Pastor Jiang, one of the pastors of the New Life Community Church network in Chicago, is from Qingdao, China but he has been influenced by the culture of Taiwan. Taiwanese people enjoy sitting around with a tea set and talking over a cup of fresh tea. In Taiwan it would be very impolite to have family or a guest over and not bring out the tea set. Something about tea in little cups encourages people to open up and reveal their hearts. The Chinese heart is often guarded and a warm conversation over a cup of hot tea often opens the door to their hearts.
Each Sunday around 2pm the Living Water Tea House opens for a lively discussion on a current topic or a discussion about Chinese art or music. Many Chinese international students know how to study but have never had the chance to be creative through art, photography, or music. They have seldom had the opportunity to just talk and express what they feel and think, and ask deep questions. Helping students develop a creative side is one of the goals of our tea house ministry.
Many non-Christian students come just to talk. They feel the pressure of family, school, and life. Recently one student said that before he found Jesus he did not know how to face the pressures of life, but now he has peace and can rest at night. We have many stories people who have come to faith through this ministry resulting in about 15 baptisms a year.
Most of the students return to China after they finish their studies. Only the ones who win the visa lottery can stay, if they want too. This is the hardest part of our ministry, knowing many will someday be leaving Chicago and going back home to China. This is always bitter sweet and we stay in touch with many of them through WeChat. But it is still hard to see our friends leave, knowing they are going back to a difficult place to be a follower of Christ.
This month Pastor Jiang’s team, including myself and my wife, is preparing to open a second tea house location close to the University of Illinois Chicago campus (UIC). We feel a passion to expand our tea house ministry to many different campuses around the state. The tea ministry is close to my wife’s heart because it reminds her of Taichung, Taiwan her home town. We have fond memories of sipping tea with her family and listening to stories about the past. It’s amazing what we can learn if we take time to sip some tea and just sit and listen to each other.
Back in 2015 Pastor Jiang asked himself what he could do to help people find Jesus? His answer was “I can serve people by cooking and making tea”. After all this was what he knew from his family’s hotel business in China. After remodeling the room he had for ministry, he opened the tea house and prayed that God would make it fruitful.
If you are willing to sip some tea, open your heart, and really listen to others it’s a very effective way to reach Asian students.
Header image credit: Chinese Tea Pot-4 by Michael Rehfeldt via Flickr.
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