This past Friday kicked off Global Prayer Focus Week for Asia at Union. Students who converged at chapel Friday morning were able to hear encouragement from Union’s ministry partners in East Asia as well as hear about the experiences of last year’s East Asia GO Trip team members.
Sharing the gospel with Asian cultures looks very different than sharing the gospel with people in America, the team said, and it has to be approached thoughtfully and intentionally.
Team members ministered in East Asia this past summer in various ways, such as building relationships with the local people and local university students, taking East Asian language courses three days a week and prayer walking. They also ministered to local churches, which are mostly comprised of first generation believers who have no idea how to evangelize, and helped them connect with a local university campus. Some of the struggles team members battled include homesickness, feelings of inadequacy, and frustration at not immediately seeing God work.
One of the major things that team members emphasized was the fact that God is the one in charge of doing His work.
“God is the one who does the work, God is the one who is calling this people, and God is the one who was working in Asia before we even thought about going there,” said Shea, a sophomore literature major.
The team also faced some difficult situations and saw human brokenness. Mary, a junior business management major, made a friend who began isolating herself after a while and acting strangely every time Mary contacted her.
Eventually she met with Mary and opened up about what was going on. Right before the team had arrived, Mary’s friend had felt so pressured by society’s standards that she tried to commit suicide. Those feelings had resurfaced, and she felt she had no purpose to live. Mary was heartbroken by her friend’s situation and struggled to find words to convey the deep love that the Lord has for her. Mary began to reflect on the pain in not only her friend’s life, but also in the lives of the millions of other students.
“What they really need is the unconditional love of Christ, but these students don’t know of Christ, they’ve never heard, and they can’t fathom a love and peace so great because they’ve never heard,” Mary said. “These people are so desperate for hope and they don’t see that this hope can be found in Jesus.”
However, Mary is excited about what God is doing there.
“He is moving in that city over there and he is moving in ways I have not expected to see, which is so exciting and so encouraging, and I’m just so grateful to be a part of it,” Mary said.
Throughout the trip, God revealed His faithfulness in different ways and at different times. For Stephen, a junior business management major, God revealed Himself through a man that he took to a barbecue. Stephen had been wrestling with frustrations over not seeing God work and prayed that God would clearly reveal Himself.
At the barbecue several days later, Stephen began to share the gospel with two guys that he had brought to the barbecue. One of the men stopped Stephen and proceeded to tell him that he recognized Stephen from dreams he had several months prior to having met Stephen. Stephen realized that this was God at work.
“I can look at that and say that’s God answering my prayers. That’s God being there and working even when I clearly don’t deserve it,” he said.
Of the 5, 748 people groups residing in Asia, 1, 427 of these groups are unreached and unengaged, meaning they have little to no exposure to the Gospel, missionaries, churches or Christian materials.
Dan Lancaster, assistant vice president for university ministries, served as a missionary in Southeast Asia for over a decade. Lancaster says that, in Asia, Christianity is considered a “white man’s religion” and conversion means leaving the Asian culture behind and becoming Western, which usually results in being ostracized by your family.
Ancestor worship is widespread and another barrier to the Gospel. Those who practice ancestor worship believe that the spirits of deceased family members live on and influence the lives of their relatives. Ancestors are worshipped as gods, and thus supplant Jesus Christ as God.
Some of the biggest threats faced by missionaries and believers are the dictatorial governments. These dictatorships view new religions as threats and are very strict on the introduction or spread of new religions.
“When we were in Southeast Asia, there was a law that you couldn’t have more than five people outside of the family in the house,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster says that many Asian cultures are shame-based.
“Just talking about being guilty of sin doesn’t really touch their hearts,” Lancaster said. “They just agree with you and feel like it’s kind of hopeless in a way.”
He says the story of the prodigal son is the most effective story to start with when sharing the Gospel with someone of an Asian culture, rather than beginning with the fact that we are sinners. In this Biblical passage, the prodigal son brought shame to his family, but the father still accepted him back into the family.
“Talking about family and being welcomed back into the family touches the heart of an Asian person more than saying we’ve all sinned,” Lancaster said. “If you start with talking about family and shame and how God accepts you then, then you can talk about some of the other things.”
Students have several opportunities to serve on a GO Trip to Asia in 2017. A GO Trip to Southeast Asia, led by Lancaster, is scheduled for May 21-June 3. GO Trips to Central Asia and East Asia are scheduled for next summer as well.