Coming home and getting lost in Europe…
Chinese turning to Christ
Mr. Hong from China came to stay three months with his daughter and son in law in the Netherlands. His ‘spiritual’ roots were atheism and the great leader Mao. He was taught communist values and didn’t see reasons to change his opinion for a long time. Recently he came to the Netherlands. He used his time to study the Word of God and visited the church frequently. His daughter, who became a Christian several years ago, translated for him. Actually the Word of God, the explanation of it and the love of the brothers and the sisters made a big impression on him. He began to understand the need for forgiveness, the work of Christ and the real hope for the future. At the end of his three months here he wanted to be baptized. So it happened in the Old Church of Delft on a sunny Sunday in March.
He is not the only one who took this step. Many Chinese people turn to the Christian faith, sometimes after a long search, passing through Confucianism, Buddhism and Communism. Once they have come to faith, they often express that they have finally come home.
Questions from Westerners
Some of my (Dutch) family and friends raised questions when they heard about Mr Hongs baptism. Actually I can understand their questions: ‘How is it possible that Christians in the West become passive in practising their faith, or leave the church, while many foreigners are converted to the Christian faith? Actually another related question is: ‘Isn’t this something like what happened to our European forefathers, when they walked around in bear’s skins? They could use some cultivation and cultivation came with Christianity. So they accepted a new culture and received the faith that came with it.’
The baptism of Chinese people finding God in Europe may raise other questions. ‘Do they embrace the remnants of a Christian culture in the West, because they want to get rid of their own old roots? Why do they want to desert the beauty of the old Chinese wisdom in Buddhism and Confucianism etc.?’ Or, perhaps, they are lowly educated and don’t understand that Christian beliefs are rationally contradicting with scientific results?
‘The game is over’
For (post)modern people in the West, Christianity has a long history, sometimes glorious and sometimes not so glorious. Nowadays many express that ‘the game is over’. The church has lost its central role in society; it only functions in the margins. Some of my family and friends say to me: ‘I wish I could believe the faith of my (grand)parents. I would love to do that, but simply I cannot…: there is no convincing experience in my life that confirms God’s existence’. A young adult living near to us once said to me: ‘I have given God a couple of weeks to manifest Himself in my life, but nothing happened. My conclusion therefore is that it is more reasonable to believe that He doesn’t exist.’ There are more reasons though. Many people who were born in Christian families have experienced the church and Christian faith as a bastion, as a system that was maintained for decades. The faith they were confronted with was ‘a learned set of beliefs and rules’. They experienced Christian faith as a system that conflicts with personal freedom, developing self-esteem and personal creativity. They felt, they were systematically constrained, cut off like trees, instead of encouraged to become flourishing plants. No wonder they why they left!
‘Now I see!’
Are those who these days turn to the Christian faith uneducated, non-intellectuals? Nothing is farther from the truth! The Chinese who come here are very clever people. Mr. Hong was not the first, or the best. He has a sharp mind and thinks through for himself everything very carefully. They say that their former convictions led them to go astray. Actually they felt darkness in these beliefs. Entering the house of Christian faith feels for them as ‘coming home’. You often hear expressions like this: ‘Now I see what I have searched for all my life! Now I realize that I have come in the light. Now I see that before I was converted I shaped my own gods, whether you call them ‘self’, ‘Mao’, ‘communism’, ‘career’… But now I know that God has made me and that He created the world all around, and that He did it out of love.’ One of the brothers who came to faith last year said: ‘The Christian faith is important for me not only because I believe it is true, I also believe that it is real and that this reality is a reality-of-love’.
For them the Christian faith doesn’t drive them away from understanding and intelligence. Instead it leads them to it. They reflect strongly the conviction of the Christian fathers: since I believe in the living God, I begin to understand reality.
The spiritual battle of the West
Many Westerners indicate that the Christian faith is not their ‘home’ any longer. So where do they find another spiritual home? They keep pace with changing cultural standards and values in society. Many find their spiritual home in a safe, free, healthy and wealthy life on earth. Others give everything to a splendid career in science, business or entertainment. Indeed, glossy magazines and programmes show how to join new types of spirituality in modern art and a new lifestyle in special food patterns. Therapies for personal well-being and happiness are popular on the spiritual marketplace. For many westerners there is salvation in ‘mindfulness’. Actually, it is not all bad. There is a lot to discover, to develop and to enjoy! But the problem might start as soon as it becomes our final ‘home’, or our ‘god’. Actually Western society seems to embrace creation in all its richness only to abandon the Creator and Giver of it all..! It enjoys the fruits, but neglects the roots. You may wonder how long such a society will last…
Questions to Westerners
Brothers and sisters from the South and the East witness how they came home in the Christian faith. The new converts from other continents don’t ask many questions to European secularized people. However, they are questions in themselves. Why should we embrace old religious systems and give them a new cloak, as we do in Europe? Why raising interest for a ‘new age movement’ that isn’t more than a reshaped form of Gnostic spirituality, influential in the first and second century? Why following spiritual therapies that go back to Buddhism or Hinduism? Why only playing the cards of economic success as if it can save our life and give us eternal hope? Why should we go back to old fertility gods and drop the living God, who can take away all our sins and problems, gives us real joy and a lasting hope?’ In short: ‘Why giving up the faith in a God who expressed his unique love in the creation of a good world and has given himself unconditionally to humankind that used its given freedom to rise up against Him, the giver of life?
The spiritual battle in 21st century’s Europe is still about serving the living God or embracing whatever religiosity, even if you call it atheism.