Musings on Personal Evangelism in China
Sa Zhong Zi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American living in China assisting with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church.
Ever since my first trip to China in 1986 I have been involved in personal evangelism with Chinese, sharing my faith with individuals or small groups and challenging them to consider the truths of the gospel. After many years, I could almost predict from an array of possible responses how my Chinese friends would respond, especially if it was the first time they were considering the concept of God in their lives.
Both inside China and in the United States where I did campus ministry with Chinese graduate students, I have seen many changes. After the June 4th student movement in 1989 there were many who responded positively to the gospel message partially due to a lack of faith in their government. Larger numbers of intellectuals and urban people were coming to believe in Christianity. This marked a big change from the previous years in China where most folks who came to faith in Christ were rural dwelling, uneducated farmers. In the 1990s the movement of the Holy Spirit toward urban dwelling people resulted in many coming to faith in Christ.
For those in China and those Chinese studying abroad there have been similar issues. The generation born in the 1960s was resistant to the gospel until after 1989, then the generation born in the 1970s showed an increasing desire to consider the truths of the gospel. The generation born in the 1980s were more Westernized, but in many ways felt less “hungry” to know spiritual truth; nonetheless, many in this generation have come to faith, as well.
The generation born in the 1990s is a much more complex group to figure out. They have all but forgotten the earth shattering events of 1989. It is likely they were never really aware of what actually happened on June 4, 1989, because of how the government shrouded it and blocked internet searches from showing even the slightest hint of the massacre that took place. Still, God is working in this generation as well.
Over the years, however, I have realized that any gospel presentation that begins with “God loves you…” often falls on deaf ears. There has been so many times when I have looked into the eyes of someone after saying this and have seen a completely blank stare.
After trying this approach for a while, I realized I needed to start with a much more basic presentation by telling them who this God is that I believe in and what he is like. Building up to a place where I can tell my non-Christian Chinese friends that God loves them has worked much better. When I have had the time and the occasion, such as a weekly Bible study, I would often trace a path through the Old Testament, showing how God has created, how sin has destroyed, and how God has provided restoration through Christ. Inevitably we spend a large amount of time in the book of Genesis, sorting through what creation, fall, and redemption are all about.
There are many challenges for those who work in China and in the US to present the gospel to the Chinese friends they meet. Building a relational foundation is very important, but I have found that gospel opportunities present themselves very naturally beyond the parameters of friendship. For example, I have had a number of very interesting gospel opportunities with Uber drivers in China. Even in the fifteen minutes it takes for them to drive me to my destination, I can see they are interested and willing to listen to me when I show them that I know and love Chinese culture and people.
God is still working in China and among the Chinese everywhere in amazing ways, so take some time to think through and pray about how you will share your faith with your Chinese friends. In particular, learn to look at them as life-long friends regardless of how they respond.
Last year one student of mine sent me a chat message. I gave her a Bible in 1993 and she finally came to faith in 2015. My oldest Chinese friend that I met in 1986 still is not a Christian. Despite the differences in their journeys, I love them all, and I pray they all grow closer to him.