For all our evangelistic fervour, some of us may have overlooked or forgotten the ones who are closest to us.
I was struck by this daunting reality earlier today when I had coffee with a guy whom I meet up with regularly while we shared about whom we’d like to see come to accept Christ as Lord and Saviour.
We found that more often than not, the names that we list and the people we pray for are friends, colleagues, and classmates. All of this is great and we should continue in it, but I realised that very few of us think of our family members.
Unfortunately, no one in my family has taken the time to write a detailed account of our forefathers’ migration from Guangdong – China to Malaysia. But from what I’ve been told, our family have historically been worshippers of Asian deities (I use the term Asian deities because it ranges from ancestral worship to Japanese Shintoism).
However, this ‘chain’ broke when my dad’s brother and my mum’s sister decided to bring them along to church when they were in their teens. While this was met with a bit of opposition from the family, they persisted and were eventually won to Christ.
It was really a miraculous act of God’s grace that this happened because not only were my dad and mum the very few siblings within the family that became Christians, but they were the only ones who entered into the ministry. Many of their brothers and sisters who were raised in the same background continue with ancestral worship today.
I’m incredibly grateful for that particular uncle (from dad’s side) and auntie (from mum’s side) for doing the uncomfortable thing and deciding that it would be good to bring my parents along to church because not only did they encounter Jesus through the church, but it was also through the church that they came to know each other.
Not Your Story
However, I’m fully aware that this may not be your story.
You may be the only Christian in your immediate and extended family, and you may have experience intense opposition from those whom you love. Your parents and siblings may have expressed disappointment towards your decision in becoming a Christian, and you may have been repeatedly told that going to church/bible study/camps/conferences are all a waste of time (You should be studying or working they say!). You may have overheard your parents talking about how following Christ is a ‘phase’ that they hope you’ll one day get over, or you may have been the laughing stock at family dinners because you follow a ‘Western religion’.
Perhaps this is why whenever we talk about the unbelievers that need to be reached, our brothers, sisters, or (God-forbid) father or mother are people we rarely (if ever) mention.
I believe this is a common struggle, especially those of Asian descent because our identities are often so tied up with our family that we are willing to be silent on matters that we know will compromise the unity that we experience when our families get together.
Because let’s be honest, we know that sibling or cousin who has caused some sort of havoc that brought a bit of shame to the family, resulting in an incredibly awkward dinner where the only conversation that took place was when we asked someone to pass the soy sauce.
What’s Stopping Us?
While I don’t have the answer, I believe it doesn’t have to be like that. Whenever I think about the state of my relationship with my extended family, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction.
It’s great that we’re united by blood and culture, but there seems to be a deeper connection that we’re missing – a connection that I surprisingly have with Christians whom I meet for the first time.
For me, it’s the struggle of awkwardness and fear. Awkward because I’m one of the youngest in my generation in the family, thus who am I to tell my peers (who are sometimes twice my age) what to do or what he or she should believe. Fear because I’m afraid that this will cause a lot of discomfort during the few times that our family does get together.
But the question that I believe all of us needs to ask is, are we going to allow whatever that’s been stopping us to continue to stop us? Are we going to allow ourselves to be so driven by fear and the desire for acceptance that we stare blankly at family members who are on a one way street to eternal separation from God?
I am unwilling because I know that there are God’s people in my family. I am unwilling because the epitome of love is to point them to the One who embodies love. I am unwilling because no shrine nor temple nor grave will save them from their state of sin, and I am unwilling because I crave a deeper relationship with them – an all satisfying unity that is found only through the cross of Jesus Christ.
What Then Shall We Do?
I don’t know what your situation is like nor will I pretend like I do. My extended family lives across a really big ocean and I only get to see them once a year. But I have resolved from now on to do two things, and perhaps this is something you can consider too:
1. Pray fervently for them.
Geography should not be the determining factor for not reaching out to them. God is more concerned about their salvation than you will ever be. Yet at the same time, God uses human channels to do His bidding. So while I pray that even though I’m a thousand miles away from them, you too can pray that God will surround your family members with the most suitable people to reach them.
The reality is, you may not be the most suitable person to share the gospel with the particular family member you’re thinking about right now. But you are certainly the person to be praying for God to act through your prayers and other Christians.
So when the time comes during your next prayer meeting or small group to pray for non-believers, boldly ask God to work in the hearts of your family members. They are never beyond reach.
2. Do Something
However, don’t allow your actions to stop at prayer.
When I returned to Malaysia earlier this year, I prayed with my parents that we’d get an opportunity to have gospel conversations with our extended family when we got together for our annual Chinese New Year dinner (see photo). It’s always a great time to catch up on the things that has happened between the year before and now, and it’s usually the time when we ask our elders for advice on decisions we need to make. A lot of chatter happens, and I knew that it would be foolish of me to not make the most out of this tradition we had.
Be careful what you pray for, because not long after I requested this from God, I found myself sitting in front of my most educated uncle talking about the existence of God and the purpose of life. That was the deepest conversation I have had with that uncle, and while I wasn’t able to trump him in a debate,I have no doubt that a gospel seed was planted through that conversation.
So as you pray, don’t shrink back at opportunities to have gospel conversations with your family. It may be as simple as asking why they believe what they believe or telling them how being a Christian has informed the way you make decisions. I’ve found that these aren’t difficult conversations to have because chances are, if they are your family, they are care about your life. So make the most of this opportunity! Don’t let it slip by.
Oh what a joy it will be to see our families become part of the body of Christ through which we all share in the blessings and inheritance as His sons and daughters!
This is a beautiful vision. So don’t lose hope. No one is beyond God’s reach.