Isaiah Allen, Corps Leadership Development Bureau director for the Salvation Army’s USA Eastern Territory, talks about adoption; Christianity in Nigeria, West Africa; and how the gospel message can be summed up in one word—welcome.
My wife Ellen and I had discussed adoption for years—even though we’d been married over 19 years and had four biological children of our own. So, when we lived in Kentucky, we adopted siblings Jayden and Rosie from a neighboring town. We wanted Zac, Barney, Julia, and Sophia to have the experience of opening one’s home to others. Psalm 68:6 says, “God places the lonely in families…” and we wanted our family to experience His grace in that tangible way.
Welcome is one of the most beautiful words in the English language. It sums up the message of the gospel. Jesus talked about how the Father will welcome us into His house, and when He washed the feet of visitors, it was His way of saying, “I welcome you.” I often revisit a litany of passages in Scripture that talk about the concept of welcome, such as when Jesus visited Simon’s home. There, a woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Jesus forgave the woman’s sins, acknowledged her loving act of welcome, and chastised Simon for failing to show such hospitality to Him.
I wanted to be a ballet dancer and as a Salvation Army junior soldier, I had also promised to help people to follow Jesus. This pledge defined my life. I constantly talked about the Bible to others. After hearing a sermon on how the Sabbath is a gift from God, I refrained from dancing on Sundays. Three weeks later, my ballet company was assigned to perform on a Sunday for a TV production. When I said I couldn’t do it, I was fired. I thought my career had ended before it began, but I later became a ballet teacher, with Sundays saved for God.
While teaching at a seminary in Kaduna State, Nigeria, I learned that on average, 1,000 people convert to Christianity there every day. These new Christians are just as hungry for biblical knowledge as the early Christians were. I know this because as new converts, they often asked, “What is the Christian response to persecution?” and “How do we evangelize our neighbors?” As many as 2,000 years ago, people living in New Testament times asked those same questions, which represent the lens through which modern–day biblical interpreters should look at Scripture.
My path as a Bible scholar began at age nine. That’s when my mother showed me her childhood Bible. She had read through it completely. It took me four years, but I also read all of it, and doing so deepened my relationship with Christ. As an adult, the only reasonable next step was to study His word at the highest level. As my children also learn the Bible, I tell them, “Daddy’s work is to learn to read the Word of God better and better!”
interview by Hugo Bravo