I had a couple of rambling posts recently on my experiences with sharing faith with internationals versus Americans. (See here and here.) The climate in much of America seems politically correct – if that is the right way to word it. There seems a hyper-sensitive cultural environment in the USA that religion should be personal and private, and kept to yourself (especially if it is Christianity). We don’t want to offend people of other religions or those with no religion. Yet, faith is an integral part of the lives of some people and making them compartmentalize a core part of themselves is ludicrous.
For example, I work with international students through a secular organization. A person with this organization expressed concern that the e-mail of an American family who worked with students was linked to an overtly Christian web site. The concern was that this could cause great and terrible offense to non-Christian students. Really? It seems it is only the Americans who have this mentality! (I looked at the web site in question by the way, and it was a blog where a believer simply shared their life and faith. It was NOT as though the site was anti-Muslim or slamming other religions.)
My repeated experience with international students is that they are usually very open minded. Even if they have strong religious beliefs, such as they are practicing Muslims or follow an eastern religion, they realize the USA has many Christians and they are not surprised to discover Christian families. They are respectful, and unlike some Americans, they seem to “get” that religion is a part of who people are and they don’t expect the beliefs to be hidden or secret. I often encounter a genuine curiosity from international students to better understand what Christians believe. They ask questions or appreciate it when you explain some of your Christian practices or habits.
But the hyper-sensitive “keep faith to yourself” mentality in this country would have you think that your beliefs must be strictly covert or else you will cause great offense!
I recently received a newsletter from a local Christian organization that works with international students. They help students in practical ways to adapt to life in America, and also share the Christian faith. One thing they do is have Friday night dinners in their home and have lessons on Christianity. Here is their update on this:
“We decided to start trying to have dinners at our house every Friday night instead of twice a month. In our first few meetings there were 3-4 students with several Americans, but the relationship time was sweet….By the end of the year we were in overflow. We had to ask our neighbors for more chairs and put 2 leaves in our dining room table. Muslims and atheists and Christians and Hindus and seekers, all gathering together to eat and build relationships and hear about Jesus!…One guy from Iran said he would have never had the chance to ask his questions back home. A girl from Tunisia was sad when she thought the dinners were over for the year, only to realize that there were still more chapters to study in 2014!”
To clarify in closing, there are certainly appropriate and inappropriate ways to share Christian faith. I am not endorsing forceful or disrespectful evangelism. There is a difference between sharing and shoving. Other people are more than objects to convert, but real people that we should care about even if they don’t want to become Christians. We can learn from them too, and should be interested in their beliefs just like we want them to be interested in ours. Build relationships, and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest.