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Engaging with Chinese Muslims, Part 1

The Woman at the Well as a Model for Evangelism

Editor’s note: Our thanks to Julie Ma and her team for their work editing an early draft of this post.


The majority of Muslims worldwide are products of collective societies. These cultures find storytelling, regional proverbs, and music to be very efficient means of communication. The use of stories to share the gospel with Muslims makes perfect sense. Given this situation, my time serving among Chinese Muslims taught me how easy and successful it is to build relationships and spread the exciting stories of the Bible. The primary motivation is to witness to Muslims and see them coming to the One Jesus, who is more than just a prophet. He is the Lord and the Savior. In this article, I would like to share my notes on a practical approach I share with Chinese Christians to engage with Chinese Muslims.1 This strategy was created by the American missionary Mike Shipman. He named the approach “any-3.”2

Jesus proclaimed the good news to the wealthy and the impoverished, to the influential and the common, to Jews and Gentiles, and to men and women. He also preached in synagogues and temples while wandering along beaches, sitting on hills, in boats, and even next to a well. He shared the good news at night, morning, evening, and in the middle of the day. Therefore, the term any-3 (三个任何) is appropriate, as Jesus preached to anyone (任何人), anywhere (任何地方), and at any time (任何时间).

What We Learn from Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Jesus is our model for all aspects of Christian living, including evangelism. However, there are few explicit accounts of Jesus witnessing. In John chapter four, where Jesus shared the gospel with a Samaritan woman at a well, we find the clearest and most instructive example of Jesus’ pattern of witnessing. Mike Shipman identifies five aspects of the witnessing conversation by examining Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. These are:

  1. The conversation was intentional (有意策划). The purpose of the conversation was to share the gospel. Jesus had to travel to Samaria to testify to the Samaritan woman (John 4:4).

  2. The conversation was informal (轻松随意). The vast majority of Jesus’ evangelistic experiences occurred during ordinary life.

  3. The conversation was interactive (平和互动). Jesus initiated the conversation by requesting some water (John 4:7), and the woman responded.

  4. Jesus instigated the conversation (积极主动). Not only did Jesus initiate the conversation with the woman at the well, but he also took the initiative to steer the conversation toward its intended objective.

  5. During the conversation, Jesus was introduced as the Messiah (介绍尔撒). As the witnessing conversation progressed, the Samaritan woman better understood who Jesus was. Initially, she recognized him as an ordinary Jew (John 4:9). In the midst of the conversation, she identified Jesus as the prophet (4:19), and by the conclusion of the conversation, she recognized Jesus as the Messiah (John 4:25-26). The main result of that conversation was the conversion of the Samaritans.

5 Steps to Engage with Muslims

The study of the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John chapter four helps us identify five essential topics to build a simple, evangelistic, intentional, informal, interactive, and conversational approach to communicating with Muslims. These are:

1. Find a point of contact (建立关系).

“Give me a drink” (John 4:7) was more than a conversation starter. It was relational, focusing on the common ground between the two parties.

If you already know that person is Muslim, you can say the religious Arabic greeting:  “assalamu a’laikum” (安色俩目·尔来库目, peace be upon you), the standard Islamic greeting. The answer is: “aleikum assalam” (瓦尔来库目·色俩目, and peace be upon you too).3 After the greetings, you can ask, for example, “Where is the nearest mosque?” or “What mosque do you attend every Friday?” These types of questions help determine whether a Muslim is nominal or devout. If he takes a long time to respond to where the closest mosque is, or if he doesn’t know, there is a good possibility he is a nominal Muslim.

If you do not know their belief, say “How are you?” Or, “Who are you?” Use your creativity to communicate with Muslims. Because you stand before the cross of Christ, do not be afraid. You are not alone.

If a Muslim asks you if you are Muslim, you should avoid providing a simple yes or no response. You may respond, “I believe in one God (真主), alhamdulillah (艾立哈目独吝俩习, praise be to God).” During the journey with your Muslim friend, you can show them the attributes of the biblical God you follow.4

Explore innovative approaches to establishing connections between questions. Refraining from employing statements that may offend an individual’s religious beliefs is advisable. It is also advisable to refrain from engaging in discussions about political matters.

2. Get to the point (切入正题).

“Give me a drink” also served as the entrance point for the gospel. Pray for an open door. It is now time to move on to spiritual matters. If the open door doesn’t immediately happen, say, “Which religion do you follow?” or if you already know, “You follow Islam, right?” “Do you have a spouse and children? How many children are there? God bless you and your family, alhamdulillah.” You say: “We work hard to please God so that we can go to paradise one day. It’s our goal to make up for our sins. All of us are sinners, right?”5

3. Get them lost (揭露失丧).

Jesus revealed the heart of the woman’s problem to show the cure. “Go, call your husband to come here.”  A moment later, Jesus replied, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Jesus confronted her sins with compassion and humanity.

Say to your Muslim friend: “How do you get rid of your sins?” Other options are: How do you clean your heart? Have you already paid for your sins? When are they going to be paid? On judgment day (清算日 or 报应日), will your sins be forgiven?6

Let them talk about it, then tell them: “Thank you for sharing, alhamdulillah. What I believe is something different. It’s not because I’ve done something good that my sins are forgiven. You could be a better person than I am. I’m sure my sins are forgiven because God made a way for me and you to be forgiven.”

4. Get the gospel to them (分享福音).

Jesus departed from points of commonality to show the difference between what the woman believed and what was true (John 4: 20-24). Tell the Bible story about what God did so that our sins could be forgiven.

The story that Mike Shipman elaborated on is called “The First and the Last Sacrifice.” (最初和最后的献祭).7 In 2014, a group of missionaries and I adapted the story, but we kept the main structure developed by the author. The story is made up of eight short sessions. These are:

  1. Isa (Jesus) Was Sinless (尔撒是无罪的);
  2. Isa Performed Many Miracles (尔撒行了很多奇妙的显迹);
  3. Isa Foretold His Death (尔撒预言了自己归真的日子);
  4. Why Did Isa Have to Die? (尔撒为什么要牺牲?);
  5. Sin, Shame, Fear—Leaves for Clothes (罪,羞耻,害怕=树叶做成的衣服);
  6. Severe Punishment (严厉的惩罚);
  7. New Clothes (新衣服);
  8. The Lamb of God (真主的羊羔).8

5. Get to a decision (决志跟随).

Jesus’s desire to reach beyond just the woman at the well was evident early in the witnessing conversation. “Go, call your husband, and come here” (John 4:16). After recognizing him as the Messiah, she returned to her village and said to the people: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Jesus stayed there for two days with the result that “many more believed because of his word.”

Say to them:

  • Does this story make sense to you? Since we cannot save ourselves, God has provided us a way for our sins to be forgiven through Jesus. The Bible tells us that if we surrender to Isa as lord and believe that he paid for our sins through his sacrifice and was raised from the dead, our sins will be forgiven. Again, that is why I know my sins are forgiven.
  • Have you heard this before?
  • Do you believe Isa died and rose from the dead to pay your sin debt?
  • Would you like to surrender to Isa and trust in him as your savior?


In summary, engaging with Chinese Muslims requires building relationships through intentional, informal, and interactive conversations. Following Jesus’ example with the Samaritan woman, we can find points of contact, steer discussions towards spiritual matters, reveal their need for salvation by confronting their sins with compassion and humanity, share the gospel story, and invite a decision to follow Christ. The “First and Last Sacrifice” Bible story provides a culturally resonant way to communicate the core message of sin, judgment, Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and redemption. With creativity, compassion, and dependence on the Spirit, Christians can bridge cultural divides and see Muslims come to faith in Isa Almasih. Our mandate is to make disciples of all nations, relying on the power of the gospel story to transform hearts and lives.


  1. In Malaysia, where I observed missionaries, I had my initial contact with this approach in 2013. Then, I adapted the approach to account for Hui people. I discussed it with several partners serving in different Hui communities around China. We encouraged each other to apply any-3 with our Hui friends. I started to communicate with Hui waiters in Chinese Muslim restaurants in Yunnan. I invited my Chinese students from house churches to practice any-3 in Chinese Muslim restaurants (清真餐厅) and in the vicinity of the mosques (清真寺).
  2. Mike Shipman, Any 3: Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime: Leading Muslims to Christ Now! (Monument, CO: WIGTake Resources, 2013). The initial evangelistic initiative was reportedly communicated to Mike Shipman.
  3. A significant amount of religious terminology used by the Hui community originated from Arabic and Persian. A substantial portion of these texts are written in Chinese characters. For example, Torah (توراة, tawrat in Arabic and 讨拉特 in Hui dialect) and people names in the Bible (دَاوُوْد, Dawud in Arabic and 迖伍德in Hui dialect, David).
  4. The Hui community adopts the term “Allah” to refer to God, which is like the usage of this term by Arab Muslims and some Arab Christians. They also use for God the word 真主, the True Lord. The Chinese Bible (天经) for Chinese Muslim Background Believers also uses 真主.
  5. In Chinese culture, including the Hui context, the term for sin, 罪, is associated with police stations, law courts, crime, and criminals. The assertion is misleading. Sinner (罪人) is not assigned to anyone until they are convicted by a court of law. In Chinese culture, exposing a moral infraction to another person causes great shame. The lack of sin conviction is clear. Thus, the Bible’s notion that all people are sinful may be demeaning to Chinese.
    Instead of finding a flawless Chinese term, explain what the Bible means by sin—falling short of God’s standards. Connect with Chinese understandings of human frailty. According to the Chinese saying 人无完人, no one is perfect. Everyone makes moral mistakes. Even by Confucian standards, we all fall short of ethics. Sin is not being what we know we should be. Use realistic examples of intentional wrongdoing. Sin is the internal recognition of moral failure, not only exterior legal norms. 
    Stress how sin affects God, others, creation, and oneself. This suits Chinese relational culture. Sin ruins relationships, peace, and harmony.
  6. On certain occasions, it has been observed that Chinese Muslims pronounce the term “judgment day” (清算日) in a manner that bears resemblance to its Arabic counterpart, “yawn ad-din” (the day of the religion).
  7. We will publish a post devoted to this story in a few weeks.
  8. There are ongoing arguments within the missionary movement on the appropriateness and effectiveness of employing Quranic terms in evangelizing Muslims. Through extensive research in the field of Islamic studies and the examination of the dynamics between Christians and Muslims, it has been observed that numerous terms derived from the Quran, when situated within a Christocentric framework, possess the capacity to effectively convey the message of the gospel to individuals adhering to the Islamic faith, while maintaining the integrity of its fundamental principles.
    Hence, the use of terms like “عِيسَى, Isa” in Arabic or “尔撒,” together with “ٱَللَّٰهْ‎ , Allah” in Arabic and “安拉 or真主,” when employed outside the context of the Quran (or Islamic context), but within the biblical, Christocentric context, does not have any influence on the veracity or attributes of God and Jesus. For the current Hui context, I recommend the use of 真主. The use of 安拉 is still a subject of controversy within several Muslim communities, including the Hui community.
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Image credit: Taken by Fanghong, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Jeferson Chagas

Jeferson Chagas

Dr. Jeferson Chagas has served among Muslims since 1996 and served in China from 2005 to 2015, including among the Hui. He also has over 20 years of experience working with gospel workers to equip them in the areas of intercultural communication and understanding Christianity in the majority world. Dr. …View Full Bio

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