A scam-artist invited me to Africa.
I said, “Yes.”
Was it the right thing to do?
This is my story:
Last year, I ran into a problem, and it came in the form of a verse in the Bible. First Corinthians 13:7 says that love “always trusts.”
As soon as I read this, warning bells rang in my heart. “But you can’t be gullible,” I argued. “Scams are everywhere! I can’t trust just anyone without reservation!”
Nevertheless, the same message came through every version of the Bible I read. The NASB renders the text to say that love “believes all things,” and the Amplified Bible goes so far as to specify that love “is ever ready to believe the best of every person.”
In other words, if I’m truly going to love a scam artist, then I have to trust and believe the best of him or her. Wouldn’t you say that’s dangerous? This person only wants to deceive me and steal from me. Why should I trust? The answer is simple: Jesus said to love your enemies, and love “always trusts.” It is “ever ready to believe the best of every person.” I can’t love my enemy without trusting him.
Running a web site like SupernaturalTruth.com seems to attract scam artists all the time. I receive e-mails on a regular basis that invite me to come speak in Pakistan, or India, or some African nation. Many missionaries will tell you that there are people who spend all day sitting in Cyber Cafes, fishing for Americans who will respond to such an invitation. Once the American has a non-refundable plane ticket and has paid for a passport and visa, the requests for funds (to cover “unexpected expenses”) start pouring in. Some victims land in the country only to find that the ministry, the church, or even the person doesn’t even exist. It’s all a ploy to wrangle American dollars.
Naturally, if I blindly trust all these people, then I’m going to be perpetuating the problem while personally winding up in the poor-house.
See the problem?
But the Lord showed me how to make this work. He said, “If you trust Me above all, and if you listen to My voice, then you’re allowed to be gullible. The pressure is off.”
What a relief! Whenever I receive these phony requests, I have the liberty to trust the person wholeheartedly and simply ask the Holy Spirit how to respond. Naturally, He will tell me to graciously turn down a request. I don’t have to know why; I just need to be led by Him.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I received one of these classic requests from a man in Kenya, and the Holy Spirit said, “Go!”
“What?!?” In my natural mind, I knew that this was a scam just like all the others, but the Holy Spirit was compelling me to go. So I accepted the invitation with joy. Since love always trusts, I spoke to this man (and spoke of him to others) as though he were completely legitimate. I wasn’t lying–I was trusting and loving. Until a scam was actually revealed, I had no grounds for accusing him of anything.
I wrote to all my friends and family: “I’ve been invited to Africa. If you could please help provide financially, that would be a tremendous blessing…” I told my wife and parents, “I could very easily be walking right into a scam, but if the Holy Spirit said, ‘Go,’ then apparently He intends for me to do something while I’m there–maybe even preach the Gospel to the scammers!”
In my support letter, I mentioned that I still needed to raise $600 to cover the cost of last year’s trip to Honduras; so in an effort to be faithful to my commitments, the first $600 would have to go there. Within a couple weeks of sending the letters, the checks stopped coming. Can you guess how much I received? $605.
There I was with $5 to send me to Africa. I started to feel a little relieved–especially given the likelihood of this being a scam. But the Holy Spirit kept stirring my heart toward going.
That’s when a woman from my church asked, “So you received this invitation to Africa, but what is God telling you to do?”
“He’s telling me to go.”
“Good. The Holy Spirit told me to send you there. I work for [a major airline], and I have a ton of ‘Air Miles’ that I can transfer to you. I can fly you into and out of Nairobi, Kenya, for free.”
Within the week, I had my ticket.
By the world’s standards, I was doing everything wrong: (1) traveling alone (2) to a country I’ve never been to (3) in order to meet up with a man who is probably a scammer (4) without enough money for food and lodging and (5) a return flight that wouldn’t happen for another half a month. But by Kingdom standards, I was doing everything right: (1) Obeying the Holy Spirit (despite apparent danger) and (2) loving without reservation.
True to form, the requests for money started coming in from Kenya. Love “always trusts,” so I had no reason to refuse. Then I asked the Holy Spirit what to do, and He said, “Don’t send any money.” So I wrote back to the man in Africa: “The Holy Spirit told me not to send any money. Apparently He intends to provide for the conference another way. Ask the church to pray, and God will provide.”
Every time I said the Holy Spirit forbade me to send any money, the man in Africa would write back asking me how much I was willing to contribute. All the while, I continued to love and trust–while obeying the Holy Spirit’s command not to send anything.
Then, a few weeks ago, I received an accidental e-mail from someone associated with this so-called “pastor.” It was addressed to someone named “Len,” and it invited him to the same church to lead a conference on the same subject, just a few months later in the same city of Eldoret, Kenya. The Holy Spirit prompted me to connect these two “pastors” in love. I wrote to the first, “I just received this e-mail from a pastor in your city who wants to host a similar conference. Perhaps this is the answer to prayer we’ve been waiting for! He sounds like he has the available funds you need! I sent him your e-mail address and asked him to contact you.”
Within hours, I received a reply: “I think we should cancel the conference before we incur any debt.”
Finally, the song-and-dance was over. Here’s the e-mail I sent in reply:
Hi John, I am so grateful that the Lord has brought this situation into the light so that it can be seen for what it is. It appears that you were only seeking American dollars from the very beginning–especially since you were unwilling to take any of the suggestions I offered (including help from the other pastor in Eldoret). I plead with you to examine your motives for everything that has happened and seek the Lord in repentance. Your focus was more on money than on Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is grieved because of it. He would have gladly provided for you, but you chose to focus on worldly wealth rather than heavenly reward. Of greatest concern to me is your sin against the Holy Spirit. No matter how many times I told you that He would not allow me to send funds, you kept asking. It is clear that you do not have a relationship with Him, and for this I would even question your salvation. Again, in love, I plead with you to repent! Be reconciled to God! Return to Him in humility and ask His forgiveness for disregarding the Holy Spirit and focusing on this world’s wealth rather than on Him. If you need to pray with someone or if you need counsel, please let me know. I would be more than happy to help you return to your true eternal purpose in the Lord. My love for you and your family has not changed. God has a wonderful destiny for your life, and He wants you to discover it as soon as possible. His plans for you are amazing. God bless you, my brother, –Art
There it was. No more conference. My faithfulness to trust in love led to an opportunity to preach a message of repentance and share the good news of this man’s destiny in Christ. It looked like the purpose had been fulfilled. But I still had a ticket to Africa and a calling in my heart to go!
As many of my readers know, there’s another gentleman in Uganda who has been inviting me for a couple years to come visit him and the Bible School he runs. He’s a member of my mailing list and will no-doubt read this article. I have no reason to believe he’s out to scam me. Love always trusts, and I choose to take him at his word. From the very beginning of my plans to visit Kenya, I was already looking for ways to take a short trip across the border to visit this brother. When the conference was cancelled, my schedule was freed up to visit with him for the entire trip.
Am I walking into another scam? I say it doesn’t matter. If the Holy Spirit said, “Go,” then I have no reason to stay home.
Thankfully, this past weekend, I met a missionary from my denomination who works in Kenya. Over the last week, he has connected me with a trustworthy brother in Kisumu, Kenya, who has agreed to serve as a guide during my visit–providing a place for me to stay and caring for my safety. If the Bible School in Uganda turns out to be a scam, then I will be able to spend my two weeks helping this proven ministry in Kenya. Either way, I know that it’s the Holy Spirit who is leading me and guiding this entire trip. He has a plan that is bigger than anything I could imagine.
Please pray for me while I’m in Africa during the month of October. My trip spans from the 5th through the 20th. Pray for powerful demonstrations of the Gospel. Pray for supernatural safety in the face of danger. Pray for further financial provision for my family while I’m out of the country. And pray for lives to be transformed through the power of Jesus Christ.
I don’t know what situations you may be facing, but know this: Love always trusts. The only people who need to be skeptical are the ones who don’t know the Holy Spirit. If, however, you are led by Him, then you are allowed to be gullible. God will never judge you for loving too much. If anything, you’ll be judged for not loving. If you don’t love, it is only evidence that you do not know God (See 1 John 4:7-8).
Knowing God makes real love safe. The only way to safely trust everyone is to know God and obey the Holy Spirit. Love always trusts, but God doesn’t intend for His children to be laughing-stocks (except perhaps for the sake of the Gospel). Seek first His kingdom, and everything else will be taken care of.
My encouragement to you today is that you trust wholeheartedly, responding to people according to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. If you find yourself taken by a scam, then one of two things happened: Either (1) you didn’t hear the Holy Spirit correctly (which will help you learn to better discern His voice in the future), or (2) God had a purpose for leading you in that direction. It’s all part of this adventure that we call “faith.” The proof will be in the fruit of your decision.
If I were to choose my life’s paths, then there’s no way I would have gone along with this trip to Africa. But the Lord, my Shepherd, “leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” One of those paths is “the valley of the shadow of death,” but I have no reason to fear because He is “with me.” (See Psalm 23.) No matter where you go or what you do, you are always doing the right thing when you follow the Holy Spirit. In this sense, you will never be a victim of a scam–only a joyful servant of the King.
God bless, –Art