By Connie Ch'ng
Born in China, my mom emigrated to Malaysia when she was seven. As a Chinese woman living in Malaysia, she grew up with strong Buddhist beliefs and Taoist practices and was not receptive to the Christian faith, which is often seen as a Western religion.
But at age 90, in January of 2016, my mother gave her life to Jesus. For me, it is an indescribable joy to see my mother walking with God in peace after 38 years of prayer.
Through this long process of prayer, serving and hoping, I have learned a lot about how God works in the lives of people who start out distant from God. And because so many of us have relatives and friends who are not believers, perhaps some of the principles I’ve learned might help encourage you as you interact with those you love.
First, as a Chinese woman, my mother believed strongly in the importance of family and generational honor. This is, of course, a good trait; but it is common in Chinese culture for people to venerate deceased relatives by going to temples to “send money” to them in the spirit world, or to have small shrines in homes where they offer food to dead ancestors during festivals.
So, when my sister and I became Christians, we wanted my mother to remain certain of our love and respect for her. The Scriptures command us to honor our parents. But we had to do this in ways that would also honor God. Long ago, in a discussion about this with my mother, I spoke frankly with her.
“Mom,” I said, “I think it is better for me to honor you when you are alive than after you have died.”
I assured her that she could always count on my love and participation in her life. This comforted her and she agreed with me. I also communicated that I would show filial piety after her passing. So, every year I would go with my family members to the graves of our grandparents to clean the graves and pay honor and respect, without participating in the religious activities that involve worship.
The principle I learned is that believers can avoid setting up unnecessary cultural barriers between people and Jesus. There are ways to give people the pure Gospel of Jesus and His kingdom within each cultural context.
Second, it would not have been enough for me to only use words of love without any demonstration of love. So my husband, Alan, and I always spent our holidays as a family with her. Every month Alan wrote my parents a letter just to keep them informed of what was happening in the family. Included in that letter would be a small monetary gift to express our filial piety. We did many other things to demonstrate our love for her.
Perhaps, in our world of too much information, active love is even more important than just nice words. Perhaps people need to see love and experience it. I believe my mom did. Hearing the Gospel is not enough. They also need to see the Gospel.
Finally, I’ve learned how important it is for believers to live godly, transformed lives among those who don’t believe in Christ. After my sister and I became followers of Jesus, my mom saw the deep changes taking place in us. This did not mean we had to be perfect! We could be transparent without being “glossy” or artificial. My mother simply saw the work of the Holy Spirit taking place in our lives over the years.
The principle here is for believers to walk in submission to the Holy Spirit, that we might reflect God’s character among those around us and display His grace in our imperfections.
There’s certainly more than these factors involved in a person’s journey to faith in Christ. But I know these biblical principles—prayer, not setting up cultural barriers to the Gospel, good works, and a transformed life—helped my mother move forward to Jesus.
Today, when I’m with my mother, I can see that she is deeply at peace. She is sure of God’s love and forgiveness. Although she is illiterate, throughout the day she prays naturally in Jesus’s name.
As you think about and pray for those in your relational and family network who still don’t believe in Jesus, perhaps you can remember to persevere in prayer and love. Acts 16:31 has always inspired Alan and me to never lose hope. It says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Connie Ch’ng works alongside her husband, Alan, an International Vice President of The Navigators. She and Alan served in the Asia-Pacific region for more than six years before Alan joined the International Executive Team. They have three grown sons.