In the 1980s, a young woman from China named April* had the opportunity to become an exchange student in Europe. She settled in with her host family, and they were immediately kind to her.
Unfortunately, only months into her stay, she came down with a mysterious illness that progressed until she was bedridden for weeks. She was thousands of miles away from home, in a land where she knew nobody. However, her host parents, through no duty of their own, slowly nurtured her back to health.
Afterwards, she was overwhelmed by their kindness. From early childhood on, life had been cruel and unforgiving to her. But here this couple was– asking for nothing in return, only giving. She asked them how they could be so kind.
Their response was this: “This is not our work. This is the work and testament of Jesus Christ.” And they proceeded to tell her about the gospel.
Faith became April’s* lifeline. The difficulties of her life never ceased, but she weathered with incredible strength given to her by God. She ended up working in Plano, TX and established one of the first Chinese churches in the area, bringing many families to know God.
How many times I wish I could reach out and thank the host family that told April* about Jesus. Because April* ended up being the co-worker that told my best friend Caroline’s mom about the gospel. She embraced it wholeheartedly–almost like she had been waiting all her life to hear the good news–and brought her whole family to church.
Two years later, after reading C.S. Lewis, Caroline finally came to believe in our Savior. I still cry tears of joy and thanks to God that this beautiful chain of events led my best friend to faith after years of skepticism.
But that’s not it. Growing up, I always longed for parents that could guide me as I started to grow into faith myself, but they never quite made the time to go to church. But since I left for college, Caroline’s mom has been steadily encouraging them to attend church, inviting them to Bible study and speaking often about her faith and devotion. And for the first time in years, I am starting to see my (nonbeliever) father’s heart soften towards Christ.
How many lives did the host family touch just through their kindness and Christ-like serving? I am so lucky to know of this chain of events:
Host family –> April* –> Caroline’s mom –> Caroline and my parents.
I just came back from Italy, and when my family visited the Colosseum, our tour guide told me something I’ll never forget.
“The Romans conquered everything and everyone in their path. Assyrians, Persians, every minority group one by one renounced their religions and bowed to Caesar. But only one group refused time and time again to renounce their faith. Instead, they were tortured and eaten alive by hungry lions to great spectacle in the arena. They were crucified in mockery. These were the Christians.”
I lay awake that night thinking about her words over and over again. Even though we were separated by millennia, I felt this incredible kinship with my early brothers and sisters in Christ. I felt like I knew them. I felt their pain and felt their joy deep in my own soul, and I cried and then rejoiced because I knew where their souls rested after their pain was over.
But what is it about this message that endures? What is it about this message that leaped, like fire, from a random host family in Europe to reach my parents as I prayed? What is this message that persecuted Christians in 1 Peter to feudal Japan were willing to be tortured and executed for?
This message is nothing but life itself. This life created the largest family in existence, one that crosses boundaries of both time and space. This life that we know is life beyond the years we spend on earth– it is grace– it is protection from fear, depression, anxiety, greed– it is hope and joy and love whose depth is unimaginable. It is life that we are no longer subject to the vicissitudes of fate but standing on the solid rock of Christ. It is life that embraces the individuals left behind by society and heals them so that only praise is on their lips.
Christianity has lasted millennia through the world’s greatest evils that were thrown at it. It started with twelve men and now connects 2.2 billion people around the globe.
This is the message that endures.