EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is one of six released by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in support of this month’s International Missions Emphasis, with the theme of “That All Peoples May Know Him: Seek God’s Passion.”
PARIS (BP)–It’s the lunch hour in Paris, and Jon Norris* sits in a Chinese restaurant. Motioning to the Chinese server, Norris speaks to him in Mandarin. This draws a look from the server, who responds in French and calls to another server — in Mandarin.
“I love the Chinese, but sometimes it’s like looking through a glass bowl to get to them,” Norris says.
Such is the daily struggle of Jon and his wife, Elizabeth,* who work among Paris’ Chinese people.
For centuries, Paris has been the home of conversation, revolution, inspiration. Its rich history has made it an international center of intellect and independence. Friends debate for hours on subjects ranging from what to serve for dessert to what country is keeping the world from peace.
But step onto the Metro — the city’s subway system — and you’ll find life strangely quiet, except for the hum and squeak of the train moving along the tracks. Whereas Parisians talk incessantly with friends, they are slow to open up to strangers.
Chinese culture includes a similar reserve — and Chinese who move to Paris quickly fall into step with Parisian attitudes. So, for Jon and Elizabeth, relationships with Chinese Parisians begin cautiously and develop slowly. When friendships form, though, they often lead to open doors to Chinese hearts.
Take Paul and Mae Yi Ling,* for example. Paul works as an engineer in a large corporation; his wife stays at home with their daughters. Ask Paul what he believes in, and he quickly responds, “Myself.”
Though the couples have known each other for only two years, Paul calls Jon his “old friend.” The Lings understand the Norrises are Christians. The Norrises know the Lings aren’t — and they don’t hesitate to tell their friends they pray for them.
“I have so much to do in life … . I don’t think much about another life beyond,” Paul says. And he admits, “We don’t know the way to relate to God.”
The Norrises try to help their friends understand Jesus made a relationship with God possible. And sometimes it seems the Lings are beginning to understand.
Each week, Mae Yi tutors Jon in Mandarin. Their sessions often lead to spiritual conversations. When Jon shares words and truths from the Bible, Mae Yi feels a deep peace.
Paul experiences a similar peace when he ventures into Notre Dame, Paris’ famous cathedral. “I believe in it,” he says. But then he clarifies: “And I don’t count too much on it.”
Li Juan Lee* grew up with a mindset similar to Paul’s. She was born in Asia, where her education repeatedly emphasized that there is no god.
When she moved to Paris, though, a friend took her to a church for university students — at the Norrises’ home. She was baptized on her birthday.
The Norrises discipled Lee and a few other young women who accepted Christ through the house church. Before Lee left to finish business school in a neighboring country, the Norrises considered her a partner in their work as she shared Jesus with students around her. In her new location, she leads seven other young people in Bible study.
Lee understands firsthand what keeps many students from considering spiritual questions. “Paris is a beautiful world, which can distract young students,” she says. “People think more about this world than another world.”
Lee also knows the challenges the Norrises face. “They do the hardest work,” she says.
When Lee returns to her home country, she will begin working at her mother’s factory. While she works, she’ll start home Bible studies — beginning with her brother, whom she recently led to Christ, and mother.
For the Norrises, stories like Lee’s are why they stay in Paris, even when it seems people’s hearts are sealed tight.
WAITING TO HEAR
They know people are waiting to hear — people whose hearts are hard but not unreachable. The Norrises continue to seek out the old men who meet for morning coffee at McDonald’s, the women who tend family Buddhist shrines, the young professionals who sit on the Metro, the students who read at cafes.
The Norrises realize that no matter how full these Chinese Parisians’ lives may seem, they really don’t know where they’re going.
And they know, if they can just get inside that glass bowl, they’ll find opportunities to share the good news of Jesus — the good news that compels them to keep loving and telling until all peoples have heard.
*Names have been changed to protect their identities. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ASSIMILATED and HOMEWARD BOUND.