Shajan. Crossing Cultures. Friendship in Layers.

“It’s a sin for me to kill anything so a belief based on something or someone being sacrificed is hard for me to understand”

“If I believe and my family does not we will be separated in the afterlife”

We had finally reached the heart of Shajan’s barriers to believing in Jesus. It had taken years. There are more nuances of South Asian culture revealed in his statements than I have time to explain.

The desire to believe was there and had been for a while—long before we met him.
God had been at work in his life since childhood. So many people had shared the history and love of Creator God’s revelation of Himself to humanity. Shajan had heard the life and mission of Jesus so many times, he used completely accurate illustrations from the Bible to help us learn sentence structures as we studied South Asian language. He was our teacher.

Over time we developed a dear friendship with him. He finally felt he knew us well enough to reveal his struggles with believing. Our families spent time getting to know one another. During those years layers gradually fell away so we could see his true self.

He slowly came to understand us as well. He needed to know who we were, what we were like, and see our true motivations tested over time. Especially in a country where foreigners come and go regularly, thinking they have truly grasped an ancient culture and people group after only weeks, months, or a year—trying to fix “problems” they don’t fully understand with Western solutions.

Shajan was crossing cultures to build friendship and so were we. Trust must be earned. This is true in most places in the world. Of course we didn’t get to know everything about South Asian culture in seven years and we made mistakes, but God used relationship and time to reveal our friend’s heart. And to help him understand ours. The day he chose to be direct and honest with us was a significant milestone.

Now we knew how to pray specifically for Shajan. Now we could get counsel from South Asian believers in addressing these barriers to belief in Jesus. We would be able to share truth from God’s word in ways that would be meaningful to his struggles. And we knew others were investing time with Shajan, same culture to same culture, an even better way for him to understand. This is why our family’s heart was discipleship of the believers in our lives.

The truth of God’s word never changes. It’s always the same, but all people are not the same. A one size fits all approach to sharing Christ often cannot reach the deep places in peoples’ minds no matter their country of origin. God’s word is powerful and it changes people, but the way I present it must be understood by the hearer. This involves so much more than translating a Western approach word for word.

Do I think I must know everything about someone before sharing anything at all? No. Life presents many different situations in a variety of contexts. But I want to be a learner in all my relationships.

Shajan comes from a religious background of thousands of gods. In his worldview it is important to avoid shame and to attain honor. His family and position within different societal groups affects every part of his life. Understanding of concepts like sin, forgiveness, restoration, heaven and hell hold very different meanings for him than these concepts would in a Christian, Western mindset. In addition, he has personal experiences that have shaped his thinking. So many layers to this person. So many things that make up Shajan. Many parts of his worldview help him understand aspects of the Creator God revealed in Jesus, but some things create barriers.

If the unchangeable truth of God’s word is to be clearly understood and internalized by people like Shajan, then we must learn how he perceives the world around him and operates within his culture. This often cannot happen quickly, but it’s worth the investment of becoming a servant-learner of language, culture, and cultivating authentic relationships. Relationships where life happens together and where truth can be communicated effectively and understood.

I’m not advocating one way of sharing the gospel over another. I’m not suggesting any length of time for being in someone’s life before you share something. Life in relationships is more complex than that and we have to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and the needs of individuals. I don’t want to reduce God’s work in the lives of people to a formula or method to be mass produced. But I am sharing my heart.

I want to take time to get to know and understand the community my family lives in. I want to cultivate authentic relationships with people I see regularly. And when opportunities come to share truth and the love of God, I want to communicate His word accurately and in ways that can be well received and understood.

When I next write on this subject, I’ll share what this has looked like for me as I get to know people during our time in the U.S. What a learning experience that has been.

©2017 Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved

My husband and I enjoyed this book. Most cities in the world now, including cities in the USA, are multicultural. Learning how to effectively serve our neighbors in love goes a long way in communicating the gospel.

Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility Duane Elmer

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