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Exploring faith through an open door


John and Julie engaged in discussion.

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December 12, 2008
-Julie Bender

CHONGQING, China — In China, students hold teachers in high regard, which opens the door to many conversations about faith and life. Interacting with my students illustrates the vast difference between my Christian formation and theirs. I grew up grounded in Biblical knowledge and a Christian environment, but this is seldom a part of the Chinese Christian experience.

John took advantage of my open office door to present some questions about the Bible that had arisen after a conversation with a Japanese Christian acquaintance whose formation was different again.

How could God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit be One?

Was Jesus God or human?

What about Jesus’ body after he rose from the dead? Was it still a human body?

And the cross where Jesus died – was it really a cross, or merely a straight upright pole, as a Christian Japanese acquaintance claimed?

John also expressed confusion about the Lord’s supper. How often should it be held? In his home church, the Lord’s supper is celebrated every Sunday, but in our local Chongqing church, it is only celebrated once a month. John’s Japanese friend was convinced that the Lord’s Supper should only be observed once a year, since it replaced the Passover of the Old Testament.

Fortunately, I had an English-Chinese Bible available in my office student library, so we pored together over some scriptures.

To understand where John’s friend was coming from, I tried to determine if he could be a representative from some Christian cult, since John stated that his friend’s Bible was completely different from his own. We looked up the names of groups such as Jehovah Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventist in a bilingual Chinese phrase book. At the time, John did not recognize any of them but later confirmed that his friend was Jehovah Witness.

Throughout my conversation with John, I tried to discern how much his ongoing dialogue with the Japanese man was unsettling his faith. I also reassured him that some Christian concepts, such as the Trinity or Jesus’ human-divine nature, were a mystery that none of us could completely comprehend. Some questions – such as whether Jesus really died on a cross or a pole – were less important than the fact that Jesus died, and what his death means.

I affirmed John’s pursuit of the truth, his ongoing Bible reading and his church attendance. I also encouraged him to pray his questions to God, and to allow God to give him wisdom.

While I grew up surrounded by Christian concepts, this has not been part of John’s Chinese Christian experience, or of the experience of many other Chinese Christians. Rather, they have to grapple with Christian faith in the midst of a culture whose dominant belief is that there is no God.

Thanks be to God, John is a believer!

“Julie Bender is a Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Mission Network worker in China through Mennonite Partners in China.”