In a little village in Henan province, I found myself walking through the town square, consisting of a few blocks of cement and some basketball hoops surrounded by a few little shops. Everything was shouting of the Spring Festival, decorated in red, echoing the sounds of children playing with sparklers and firecrackers. The doors of the shops all had red paper pasted on each side of the doorway, and a small paper along the top, just like all the homes in the village. The papers held a few short phrases in Chinese, things that generally bring good luck or say something inspirational and traditional.
I noticed one shop’s red-paper door-frame had a cross at the top, and a few characters I recognized about Jesus, just like the one on my host family’s house. A Christian shop, and unashamedly so! Then I looked at the next one, and saw the same kind of paper crowned with a cross. And the next too. By the time we finished walking door the short street, I realized almost every door I’d seen had Christian words around the sides and across the top! I turned to my friend, who is not a Christian, and told her of my observation. “Why are there so many Christian’s in this little village?” I asked her. She shrugged, but then effortlessly responded, “Because they tell people.”
It was that simple. Decades ago, someone brought the gospel to this village. And from then on, those who believed it didn’t turn it into a “personal thing” that never leaves their bedroom or church. They told everyone about it. And apparently, most of those they told believed as well.
Today, I spent the afternoon with a good friend from Alabama who has lived and taught in China for over a decade. He amazes me with his boldness to tell others about Jesus. It’s a boldness that I long to have, so I consider it an honor just to accompany him and watch how God blesses his faithfulness. Today, it felt like we walk literally from divine appointment to divine appointment.
Leaving the church in Haidian was a challenge because people kept coming to him and talking with him because they know he values and cares about them. I can’t believe how many names and faces he remembers. When we finally left, we kept even running into people he knew as we walked to the subway, and he would cheerfully call out “新年快乐！” (“happy new year!”) before they had even noticed him. On the subway, a guy got on with us, who I noticed didn’t look Chinese at all. I wondered where he was from, but didn’t really consider engaging him. After all, he didn’t look Western, and he might not even speak English. That didn’t stop my friend from immediately striking up conversation. The man was from Iraq, and we talked until he had to get off. Then we started thinking about our own plans.
We were trying to get to another church in southern Beijing that my friend had been to before, but he wasn’t exactly sure of the way. I figured we’d just go as far as we could, and use my Beijing map app if we needed. I definitely wasn’t thinking of asking these two random ladies for directions. After all, we weren’t even at our final destination. These two ladies could be going to a completely different place, they might never have even been in the area we were looking for! Besides the language barrier…
My friend quickly walked up and addressed them, and managed to ask for directions in his Chinese (which is fantastic to listen to when combined with the Alabama accent), ending with asking if they spoke English. They did. Very well. They eagerly helped us using the internet on their phones to confirm our destination. End of story, in my mind. But no. They said, “Oh, we can walk with you, because we’re going to the bridge just next to that church!” Wow, that’s crazy. Out of all of Beijing…
We got off the subway together and walked down the sidewalk. The two girls saw their destination. End of story, I thought. But no. My friend said, “Hey, I want you to come to church with me! Will you come?” Hey, I thought, that’s a little awkward and a little pushy… don’t you think? “Sure,” they said.
We were a bit late getting in to the English service, and just slipped in during the teaching. My friend sat next to the girls so he could write down any words they were unfamiliar with, like “disciple.” Meanwhile, I sat and thought about what had just happened. Nothing life-changing, but then again, maybe it is. The principle of simply doing something is life-changing. For those two ladies, Summer and Elaine, it may have been life-changing.
How confined are we by what is “appropriate” and “non-awkward?” How often do we hesitate to tell someone about Jesus, if it even occurs to us to do so at all? But why? I lump myself completely into this category, and I’m doing all I can to understand my own fear so I can leave it behind or face it.
The people in the little village in Henan didn’t come to know Jesus by seeing their Christian friends act completely normal and talk about the weather all day. They know Jesus because His followers told them about it because they loved their friends and neighbors. I believe the same principle applies to our towns, cities, states, and countries as well.
What is holding you back?