by Charlotte O
picture take from static.pexels.com
I’ve lived in Taiwan for over 10 years. And during that time I’ve learned Mandarin Chinese. As a second-language learner, I often have to find a workaround to try and communicate what I want to say. If I don’t know a specific word, I may describe it until someone gets my meaning. I have a memory from my first Christmas season; a mere 2 months into the journey, when I really wanted to try to tell people something about the significance of the holiday. All I could really manage was a line from the Chinese Christmas song I’d been memorizing, which found me telling people like the cashiers at the 7-11 that I frequented in (my very broken) Chinese: Merry Christmas! Jesus came to the earth! I don’t know what I was hoping to accomplish, but I doubt much was achieved from that. Since then, I’ve had many, many opportunities to share my testimony and the Gospel in both Chinese and English. But even when you are speaking the same language as someone, it can be hard to clearly communicate when it comes to telling others about God.
Do you ever stop and listen to yourself when you’re talking to Christian friends? Are you fluent in ‘Christianese”? Since I tend to spend a lot of time in church circles, I’m pretty familiar with the Chinese version of ‘Christianese’ though it was quite frustrating to me initially to learn that there was a specific term for “serving” that is ONLY used in the context of a church (perhaps roughly translated as serving in ministry). I soon discovered that if I tried to use these words in everyday conversation that I’d get strange looks. Why is it that we need to spiritualize things we do like service, fellowship, offering? And is it actually taking us away from the heart and spirit of it when we remove it so far from every-day language? Maybe it would be helpful to us to rethink what we mean when we use the word fellowship? Does it mean eating food at a church potluck? Is it restricted to spiritual conversations and locations? Or is it simply life-giving friendship?
How can we be careful to use language that won’t alienate ‘seekers’ (oops there I go again)? Maybe it starts with the problem that we so rarely even talk to people outside of our Christian bubble, that we’ve gotten used to the lingo. Unfortunately, it really does make it seem like we belong to an exclusive social club. So how do I communicate that knowing Jesus has changed my life without the person I’m talking to getting lost in medium? If the medium is the message, how can we share deeper truths in an accessible way?
Part of my work involves writing English Bible study materials that can be used for a diverse group of people. The content should be relatable for those of all ages, educational backgrounds, and familiarity with Christianity. It should avoid leading questions, and slowly ease into critical thinking questions, made for those who came through an educational system where critical thinking is not typically taught. It must somehow cause these people to engage with the scriptures on a deeper level, while mostly asking surface-level questions. Is this an impossible task? It can certainly feel like it sometimes. And I’m thankful to work with a team of people who can speak to different areas of this. Writing these lessons has caused me to question my own assumptions about Christianity and realize just how much my worldview is tied to my upbringing in a western, Christian family. It also reminds me that things that are obvious to me as someone who has been studying the bible for over two decades might be completely foreign to others.
As I’ve adopted the language and culture here, I’ve come to (slowly) understand a different worldview too. There are things that I don’t know how to perfectly express in English now, even though I understand what they mean here. Moreover, there are cultural faux pas I’m aware of in sharing the Gospel here. One example is the fact that the Chinese word for “sin” and “crime” are the same, which affects the way you explain sin to someone. This is also colored by the predominantly Buddhist mindset that humans are basically good and just need to realize it, though I’ve also heard people suggest that some people are born good, while others are born bad. Maybe it’s like the yin and yang balance of the universe. In any case, The Four Spiritual Laws may not make sense to people here.
I recently read the book about another Jesus-follower who crossed cultures to share the story of God. The book, In the Land of Blue Burqas shares the way Kate McCord used stories to relate biblical principles to her Muslim friends and neighbors. I found it to be so inspiring, and definitely put it on the recommended reading list. She used teacups, wells, and backpacks as illustrations, basically whatever was around her. And she could see the message being communicated. The amazing thing was how people who were fundamentally opposed to Christianity could still recognize truths about forgiveness, generosity, and even God when they heard it. In a way, any time you’re talking to someone with no background or interest in Christianity, you are reaching across cultures. If you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, many of the things you have to say will sound like foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). But people respond to sincerity, relate to deeper truths (you can just feel in your soul when something is true, can’t you?), and look for hope. Let’s be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have. (1 Peter 3:15)
Above all, when communicating the good news, we look to the example of Jesus. He very often spoke in stories, using examples that were simple (from cooking, eating, cleaning), relatable to the culture (farming, fishing), sometimes humorous (like a camel through the eye of a needle), and often poignant (like the lost son returning home). So what stories do I have from my own life that I can share? What examples can I use that relate to the culture I’m in? Before I can figure this out, I need to know the culture and people, and find a way to get in touch with what they think about and care about. I also need to continually be living the story of God in my life. It’s great to be able to talk about the blessings he has given you and the lessons he has taught you. But you can only do that if you’re in the regular habit of learning lessons and counting blessings! People are not necessarily interested in being preached at, but in my context, as a foreigner in an Asian country, people are VERY curious about why I’m here and what my experiences have been that may be different from theirs. My white skin is a conversation starter, whether I like it or not.
This is the second article in a 3-part series I’m writing about missions. You can read part 1 here.
CONNECT WITH US
SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL
Privacy: We hate spam as much as you, so we will never share your e-mail address with anyone.
SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOGS RSS FEED
AND GET ARTICLE UPDATES