20-somethings' music crosses China's language barriers

Baptist Press
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Posted: Oct 28, 2011 6:22 PM
CHINA (BP) -- Consider this challenge: Travel to a foreign country and make an everlasting impact for Christ in six months. You most likely won't know the language or understand the culture. Most people you come in contact with have never heard the name Jesus. Chances are your new friends will reject your beliefs.

While the challenge may seem overwhelming to some, it excited Ashley Benson and Mandi Mapes. They wanted to share their faith in an area of the world where the Gospel is not welcome.

The 20-somethings from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., put their young careers -- Benson an accountant and Mapes a singer-songwriter -- on hold and moved to China with the International Mission Board's Hands On program. Their goal was to share Christ with everyone they met through words, love and actions.

"There are still places in the world where people can be born and live and die and not hear the Gospel," Mapes says. "That causes my heart to be burdened. Life is too short. When I stand before God, He's not going to care how many songs I wrote. He cares about His glory and all of the nations. I just had to go where He said."

Stepping outside their apartment and into the street brings the global evangelism map on their wall to life -- most of Asia is lit up like a Christmas tree, indicating those who have yet to be reached with the Gospel message. On the street, the dots become the faces and names of their neighbors and friends.

"They live right outside our apartment building," Mapes says, noting the difference from her Christian bubble in Alabama. "We know some of them by name. We have conversations with them. We've shared the Gospel with them. Yet ...."

Benson nods, knowing Mapes' thought without her finishing it. Despite their zeal and enthusiasm, no one they have interacted with during their six months put their faith in Jesus. The Chinese are taught in school from a young age that there is no God. When you add that to the language barrier, it has been hard.

"It's exhausting sharing the Gospel and getting rejected," Benson says.

The challenge is not easy, but it's worth the struggle.

"I can see why people give up and get discouraged in ministry here. It's a hard, dark place. No one wants to hear at first," Benson reflects, noting that people laughed at her for sharing her faith and even walked away. "To be a Christian here, you definitely have to count the cost. It affects what job you get, how your family relates to you. It can even mean prison or persecution."

When the two get discouraged in their task, they look no further than the small community of Chinese believers for inspiration. Some of these friends are among the first Christ followers among their people group. Their Chinese friends have encouraged them to keep sharing, no matter the results.

Benson admits that when you can only speak Mandarin like a 3-year-old, you have to think of creative ways to share your faith on a deep level. They try everything from baking muffins to hanging out at the coffee shop. It's music, however, that opens the most doors for the duo.

When Mapes and Benson pull out their guitars, people flock to them, whether it's in the park, at a coffee shop or on the steps of their apartment building. They sing in English, but that doesn't deter because music is a universal language.

The best friends strum their guitars in the park. Mapes' strong voice carries from their grassy spot to the walking track. A Chinese man stops to find a seat on the nearby bench, grinning from ear to ear as he takes in the impromptu acoustic concert. Benson prays for him and the others listening as she accompanies her friend.

When they finish the song, Benson asks the man if he understood, since it was in English and not Mandarin. He smiles and says, "No, but it sounded like heavenly voices and gives me peace" -- giving the two Americans and a Chinese friend the perfect opportunity to share the story of Christ. He tells them that "is a lot to think about," then leaves the park smiling and humming. Benson and Mapes are not discouraged. In fact, they are excited. A seed is planted.

"When our Chinese Christian friends tell their testimony, most start out with, 'A few years ago, an American came and shared with me and I rejected it. Then, another American came and shared with me and I believed,'" Mapes recounts. "Our job is to plant the seeds. It might be hard now, but one day, a harvest is going to happen."

The young women hope someone will come after them and continue sharing with their friends. They pray that one day their friends from the unreached people groups in this city will have a testimony that goes something like this: "An American came and shared with me and I rejected it. Then, another came ... and I believed."

Susie Rain writes for the International Mission Board in Southeast Asia and C.S. Stanley is a video producer. For more stories about how God is at work in Asia, go to www.asiastories.com.

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