Last week, I found myself sitting in Sheep Meadow in Central Park—a little, rolling field full of families picnicking and sunbathers. I was there for a gathering of international college students. Sitting across from me was a girl from China. Cho, a petite grad student, was chatting with me about a variety of things—travel, food, strange American customs—and the topic of faith came up.
Cho asked me if I was a Christian (a question not totally out of the blue, as I’d been talking about prayer earlier in our conversation). I told her that I was.
“Maybe I can come to church with you?” she told me. I…hesitated.
The thing is, I am not sure that bringing her to church—my American church—is the best idea. Reading this, many people may think that I am a little crazy, even label me as irresponsible. “Someone has asked to go to church with you and you’re not going to bring them?! Of course you should bring them!”
I would ask, in return, “Why should I bring her?” What would Cho glean from coming to my church? Would it be a totally negative experience for her? No. I think not. But, what she would see is American Christians, reading the Bible in English, praying in English, and worshiping God in a style that’s very western. Is this really how I’d like to introduce her to issues of faith? Is this the lens I’d like her to see Christ and the Bible through initially?
Here’s my alternative—and it’s not an easy one. Take time to study the Bible with her outside of the trappings of a formal church (for now). Let her discover God and Jesus through stories from the Bible. Let her learning be Holy Spirit-driven and not the result of what she gathers from a sermon series. Let her see the story of Christ unfold from Creation to the cross. A best case scenario would be that she could gather friends—fellow Chinese friends—to study and journey through the Bible with her. Wrestling with the story of Jesus in light of their own culture and language (yes, they would be reading the Bible in Chinese!). Can you see how this may be a more beneficial plan for the international who is curious about Christ?
So, today, I am meeting with Cho to ask if, instead of tagging along with me to church (something that would be easier for me and far less of a commitment), she would like to study the Bible with her Chinese classmates. My prayer is that she will say yes. My hope is that this is the most responsible and wise way to introduce her to Christ. My desire is that she would come to know Jesus in a way that’s culturally relevant to her—in a way that doesn’t feel borrowed or “American.” Will church be a part of her faith walk if she believes? Of course it will! But for now, I welcome the beauty of her discovering Christ through God’s Word first.