I was serving Jesus on a short term mission last year. In this foreign land, I had shared my testimony, I had prayed for people, and had even proclaimed the Gospel.
However, I had not told anyone that I was a 'Christian'.
No, I do not fear persecution and I am definitely not ashamed of calling myself a 'Christian'. I refrain from using the word because I realise that in this local community the word 'Christian' is often associated with negative stereotypes.
'Christian' – what do you think it means?
Before I called Jesus my saviour, I perceived all 'Christians' to be "church-goers that prayed to a God". Yes, I know – this was a very rudimentary definition. Once I became a 'Christian' myself, I started to interpret the word differently.
Nowadays, my definition of the word is much more sophisticated.
However, during this mission trip, I quickly learnt that my interpretation, or a Western-centric interpretation of the word, was very different to the local community's interpretation.
As Muslims, the local people believed that 'Christians' are individuals who:
- Drink alcohol and consume pork;
- Dress inappropriately; and,
- Are lackadaisical in their obedience to God.
Accordingly, in this community, the word 'Christian' is associated with negative stereotypes, and the use of the word is a hindrance to the proclamation of the Gospel.
"Becoming the local people to win the local people"
In order to remove negative stereotypes, and to enable opportunities for sharing the Gospel, the local missionaries are constantly applying, and reflecting on, 1 Corinthians chapter 9, verses 19 to 23.
They implored that I do the same.
In these verses, Paul informs us that he became a Jew to win the Jews. He subjected himself to the law to win those under the law. He even became weak to win those who are weak.
And all of this was done for the sake of the gospel.
In my present context, "becoming like the local people" involves:
- Consistently wearing pants despite the ridiculous heat;
- Limiting the things that I eat, and how I eat;
- Ensuring that the words I speak are edifying;
- Living in local housing and not the hotel; and finally,
- Living a life that is in total obedience to my God.
It is obvious that living in this manner has really challenged the local people.
They have asked me: "Are you a Muslim"? To which I respond: "No". Pursuant to my Chinese ethnicity, they often ask: "Then are you Buddhist"? To which I respond: "No. In fact, I am a follower of Jesus Christ".
The next remark will often commence with: "But aren't all Christians..."
Keeping my identity while I am away
The local people have quickly learnt that I believe in the 'Christian' God, yet, they observe that my current lifestyle and mannerisms are disparate from what they believe to be 'Christian'.
This has helped generate amazing conversations that remove the negative stereotypes associated with Christianity.
As a short-term visitor, my goal isn't necessarily to convert every single individual into a follower of Jesus Christ. Four weeks is just not enough time.
However, helping to remove some of the negative stereotypes associated with being a 'Christian', and thereby, allowing the local missionaries to do their job, is something that I can definitely help out with.
Jia Pan Xiao has recently complete a Juris Doctor at the University of New South Wales. In his spare time, he watches American sports, drinks coffee and devours chocolate mud-cake. He attends GracePoint Chinese Presbyterian Church and will commence working as a lawyer in early 2017.