Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Challenge of Conversion

In training cross-cultural workers in India, I always ask a new class this question: “How many of you come from a Christian background; your mother and father were Christians?” Without exception, 95% of those I teach people grew up in the church. Occasionally there will be a student who came to Christ from a Hindu background, but it is rare. This month one young man in my class told me he came to Christ out of a Buddhist family. Very rare indeed.

Why is this important? Because most of those I teach have never struggled through the issues of changing their belief. While they are being trained and sent to take the Gospel to those who do not know Christ and to convince them that Jesus is indeed the “way, truth and the life,” they themselves have never experienced the trauma of conversion.

It is no easy thing for someone to leave a cultural/religious belief and embrace another faith. In many cultures to accept Christianity is deny your family and cultural heritage…punishable by ostracism and even death. In some societies, for a person to embrace the Gospel is seen as an act of disrespect to parents, an offence that is greater than murder. I asked my Buddhist background student what his family thought of his conversion and he confessed that he made the decision after his father and mother had passed away. For some cultures, which have a strong family consciousness, to convert may even cause the death of their ancestors who live in the spirit world.

Conversion is challenging worldview assumptions. It is the greatest challenge any witness of Christ will ever face. I contend that, while the Gospel is simple, the presentation of the Gospel cross-culturally is not. We dare not be glib as we tell others to forsake all others and follow Christ. Accepting Jesus as Lord is through faith, but many times that faith is greater than a mustard seed.