It was June 2000. I was on my first trip to China. In fact, it was my first time to leave the United States. My team and I spent six weeks meeting students, sharing the gospel, and helping in other ways.
One night, my team and I decided to invite students to our hotel to watch a movie. The ultimate plan was to re-invite them back a second night to watch another movie—the Jesus film. We were about mid-way through our trip so we invited many students.
More than thirty students showed up, packing into my small hotel room, which was just big enough for two twin beds, a chair, and American-sized luggage. It was cramped but we were having fun. Then, the electricity went out, which was common. We assumed it would come back on but it never did. It was off for at least three hours.
This trip was during a time in China when we had to be very careful about our choice of words and where we left our Bibles. However, I learned early on that if I left my Bible on my nightstand, a student would eventually pick it up. It had happened multiple times, which led to great conversations. So, it was always on my nightstand.
With the electricity out, I noticed a student pick up my Bible and ask one of my teammates some questions. Other students joined them. Then another group formed, then a third group, and then the fourth and final group came together. I was in that group. By this point, it was getting dark. With no lights, I thought our time would soon come to an end but it didn’t. Instead, the students insisted we continue talking so we pulled out our flashlights and we continued on for another hour or more.
My group included a gentleman I’ll never forget, although I cannot recall his name. I remember him telling me he was married, had a daughter, possessed a Master’s degree, was heading to Canada, and was in his mid-30s. He was well-educated.
Everyone, including this man, asked me question after question, all related to the Bible. By the end of our evening, more than 30 students heard the gospel message. Yet, something inside of me wanted to ask this gentleman in my group some questions as well.
I asked him if he had ever heard the gospel prior to that evening. I asked him if he had ever heard of or seen a Bible. I asked him if he had had ever heard the name of Jesus in his lifetime. He answered no to every question.
I then asked him what he thought about the gospel. What he shared shocked me. He said he believed it. He said he believed it to be the truth. Picture this. He arrived in my hotel room believing nothing—absolutely nothing. By the end of the night, he claimed he believed the gospel. Yet, he told me that he could not accept it.
He told me he could not become a Christian because he was too concerned about what might happen to him if he did. Then, he proceeded to warn me about sharing the gospel with people in China, that it was simply too dangerous.
This conversation impacted me greatly. I had heard that there were people in the world who had never heard of the name of Jesus or seen a Bible, but I had never met anyone like him, until that moment. I was given the high honor of being the very first person to introduce the gospel, the Bible and the name of Jesus to this man.
I was equally saddened by his final response. Up to that point in my life, I could not imagine anyone rejecting God’s gift of salvation, when they clearly believed it to be the truth. Yet, he did.
This is the moment I knew cross-cultural work was for me. I finally knew, first hand, that there were real people who had never heard the name of Jesus, who had limited or no access to the gospel, and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure they had the opportunity to hear and respond.
I arrived in China talking about what I was going to do six weeks later when I returned to the States. I disliked Chinese food and ate KFC as much as I could find it. I could barely swallow cooked rice. I ate nothing my first four days on the ground, and I ultimately lost 26 pounds by the end of my trip. Yet despite my rough beginnings, God used this man to change my heart and open my eyes to the reality of the unreached.
When it was time to return to the States, I did not want to leave. When I landed back in Texas, all I could do was talk about and plan my next journey to China. That unforgettable day changed my life. It changed my career. It changed my heart forever!
Image credit: China 2006 by Charles Ryan via Flickr.
Steve Schirmer is the founder and president of Silk Road Catalyst (www.silkroadcatalyst.com) and a co-host on Missions Talk (Facebook.com/MissionsTalk). He is an advocate for engaging the least reached on the Silk Road through a presence of legitimacy. Prior to launching Silk Road Catalyst, Steve spent 13 years serving as... View Full Bio