden got blanketed towards everyone. I was all of a sudden like, wow, you know, I don’t love you. 

That was actually the hardest time in my life to respond in love to people that God had called me to actually minister to

And then the Lord just reminded me, first of all, look how they treated My Son. And then, secondly, don’t forget who I created them to be. He gave me three things. He says, “Nathan, when you’re tempted not to love, it’s because you’re not seeing what I’m seeing. But here’s the thing. You see, Tobin here? I’ll tell you three things about him. One, he’s perfectly knit together. That means that when I made him, I perfectly made him. I made no mistake in making Tobin, Tobin. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s not a sinner. He’s born a sinner. But I made him perfectly.” So, the first thing I know is: I don’t care who the person is — they’re perfectly made. 

Second thing I know is: “This guy Tobin? He’s loved with an everlasting love. And that means that I never started loving him and I’ll never finish loving him. I’ve always loved him. Now that doesn’t mean he’s gonna spend eternity with Me. He can reject my love, but I’ve always loved him.” Perfectly made. Always loved. 

And the third thing is this: I know how much God loved Tobin. He loved him so much that He said, “My Son is gonna become one of humanity. He’s gonna walk on earth and He’s going to take everything that Tobin’s ever done wrong on Himself and He’s going to fully pay for it — just to make Tobin His child forever.” And I changed my view, because now, it’s like how can I look at someone, or how can I not forgive someone, when I know that they’re perfectly made, loved eternally and Christ died for them? Their actions don’t define who they are. It might define what I want to feel about them, but it doesn’t define what God’s plan is for them. And that changed my heart. And I think I can say to you, Tobin, today: I truly love every individual I’ve ever met, regardless of what our past is. Because, how can I not when God’s loved me with that same love? 

How can I not forgive someone, when I know they’re perfectly made, loved eternally and Christ died for them? Their actions might define what I want to feel about them, but it doesn’t define who they are

TM: Thank you. Yeah, that’s such an encouragement. One of my final questions to you is this: you know, you’ve been married for more than a year now. 

NB: Yeah. 17 months. 

TM: Very cute little baby God has blessed you with.

NB: She’s precious. 

TM: And you have a lot of travelling to do. You mentioned you have close to 10 countries you’re visiting this year? 

NB: Yeah, about 10 to 15 countries this year. 

TM: You’ve lots of speaking responsibilities but I know, at the same time, that recently, you were diagnosed with cancer. You’ve been diagnosed with cancer and you’ve been struggling with that too. 

NB: Yes, absolutely. 

TM: So, I just want to ask you — and God is good amidst it all, no doubt. I just want to ask you what the Lord has been teaching you through this period. How has it changed, you know, being a father, a husband, a speaker — and yet having cancer?

NB: Yeah, first of all, I’ll just say this. Wow. These are all opportunities to learn and… I call cancer my friend. Cancer has been one of the greatest blessings of this past year. Obviously, I would put marriage and having a child before that. But having cancer has been just a pure gift. In fact, when people pray for me, I say: please don’t pray I’ll be healed too quickly because, frankly, this is an incredible platform for the Gospel. 

I tell people not to pray I’ll be healed too quickly because, frankly, cancer has been an incredible platform for the gospel

You know, joy doesn’t show when everything’s going well. Joy shows when the bottom falls out of your life and you’re still on the foundation you’re standing on. Faith shows when the world can see the invisible and they can see this peace, they can see this hope — and it’s not fake, it’s genuine. Ask my wife behind my back. This has been just so exciting. In fact, it’s reopened relationships that cut me off. 

And one thing the Lord — and this brings me to the answer of what it’s been teaching me — the Lord just encouraged my heart; when I found out I had cancer almost a year ago and I still have it, three things were just laid on my heart. 

One: Nathan, you are not sovereign over your circumstances. And basically, that just means I’m not controlling it. If I was, I would say: oh, remove the cancer or fix this situation. You’re not either, whoever is watching; you’re not sovereign. Because if you were, there’s something in your life you would change. But number two: I’m not a slave to my circumstances. It means that my circumstances don’t control me, but rather recognising that— hang on, there’s a third part. I’m not sovereign, I’m not a slave — but I am a steward. 

Every circumstance I have today is designed to bring God glory. I didn’t say that God caused it, but God allowed it. And because of that, I can rest in the fact that God’s given me a platform. And it’s easier to share the gospel being in the hospital bed than being the one talking to someone in the hospital bed. And so to me, it’s like wow, let’s not pray away this cancer too quickly. To beat cancer will not be to be cancer-free; to beat cancer will be to see God glorified in cancer. 

So that’s really what he’s been teaching me. Nathan, your circumstances are designed for you to fully glorify Me. And raising a daughter, same thing. Being married, what an opportunity to show the gospel in the way I love my wife and imitate Christ and the Church. What a way to show the love of the heavenly Father towards my little girl. And when I don’t, to be quick to say, I’m sorry — that did not reflect the picture properly, but thank you for your patience. 

TM: Yes. Well, that’s such an encouragement, what you just shared, how you see that as an opportunity to reflect God. I think that should be an encouragement for many of us, including myself. You know, often times when a storm hits, we forget the God behind it. A God who is sovereign over it and, most of the time, these things happen so that we would know Him, grow in His light. So, really happy to hear that. 

The last question is what are a few ways you would challenge our hearers? Or something that the Lord has been putting in your heart that you would pass on to our hearers and challenge them?

NB: I think when we look at our world today, it’s easy to see problems. But rather than seeing problems, what if the very situations of our society are actually the opportunity for us to know our God more intimately and to show him more clearly? And so I just want to challenge you, whether it’s in your marriage — maybe there’s something that you wish was different. Well, instead of wishing it was different, ask the Lord what proactive response would He have you take to more clearly reflect His character? It might be forgiveness. It might be gentleness. It might be acts of kindness. I don’t know. 

To beat cancer will not be to be cancer-free; to beat cancer will be to see God glorified in cancer

How about in our world? We have so much animosity today, from a political level to a social level. And everybody wants to blame whoever. Change doesn’t start in the White House. Change starts in your house. Change starts at home and it starts with me. It starts with me responding to the Word of God, as the Holy Spirit convicts my life. And so, I want you to be encouraged but exhorted at the same time, that it’s not about the problems around you, but it’s rather about your response to what God is seeking to teach you. Because when you stand before the Lord one day, you’re not [going to be] giving a response for the political actions of some state or even for the person across the house from you. You give account for the works done in the body, whether good or worthless, yourself (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

TM: That’s great. Thank you, Nate, for being with us. We really hope that the Lord will bless you more, and show His goodness towards you, and you would respond to that in service and gratitude. We just want to thank you for this time. God bless you. 

NB: Amen. Thank you for inviting me.

TM: Thank you so much for listening to us and hope his testimony and his story will encourage all of you. God bless you all. 

(Video courtesy: Steve Thomas)



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