Where to Draw the Line?

As an American witnessing to Chinese people, I think there is a need for a lot of caution to avoid drawing a cultural line between us. This won’t probably be as necessary in the future when we have trained Chinese workers. But when the only discipled Christian in the room happens to be an American, all the witnessing is being done by an American, all the teaching is being done by the American, and it happens to be mostly in English, it can be really hard to convince people that what you’re preaching isn’t simply a cultural difference.

“You believe that because you’re American. We believe this because we’re Chinese.” If that isn’t the toughest battle here, it’s sure close! We’re having a guest speaker next Thursday night for our Bible study – an American who speaks Mandarin fluently. A student asked Steph the other night if she really thought that was a good idea. He was afraid some things would be lost in translation, and they would be taught wrong. Part of that is just his desire to listen to an hour of English, but he also has a very profound impression in his head that these things are American, and ought to be done in English.

Every week I have to talk to someone about reading the Bible in Chinese. There are some of these students who don’t want to do it. They say, “The Chinese Bible is hard to understand, and I think there were maybe mistakes when it was translated, so I should read it in the ‘original’ English.” They’re usually pretty surprised when I tell them that I read the Bible in Mandarin everyday. That seems to give them a little pride and confidence in their own Bible.

I was reading a book about witnessing to Chinese people the other day that said you should say something like, “God really exists. In China, there are a lot of people that say, ‘God doesn’t exist.’ This is wrong.” If you don’t foresee a problem resulting from that kind of statement, you might want to try a different, maybe whiter, Englisher, Americaner, demographic for your witnessing efforts. If you say something like that, you’re going to draw a line right between you and them and say, “You’re on the atheist Chinese side, I’m on the Christian American side – come get me. Or at least throw a rock.” Again, for a Chinese person to say that is one thing, but if you’re the only Christian in the room, and you happen to be an American, best not to pitch it like that.

Instead I try to find the common ground. Your country has a lot of atheists, mine doesn’t. So let’s look at it from another way. You feel guilty about your sin, so do Americans. You have problems that you don’t have the answer to, so do Americans. Your relationships are a mess, so are Americans’. You wonder about what happens after you die, so do Americans. You don’t what to think about Jesus, neither do Americans.

Hopefully, as we train more Chinese laborers, speak more Chinese, and my familiarity in the Chinese Bible grows, we can start to erase that line that seems to stubbornly draw itself in spite of our best efforts to prevent it.

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