December 2012 Issue
Giving the Best Christmas Gift Ever
by Ivy O’Neil
Last Christmas more than ten thousand East Asian people heard the Gospel, many for the first time, thanks to the witness of three hundred Baptist Collegiate Ministry students who participated in the “Christmas in China” project.
An annual cultural exchange program with local schools in China, Christmas in China uses the increasing popularity of Christmas in the Far East as a bridge to the Gospel as Southern Baptist college students spend part of their winter break in Asia building friendships and explaining the true meaning of Christmas to Chinese students.
Because of western influence in Asian countries, markets have begun to offer Christmas trees, decorations, and even gaily wrapped candies for the season.
“[Christmas] is for the new generation,” college-aged Rose told a visiting student as they shared a cab. “The older generation has never cared to learn about the meaning of this holiday, but [the younger generation] celebrates it.”
In the classroom, Rebecca,* an American student, told how her family celebrates. “Every Christmas, my family gathers together to read the Christmas story from the Bible,” she said. “This story explains the real meaning of Christmas.” Since her family is Christian, she added, it’s important to them to read this story each year.
The students clapped politely when she finished. The room was divided into small groups—about five Chinese students with one American at each table.
“Here’s your chance to ask questions,” the teacher instructed.
The groups chattered as local students asked about traditions, family, and life in the United States. All too quickly, the session ended.
“We’re having a Christmas party. You’re welcome to come!” the Americans said, inviting local students as they left the classroom.
PARTY IT UP
About thirty Chinese students gathered in a small apartment, eating cupcakes and watching the American students perform a skit about the birth of Christ.
Students who participate in Christmas in China usually host two Christmas parties while in the country. The first typically gets fewer attendees since the American students haven’t had time to meet many people as they visit the local campus. This was no exception. The Chinese who came the first night were mostly students who had already hung out with the visitors, playing ping pong or basketball.
“Can I talk to you?” one of the students, Li Zhong*, asked an American.
Li paused. “I’ve been lying to God,” he said. He had heard the Gospel the previous year, but rather than believe, he tried to fill the void by doing good works instead.
“My life feels empty, like I have no purpose,” he said. “I want to believe.” Within a few minutes, the two prayed together, and Li confessed his faith in Jesus Christ.
Li approached the other members of the team who were cleaning up. “I have something I want to tell you,” he said. He told them he had just become a fellow follower of Jesus. The American students surrounded him in prayer. When they finished praying, Li’s eyes were shining.
“I’m so glad,” he said. “I’ve felt alone all my life. But now, I don’t have to feel alone anymore.”
Rejoicing, the group finished cleaning up. As guests left, they promised to tell their friends about the next party.
Two days later, nearly one hundred people crammed into the tiny apartment and heard about the love of Jesus.
Both parties were a success, the team agreed while debriefing afterward. “So many people heard about the love of God.”
“I’ve never gone to church before,” said Kan Li*, stomping her feet trying to stay warm. “This is such an honor.”
It was 5:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The Christmas in China students had invited many of their new friends to attend the service at the local church. Most of the Chinese students had never been to church.
Expecting just a few students to come along, the Americans arrived to find more than one hundred students waiting at the appointed place.
“Hey,” the Chinese students shouted as they approached. “Ready to go?”
They walked in the fading twilight toward the church, where an illuminated cross lit the inky sky above the entrance.
The group filled more than ten pews, settling into the hard wooden seats as the lights dimmed and the program began. Many Chinese students took pictures with their mobile phones. They listened to songs, skits, and prayers during the two-hour program, wide-eyed with the wonder of their first time in a church service.
“It’s so pretty,” Kan whispered, sitting next to a team member.
As the group walked home in the cold night after church, the Americans’ hearts swelled with joy. More than one hundred people had heard about the love of God revealed in the Person of Jesus.
When the team debriefed, they estimated that at least three hundred individuals had heard the Gospel in some form.
Over two weeks, they had played countless games of ping pong and basketball. They had hosted two parties. They had eaten about forty meals with local students. They climbed a mountain to visit a small village, giving villagers school supplies in the name of Christ.
Through each event, they had spoken truth boldly.
Across China, other Christmas in China teams had connected with people of all ages with God-sized results. During the two weeks, 198 people made professions of faith; twenty-nine were baptized; 10,651 heard a full Gospel presentation; 10,757 received material or heard a partial presentation of the Gospel; and sixteen new discipleship groups were started.
Lives were changed—such as that of one Chinese girl who prayed, “Thank you, God, for the student who came and gave me the Bible. It was the most precious gift I’ve ever been given.”
Ivy O’Neil is a writer living in East Asia.
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