I am an international student from Japan and Korea, and as most East Asian people often do, I needed soy sauce.
As I was debating which soy sauce to get, I heard a male voice suddenly say, “Can I ask you an interesting question?” I looked towards the person who was apparently talking to me. It was a middle-aged man with a very sweet smile.
Despite his sweet smile, I was scared and confused because a random stranger asked me such a weird question. I said, “yes,” because, as a woman, especially a non-white woman, I wanted to be polite and keep the peace for the sake of my own safety.
Then he went on and said, “Do you know for sure that you will go to heaven when you die today?” In that moment, I realized that he was trying to share the “good news” with me. I answered, “I hope so.”
This question was difficult to answer because I did not believe in God just so I could go to heaven. I believed in God because of God’s faithfulness and love – it was the relationship that was life-changing for me rather than the threat of eternal torment.
I did not want him to waste his time evangelizing me, so I quickly added, “I am a Christian.” Despite my efforts, he continued talking to me about Jesus and how I can be sure to go to heaven. As a pastor’s kid, I had heard this speech a thousand times before.
He kept talking for at least five minutes before he finally stopped and said, “So you can go to heaven if….?” The pause in the sentence made me realize that he was expecting me to finish the sentence for him. “I believe in Jesus…” I said.
He seemed very satisfied by my answer, told me to have a great day, and left. He expected that conversation to make me feel cared for, but it left me feeling targeted and ignored.
He assumed that I was not a Christian because I do not look like the Christians that he pictures. I look Asian, and I have an accent when I speak English.
Rather than actually listening to me, he only spoke at me the whole time. He seemed not to care that I was a Christian who grew up in a Christian community for 28 years.
I was left scared, confused and sad, while he was confident, happy and satisfied from beginning to the end. It felt like I was lectured by this stranger who had no interest in who I was and what I was feeling.
Even though what he shared was supposed to be good news, this left me with a feeling of humiliation and sadness – the opposite of how good news should make anyone feel.
This good news had once brought me hope when I was in my darkest place. It taught me about God’s overwhelming love which has faithfully walked alongside me throughout life’s trials. However, this man had turned it into something incredibly hurtful.
Unfortunately, my experience is not uncommon. Many of my friends are international, and I know that this is a common experience for many non-white, non-American and/or non-Christian people, as well.
Our words and actions, whether good or bad, represent God to people who are not Christians. In theory, we do what God does, and we value what God values. At times, Christians can make a habit of evangelizing to strangers without considering the person on the other side of the conversation.
The God I believe in is always listening to me and showing interest in who I am, what I’m feeling and what I’m going through. The God I believe in is patiently walking alongside me rather than lecturing me. The God I believe in makes me feel secure, seen and cared for. None of these characteristics were shown in this interaction with this man.
I am not denying this man’s good intentions. He loves God, so he wants to share the good news. I’m sure it took courage to talk to a stranger. But what I would say is that we need to use our courage and love for God in a different way – a harder way that we tend to avoid.
However, talking to a stranger and sharing the good news is, in some sense, easy. It only takes five minutes, and you don’t have to invest anything in the person. You most likely won’t ever see this person again.
Instead, build a relationship and stay in the person’s life. Don’t just talk to people and leave. Stay.
Show interest in who they are. Respect what they believe or where they are in their life. Don’t deny or change who they are but accept them.
Whether they believe in Jesus or not, stay in their lives and share the goodness of God through your kindness and receive their kindness and love, as well.
Instead of approaching a random person at the store, let us find people around us with whom we are only superficially connected. Instead of investing only five minutes of our life, let us invest in them as much as we can so that we can walk alongside them in both good times and bad times.
Jesus always chose the hard way for us. Loving us is not easy but he never gave up. Even when people decided to leave him or ignore him, he stayed. Let us choose the hard way to share God’s love because that’s what Jesus did for us.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit an article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Master of Social Work graduate student at Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work and a social work intern at The Center for Church and Community Impact. She has lived in Korea, Japan and the United States, but her home is wherever her people are.