Editor’s note: This month, we will be praying for and sharing articles related to evangelism. In this two-part series, a former cross-cultural worker shares how sharing the gospel with his friends in China has freed him to pursue evangelism the rest of his life.
One week after stepping off the plane in China, I found myself on a hike with Wang, the first college student I happened to meet. I was a recent college graduate, and in large part because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, decided to spend a year sharing Jesus with Chinese college students.
I arrived in China speaking zero Mandarin, and incredibly inexperienced in sharing my faith. By the end of my three-hour hike with Wang that day, I learned that the Holy Spirit is more than sufficient to cross cultures, break through language barriers, and make up for any inadequacies I felt in my ability to effectively share my faith.
As we slowly climbed through the heat and humidity of summer in southern China, the first thing that struck me as Wang and I began to talk about Jesus was how much easier it was to talk with him about Christ than it had been for me, six weeks earlier, to share Jesus my college classmates. I was in a different country, completely reliant on my friend’s not-so-great English to communicate, and I clearly stuck out as a foreigner. Yet we were laughing and sharing life stories with each other as if we had been friends for years.
As I’ve reflected on this phenomenon over the years, I think there is something disarming about being completely immersed in a culture and language you didn’t grow up in. When you become hyper-aware of your “otherness,” you also become hyper-aware how little control you have over influencing how others perceive you. In your own culture, you can dress like others dress or direct conversation in culturally-acceptable directions. (For example, in the South, just start a conversation with, “Nick Saban…” and then sit back and let others carry the conversation. In Los Angeles, ask someone if they’ve discovered any new restaurants recently.) However, when you can’t fake it culturally, and you can’t change your physical appearance, you have no pretense that you can fake your way into fitting in.
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The gospel message is inherently offensive: “You are dead in your sin. You’ve offended the God of the universe. The only way you can escape eternal judgment is to put your faith in Jesus. Accepting this Jesus as your Lord and Savior also means you’re signing up to give your life away for the sake of others hearing and believing in this Jesus. People are going to hate you because you find your identity in him. But don’t worry, it’s totally worth it!”
As Wang and I made our way up the mountain, being free from winning his approval through my own social skills freed me to proclaim the offensiveness of the gospel more boldly than I ever had before. When I shared my faith with my friends in college, I had done so with the fear that I was putting our relationship on the line. If they rejected the gospel, I thought they would reject me as well. I wanted to make the gospel less offensive and more appealing by watering it down for them. I justified this by telling myself I needed to keep an audience with them. If I offended them with the good news of Jesus, what if they bailed on me and never got to hear it again?
Sharing my faith with Wang that day helped me to understand what God told Samuel about the people’s rejection of what God wanted for them: “And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.’”
When you share the gospel with someone, and they reject it, they are not ultimately rejecting you. They are rejecting God. I don’t have to carry that weight.
Living and sharing my faith in a completely different context than the one I grew up in helped me to see and live in my true identity. There is nothing like being a citizen of another country and culture to help you experience the truth that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
In Ephesians 4, Paul says: “There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over and through all and in all.”
After I shared with Wang who Jesus is and what he had done for me personally, I asked him if he would like to place his faith in Christ as well. A six-week-younger Michael probably wouldn’t have done that. But during the course of our three-hour hike, the Holy Spirit revealed himself to me in one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I saw the Spirit transcend culture. I saw him laugh at language barriers. I saw him exalted as Lord, Creator and Savior of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The LORD is one. He has called us, with one Spirit, into one body, saved us by one Lord through one faith, and we share in his one baptism to the glory of our one God and Father of all.
There’s a promise in that incredible truth, and there is also a missional call. God will save people from every corner of the earth, and his chosen means of accomplishing this is through his body. Through you, believer in Christ.
Michael Gregory is a church planter in the Los Angeles area.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for opportunities to share the good news of the gospel with those God places in your path today.