Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Right Kind of Christian?

I went with Jerry to Qingdao University some time ago. It was just a great experience all around. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to experience Jerry in his element—public speaking. He was a splendid communicator, using imagery, kinetics, and volunteers to get his point across. But as splendid as the speaker was, the audience was even greater in my eyes. You have never met such an earnest and open and reactive audience! Jerry's opening joke: “Hello class!” “Hello” “Oh, your english is so good!” Completely killed. I mean completely. An uproarious amount of laughter broke out for several minutes. Jerry told me that University students were some of his favorite people on earth, and I can see why. Not because they made him feel good, but because they have this air of purity and earnestness and beauty about them. Their smiles and their eyes lack the world weary cynicism that haunts American youth--and the Chinese adult for that matter.

Jerry was speaking as a favor to Jeff, the english teacher for the class (international business). Jeff was a very interesting individual. The kind of odd, slightly off kilter, extremely sociable person whom you meet in odd corners of the earth in odd jobs, always looking for someone to be a friend and be a receiver for their endless stream of ADD remarks and stories--all overflowing from their essentially good heart. We went to lunch with him after class. We talked about all sorts of things, but for a while we turned toward Christianity and Christians in China. Jeff had a clear distaste for Christians, at least a certain kind. Missionaries. His perspective was very interesting.

1) He disliked Christians because they rejected him. To him, he main image for a missionary was a family who saw him across the way and immediately turned to cover their kids from him. Sure they eventually talked to him, but in that one motion they wounded him deeply and defined Christians as excluders. People who see others as dirty.

2) He is suspicious of missionaries because they come and teach English... and then invite special students to their house? They pick out those “interested” in their religion and give them special attention? How is that not a conflict of interest? Are these students even doing this out of real interest in Christianity or are they scared for their grade? It all seems very shady.

3) Christians are those who are only interested in you if you want to join their club. If you aren't interested then you are dirty and rejected.

4) They are lying to the government. Kind of ironic for people so focused on Truth, capital "T". He didn't say this outright, but its implied in everything else he said.

Exclusive. Un-loving. Suspicious. Hurtful. This is how at least one non-believer sees missionaries.

That is interesting in and of itself, but what he said about me (and Jerry by extension) is even more interesting. I talked about how it is shame that people turn a faith about loving other people into something used to exclude and hurt other people. Once he found out that I was a Christian too, he said “See, you are the kind of Christian that needs to be in China”

That feels awesome on the surface of it. Yay! What a compliment! But then again, what does he mean by that? A non-missionary Christian? A non-proselytizing Christian? A nominal Christian? Or a Christian who gets it? I don't know. But with a grain of salt, I will take it. It is worthwhile to know that in some very small part, I might help impact this man's view of what Christianity is and hopefully who Christ is.

~J.L. Smith


  1. Wow, that is super insightful. I wonder if Christians come across that way more than we realize, even in America. I never thought about missionaries having stereotypes in foreign nations.

    PS. I really enjoy reading your blog whenever I get the chance. It is fortifying of the faith and interesting to see a glimpse of culture through your eyes.

  2. It really was super interesting. Actually being out in the world and listening to people has made me question a lot of things I kind of took for granted before.

    Thanks for saying so! Sometimes it is hard to tell if anyone is actually reading these, so I appreciate your comments. :D