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 4 Tiananmen student movement in 1989 there were many who were responding 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 in China from the previous years where most folks who came to faith in Christ were rural dwelling, uneducated farmers. In the 1990’s the movement of the Holy Spirit toward urban dwelling people resulted in many coming to faith in Christ.
The other big change I have seen has been how the different generations respond to the gospel. For those in China and those Chinese studying abroad there have been similar issues. The generation born in the 1960’s were resistant to the gospel until after 1989, then the generation born in the 1970’s showed an increasing desire to consider the truths of the gospel. The generation born in the 1980’s were more Westernized but in many ways felt less “hungry” to know spiritual truth. Nonetheless many in this generation as well have come to faith.
The generation born in the 1990’s is a much more complex group to figure out. They’ve all but forgotten the earth shattering events of 1989. More 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 have been so many times where I have looked in to the eyes of someone after saying this and have seen a completely blank stare. “What God, I don’t belief in God, I’m an atheist, telling me God loves me doesn’t make sense.”
After trying this approach for a while I realized I needed to start with a must 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. If I 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.
Without this kind of background and understanding, the seeker can face all kinds of potential misunderstandings that he or she is left to sort out on their own. That usually means they reach unbiblical conclusions and aren’t really grounded in the truth of the gospel when they come to faith.
There are many challenges for those who work with Chinese 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 with Chinese friends. In China I have had a number of very interesting gospel opportunities with Uber drivers. Even in the 15 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. Take some time to think through and pray about how you will share your faith with your Chinese friends and look at them as life-long friends regardless of how they respond. Among my Chinese friends I have seen one man come to faith after knowing me for 6 months. I have also seen one friend who did not trust Christ until 10 years after I went through a year-long bible study with him. One student of mine in China sent me a chat message last year. 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. I love them all and I pray they all grow closer to him.