Insights from a European student in the USA encountering evangelicals sharing their faith

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Many are aware that my husband and I have hosted international students of various types since 1997. In the summer, we often host Southwestern Advantage students (that can be European or American) and these are university students participating in an intensive summer sales program. They do old fashioned door-to-door sales of educational books for children and teens.

This summer we have students from Estonia, one of the Baltic states in northern Europe. One of the students is doing this for the 4th time, and each time the company places them in a different area of the US. I know from previous summers of hosting students that evangelical Christians (at least here in SC) are taking the opportunity to share their faith with such people that come to their door.

Some students do this only one summer, as it is a tough program that is not for everyone. And I realized I had a unique opportunity to chat with this current student about the evangelism she has encountered spending 4 summers in different areas of the US. She has been in Utah, Kansas, Kentucky, and here in South Carolina.

Remember this student is from Estonia, considered one of the most secular countries in Europe. However, she grew up in Sweden. (One of her parents was Estonian and the other Swedish.) Sweden is also a rather secular nation, as is much of Europe, but not so much as Estonia. The state church (Church of Sweden) still has some influence. Many Swedes would consider themselves “Christian” – although nominal or non-practicing ones. My student said she would indeed check the box “Christian” if she had to identify her religion, but she does not attend church or practice Christianity in any way.

So here are key insights I gained from my chat with her, as well as my thoughts. Observations about Utah will come last, as that is a unique area of the US.

⇒ She has been very well evangelized! She thought the evangelism was a little more common here in SC, but at a similar level in KY. She encountered less in KS, but was none-the-less evangelized there too.

⇒ I asked her the types of questions people asked her to initiate evangelism, and I was amused. Yes, she knows all the evangelical phrases and lingo! Without skipping a beat she shared:
“Are you saved?”
“Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”
“Do you know the Lord?”
“Are you a believer?”
The first summer encountering such questions, she was mystified, not understanding exactly what these questions meant. Saved? A believer? As time went on, she began to get the idea of what was meant by this lingo.
Also, some would ask her, in one way or another, if she knew much or anything about Christianity. She was a bit insulted or just taken aback by an assumption that she’d know nothing of Christianity. She said they do study religion in school, and while much of Europe is secular they do have a Christian past. She did not appreciate an assumption that she was a pagan or heathen. However…

⇒ She has overall found these evangelizing Christians to be genuine and friendly. Indeed, I’d say her opinion of such Christians is very positive. I asked her if she ever felt that anyone was too forceful or pushy in sharing their faith. She said no, but qualified that certain people were “pleasantly persistent” (her exact words) and she said “they were nice about it” even if pushing it a bit.

⇒ Okay, here it gets interesting to me! She said middle-aged men were the ones who were the most articulate in sharing their faith. A common scenario was that they’d share a testimony of how they were saved, but would go farther and explain the gospel and other essentials, and then ask if she wanted to pray and accept Christ as Savior. She said sometimes this could be quite long – like 40 minutes! I expressed surprised that she did not cut them off, as she did have sales work to do. She said she would try, but they would keep going. Since they were pleasant and genuine, she did not want to be rude in return.

Women were notably less articulate at sharing their faith. Essentially, they were sentimental. They’d make vague statements about being thankful to God or loving the Lord but did not go deeper in explanation. Women were also more likely to simply invite her to church. Women seemed unable to talk about their beliefs with any depth.

⇒ I asked her if she has received many Bibles. I asked this because another European student several years ago told me she received multiple Bibles during her 2 summers selling. I was surprised that the current student said that she has received only ONE, in all 4 of her summers, and she got it from a rare non-Mormon out in Utah! [How encouraging she encountered this Christian out there sharing genuine Christianity.] Which leads to the summer she spent selling deep in Mormon territory.

Mormons. She said that the area of Utah where she sold was about 98% Mormon. And I was honestly surprised at her perception of the Mormons as people, as I usually think of Mormons as good family people, despite their aberrant views. Mormons did attempt to share their faith and culture with her. She found the Mormons to be “fake” and “two-faced” (her exact words). She emphasized fakeness, mentioning annoying smiles that were clearly non-genuine. She did not like selling out there at all, and has an ill impression of this area of the US. She also found the Mormons legalistic. (She did not use the word legalistic but that is what she described to me.) By comparison, she said the traditional Christians she encountered in other areas of the US were sincere and enjoyed their faith – coming across in an entirely different way than the Mormons. I expressed my surprise here, as I told her that Christians in the Bible Belt can have a reputation as being fake or hypocritical. But that was not her experience or perception.

⇒ JW’s. My student also encountered JW’s (Jehovah’s Witnesses) sharing their faith with her when she knocked on their doors. They would give her literature. My student clearly perceived, on her own, that JW’s and Mormons are NOT traditional Christians. She perceptively realized that their beliefs were off and did not qualify them as traditional Christians. I was surprised, but also glad and reassured, that this was so obvious to her! She was not confused by them, and viewed them as odd groups whose beliefs were not right.

Hopefully these observations and insights may be helpful? It is encouraging to know that some evangelical Christians are so actively taking opportunities to share their faith, and coming across in a pleasant and sincere way. Perhaps this can challenge you to look for more evangelism opportunities in your day-to-day life? Christian women apparently need coaching in going deeper and articulating belief! And note how the evangelical Christian jargon was confusing to my student. We need to think of better ways to introduce the topic of faith other than “are you saved?” and the like! I suppose this is challenging, as someone coming to your door is a “one shot deal” and you want to broach faith quickly. What are your ideas for launching it without using such jargon or assuming someone is a total heathen?