CHINA (BP) -- Wherever American collegians participating in "Christmas in China" go, Shi Li Na* goes. Whether hanging out in student common areas, eating a bowl of steaming noodles or climbing a mountain to visit a primary school on Christmas Day, Shi goes along.
Each year, Christmas in China's students travel to East Asia to celebrate the holiday season, sharing their culture and faith in response to students' questions there.
Shi feels comfortable with the U.S. university students, among whom the name of Jesus is spoken as a friend.
She also loves being with Christmas in China participants because it was through such a group that she accepted the Gospel in 2010.
"I'd heard of Jesus before," Shi says to a team member, recounting her story. "When I was 14, I found a song that talked of a man who turned water into wine. It was pretty, so I downloaded it. I listened to it all the time.
"I knew some about Jesus. In my village, several people are Christians. However, they carried an ill reputation among the other villagers. People would talk about them, how they were lazy and expected God to do everything for them. They talked about how they would never go to the doctor when they were sick."
The song may have planted the idea of Jesus but it wasn't until Christmas 2011 that Shi learned that faith is about far more than a story told through a pretty song.
When word spread about a group of American students on campus, Shi was excited about the chance to study English with native speakers. She eagerly accepted an invitation to a Christmas party, hoping to improve her English skills through conversation.
Instead, she found herself transfixed by the stories they told about Jesus.
When one student approached her afterwards, asking, "What did you think of the stories?" Shi didn't hesitate in her answer.
"I want to become a Christian."
The students helped Shi find a group of local believers who could teach her more. As the year went on, she became stronger in her faith. One thing in particular that she wanted to do was share her newfound faith with others.
Well-known on her university campus, Shi can't walk to class without greeting many people. Her connections give her chances to share her faith often -- a task that can be frustrating and joyful.
"Some people don't want to talk to me because I am Chinese," Shi shares with team members. "I tell them that I am a Christian, but people don't want to listen to me." With the American visitors by her side, "... now, more people listen to me and I share my experiences with them."
Shi sighs. "I want to tell everyone the Good News that I know," she says. "I know it, and I want to tell my family, my friends -- everyone."
Her time with the Christmas in China students encourages her. As the group goes about days together, Shi's face lights up with joy. Her quick laugh and cheerful spirit leaves even the team encouraged as they battle cold and exhaustion.
"When Christians come and spread the word of the Lord, they leave me encouraged." Shi says. They are her new friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord who are eager to share the Word of God with Shi's people.
"Shi, what do you plan to do when we leave? Where will you go to church?" some of the American students ask. It's the night before the team leaves to return to America and to classes.
Shi pauses. "Well, I have a few Christian friends now on campus, and I think we should make our own church. We can study the Bible together and be like a family."
*Name changed. Ivy O'Neil lives in and writes about Asia. To learn more about East Asia and Christmas in China, visit eastasianpeoples.imb.org. Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries as they undertake initiatives around the world to share the Gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net