Pastor Mark is a Christian in China who works cross-culturally in the Muslim world.
Last year, in order to better understand those whom he has been called to serve, Pastor Mark joined in the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. He recorded his reflections in an article he wrote for the 2016 winter issue of ChinaSource Quarterly.
For Pastor Mark, his one-month experience of an annual ritual observed by millions around the world proved to be a life changing experience. As he describes it:
For me, those thirty days were by no means ordinary in the sense that they could be expressed in a span of thirty days. Nor were they a simple physical concept of time—one month of measured time. Whether we are talking about the cycle of evening to morning, or the alternating sequence of sunrise to sunset, I was suddenly aware that those thirty days seemed like a unique winter, summer, spring, and fall. Those days made people see the depths of winter and discover the abundance of spring; they allowed all to appreciate the summer heat but also to set foot in the autumn harvest. Those thirty days were a particularly emotional journey for me….
During the thirty days, I not only lost nearly five kilograms but also gave birth to the words on this page. I also experienced some things I had never experienced in the past.
Pastor Mark’s observation of Ramadan became a metaphor for his own experience as a Chinese believer who had been called to serve among Muslim peoples. The physical hunger he experienced spoke to him of the lack of resources and the longing for things familiar that cross-cultural workers in strange lands often experience—a hunger that is ultimately satisfied only in Christ himself. His loneliness as a Chinese participating in a ritual that was very foreign to all those around him reminded him of the isolation that Chinese who serve cross culturally will inevitably experience.
Finally, at the end of the Ramadan period, Mark faced depression as a result of the spiritual struggle he was engaged in. This battle, he noted, is to be expected by those living within foreign cultures who “demonstrate the spirit of ‘substitutive atonement’” by committing themselves to face suffering on behalf of the people whom they seek to serve.
Along with experiencing these very tangible physical, emotional and spiritual effects of his fast, Mark also took from his month-long sojourn new insights into how cross-cultural workers from China need to prepare for their own lifetime journeys of service. He pondered new questions about what qualifications are needed in those who are sent. He also thought deeply about the role of those, like himself, who are doing the sending.
Read the original article, "These Thirty Days," for Pastor Mark's full account of his Ramadan experience.
Image credit: Gaylan Yeung
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio