God has put a heart for the nations in his people. For many, he’s also brought the nations to us. Yet, many average American Christians feel like they wouldn’t know what to say to non-believers from another culture, let alone how to witness to them. So we want to tell you some stories—a series of real-life experiences of how we approach people of different religions, share our faith, and encourage them to seek God.
The Lemon in My Pocket
“What’s that lemon for?” Aryan showed me (Thomas) a lemon with black spots. It appeared to be moldy.
“Shouldn’t you throw it away?” I asked Aryan. “Keeping a moldy lemon is atypical in American culture, so I leaned in to my Indian friend in order to gain some new insights about his beliefs and practices. After all, our Lord has asked me to do this; to proclaim the Good News to those from all nations. I wanted to learn about my new friend so that I could best minister to him.
“I keep a lemon in my pocket to ward off evil. When it turns black, that means it absorbs the evil spirits. The black spots reveal the presence of evil spirits.”
Aryan, normally chipper and light-hearted, found himself unwillingly in enemy territory on a spiritual battlefield. With dark circles under his eyes and slumped shoulders, he recounted to me the last several days of his life.
“I haven’t slept in almost two weeks. Every time I fall asleep, an evil spirit torments me in dreams,” Aryan continued. “I wake up with a pressure on my body, and now this presence seems to follow me everywhere I go. What’s more, my guru does not answer my calls due to a family crisis. As I attempt to expel the evil powers in meditation, this spirit comes to me and distracts my focus. I have never felt more hopeless.”
At that moment I knew if my dear friend warred with these demons, I intended to enter that battlefield and fight for him in prayer. In preparation, I looked to Jesus, who displayed supreme authority over evil spirits while here on earth. He not only resisted the devil’s tempting (Matthew 4) but also cast out demons from many people (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 1:21-28).
If I came to my friend in the authority of Jesus, he may give Aryan the same relief and help that so many received in the Gospels. That night, Aryan and I chatted on the phone. Then I offered to pray for him. After he agreed, I prayed “Father God, please help relieve Aryan to allow him to sleep. Protect him from these evil spirits. In Jesus’ powerful name, Amen.”
“Thank you so much for praying, Tom. Let’s talk tomorrow. Goodnight.”
The next morning, I sent a text message to Aryan to check on him. “How did you sleep? Has anything changed?”
“Tom, I slept for ten hours last night.” I could hear him smiling through the phone—his wide smile could light up a room. “I have not slept that long in a long time. Your prayers worked.”
Tears welling, I praised God for delivering him that night. My coworker and I visited Aryan later that day to pray for him in his apartment and to pray against any spirits residing there. We explained to him the power of Jesus and why we follow Him only as we sat together on his floor.
“Aryan, the power of Jesus overcame the power of those evil spirits who bothered you. I hope you understand that my God is the one true God and has power over all demons.”
Aryan got busy with school projects, and I hadn’t seen him for quite a while. Recently I saw Aryan on campus. He smiled as he took the yellow lemon out of his pocket. “See, Tom, the lemon has no spots.”
Our hope and dreams focus on Aryan’s acceptance of his miracle of deliverance, to acknowledge the lemon stays yellow because of our one true God and that he embraces Jesus. Aryan will one day take the lemon out of his pocket forever and replace it with Jesus in his heart.
Shopping for the True God
We first met Li Jing and Wang Jing in an English program. We volunteered to chat with international students so they could improve their English. Both Li Jing and Wang Jing hoped to pass the TOEFL exam so they could become college students. We bonded quickly over Thomas and Wang Jing’s common interest, tattoo artistry. Our church had ESL classes so I (Evelyn) encouraged Li Jing and Wang Jing to practice their spoken English in a different setting.
When they came to my church for the first ESL class, I invited them to my house afterwards for lunch. Then, we began a short discovery Bible series to help improve their English, practice their comprehension skills, and to give them an opportunity to learn more about God. The next week they invited Li Na, another ESL student, to join us.
Each of these girls came from Asia but came from three different religious backgrounds. The many differences in personality and fashion styles did not affect their friendship. Each week, after the Bible lesson was done, I said we could do whatever they wanted and it always involved shopping at the nearby mall. We had a routine on Saturdays: attend the ESL class, come to my place for an American lunch, read the Bible together, and then go shopping. I don't recall ever walking so much as in this huge complex, but we always enjoyed our times together, sometimes stopping for bubble tea.
After several weeks of study of Jesus and His miracles, I wanted to understand what they thought about Jesus. They all agreed that he might be God, but they also had been taught what they now believed about their gods and life (e.g. reincarnation). One actually had no religion, but all agreed on one thing; they wanted to study other religions more before they would consider if Jesus is really God. They needed more time to process the information they’d learned during our weeks together.
None of them are believers yet, and they have dispersed since ESL classes ended—two studying at different universities, one returning to her home country. Yet, I continue to sow seeds and wait for the Master Harvester to reap His rewards, new ones in His kingdom. I pray that they continue to shop to find the real Treasure not found in any mall.
Blind Obedience: A Journey to See Truth
A crowded living room echoed with sweet laughter, intimate conversation in foreign languages and broken English, and the sound of plastic knives cutting into lamb cutlets on their plates. This Easter dinner for our international friends always boasted a strong turnout, an event we hosted every spring to share the crucifixion story over a home-cooked meal. Though many faces looked familiar to me (Thomas) that day, one face in particular seemed new.
In fact, Yousef noticed me as well and told his roommate he must talk with me. I felt his urgency when he explained, “I have never attended a church before, but would really like to. Can you explain to me everything about Christianity?” Yousef grew up in a family similar to most Middle Easterners devout Muslim. In a culture where questioning your family’s religion and customs was strictly forbidden and even dangerous, Yousef lived a life of unquestioning and quiet obedience to Allah.
“When I moved to America three years ago, my worldview collapsed. Since having the freedom to openly search the truth, I no longer believe in Islam.” Yousef poured out his heart to me that day. As I sat listening intently, shock and awe overtook me with what he shared. “I do not have a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction in my life, and believe me, I have tried to fill this void with many things. I feel hungry in my soul, dry even. Perhaps your faith could help me.”
Immediately I remember the words Jesus spoke, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and who ever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) Sharing this with him, I asked if he would study the Bible with me. He agreed.
Now, almost several months since that party, we have been studying weekly, and I sense the Lord moving in his life. He even attends church weekly with me and may even join a small group in his neighborhood. Yousef does not yet consider himself a follower of Christ, though I have confidence he will come to faith in the future.
For many Middle Easterners, coming to faith in Jesus is a lengthy process, one filled with difficult questions, fear of persecution, and many other barriers. The Lord continues to grant me patience as I minister to him. As it relates to ministering to my Muslim friends, God has taught me to slow down, ask deep questions, to pray fervently, and the importance of sharing the gospel over and over again. The Lord has reminded me often of these words from Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all humankind. There is, indeed, nothing too difficult for me.”
Stretching My Dependence on God
“You know, Thomas, I have really changed my opinion about God since we have begun talking about your faith.” I grinned at Ahmad and agreed with him. Suddenly, memories flooded into my mind of the time when I first began to talk with Ahmad about faith and religion in the crowded student center cafeteria. Early on, he would state his disbelief in God with pride, calling himself an atheist, a believer in things “seen.” In his perspective, any rational scientist like him could not believe in a god; he found it all to be a waste of time and foolishness. Though he comes from a part of the world where many believe in Allah, Ahmad denied the faith of his fathers a long time ago.
At first, I would leave campus frustrated and sad for him. I felt powerless and as though nothing I could ever say or explain would convince him of the truth of the gospel. In fact, this was true; ultimately I could not change Ahmad’s heart to believe anything I told him. I could, however, pray to the One who could do this and abundantly more.
For the remainder of the year, I would meet him on campus and talk about life over coffee, all the while praying for God to open a door to share the gospel with him. I know now that God had been growing me in my dependence on Him through my friendship with Ahmad. (2 Corinthians 3:4, 5)
From Rubble to a Kingdom
Mehmet came to study in the United States leaving behind his wife and baby. As a minority in his own country, his entire city got bombed. He decided he needed to start a new life for his family and future. America epitomized his hopes as a land of opportunity. Wealthy in his own country with rental property, a beautiful home, investment businesses and success by every earthly measure, he lived the good life until everything blew up.
Lonely and isolated, we met him at a welcome hike for new international students. Our church had an international yard sale for all students with everything given for free. Mehmet approached us with the following words, “I noticed you are all Christians giving away free items and serving people of all faiths. But, Muslims would only do this for other Muslims and not for people of other religions.”
Even if he couldn’t name it, he experienced the love of Christ that day. We began a weekly discovery study of the Bible, and Mehmet joined us. Even more so, as time went on, he read past the sections we studied and returned each week with several questions. The Holy Spirit compelled him to study, and we helped him to understand what he read each week.
As we read Genesis, he mentioned knowing the locations of some of the rivers and mountains in the Bible. As a former Muslim, he knew some of the Bible stories that the Quran also highlighted. Week after week he came back.
One day, he called to tell me, “I want to know how to follow Jesus.” Overjoyed, I invited him over to lunch and we spent the afternoon talking about developing a personal walk with God. It became certain to me; God had a good purpose for Mehmet even in the midst of trial and hardship. In one sense, Mehmet lost just about everything when his city was bombed. Now, he echoes the words of the Apostle Paul, “More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)
Blessing: From a Necklace to a Crown
We met Li Jun on a hike. Coming from East Asia, his parents followed Buddhism. He greeted us warmly, but he insisted he had no interest in religion. He came to many social events, but refused to attend our weekly Bible study. “I want nothing to do with religion.”
We invited him with repeated rejections. Once more by accident, I (Thomas) invited him by Wechat (a popular Chinese social media platform used for sending messages and photos) to our weekly study. My ignorance of Chinese language proved to our benefit when I accidentally invited Li Jun instead of the student I actually planned to invite.
And to our surprise, he came.
Li Jun always wore a necklace. He explained his mom gave him this charm. It brought good fortune into his life. He commented on my (Evelyn) necklace and asked if it provided a blessing as well. I explained my son gave me a charm of the world because I traveled around the world. The purchase of this Lovishly™ necklace provided support for education for women globally. So, for me, it had special meaning because of the giver, my son, but not as a good-luck charm.
Our motives to study the Bible coincided with Li Jun’s desire to learn English better. So, week after week he returned. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Several months later, Li Jun returned from a conference with international students studying across the United States. He bragged that he spoke only English for four days straight. At college, he normally only interacted with his Chinese friends. His English capabilities limited him as he desired to make American friends. At the conference, Li Jun learned more about God and His love for us.
When he told us he had prayed to receive Christ, we questioned him and his decision. We went over a gospel tract step by step. He confirmed he understood and believed. He said, “Yes, I prayed that prayer last month.”
We continued to meet him and study the Bible. Li Jun returned to his home country, and we have been unable to contact him. He is in a country which persecutes Christians so our prayers continue that he will strengthen his faith and continue following God amidst persecution.
Cover image by Thomas Chew
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