Finding Open Doors in a Closed Country :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Finding Open Doors in a Closed Country

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How does one reach people for Christ in a country that issues no missionary visas, has officially declared itself to be atheistic, and seeks to “manage” religion?  Here are a few ways through which we have seen the Lord open doors for us which no man can shut (Revelation 3:7).

Opening Doors by Learning the Host Culture’s Language

Entering with understanding the host culture is crucial to one’s effectiveness in ministry. The cornerstone is being able to communicate with the people by learning their language. The time required is worth it.

One day—early in my two years of language study—I was studying in the park by our apartment building when a little girl stopped by my bench and actually helped me by correcting my pronunciation for a few minutes! That scene has now advanced to the place that I have been invited to converse with a retired men’s walking club and teach national pastors in a Bible school.

Seeking to understand and carefully follow the unique “rules” and customs of the culture is also vitally important. We learned one cultural lesson from an early grocery store trip. We thought we didn’t get enough change back until the kind check-out lady helped us realize that the currency doesn’t have small enough coins to give exact change (which would have amounted to only a penny or two anyway).

Asians are very careful to use respectful titles when addressing anyone older than themselves. This custom may actually include a sibling who is one year older! It is not uncommon to ask someone’s age so that person can be addressed properly. We’ve also learned that it is customary to nod the head in silent greeting and respect. A major Asian newspaper once carried an article criticizing foreign tourists for not dressing up in honor of their national historical sites!  

Opening Doors by Teaching English

The cultural belief that “your future is English” drives parents and other adults of all ages to invest time and money in learning “the business and research language of the world.” Most people in our area take an evening or weekend English class, which helps eliminate security concerns when people go to foreigners’ homes even on Sundays. Over the years we have been thought of as the “uncle and aunt” who guide students toward success by providing free English classes. Such an opportunity is hard for folks to turn down, even if some Christian materials are used. As one mother, a doctor, once said to us, “I don’t care what you use—just teach my son English!”

Using Videos

We have learned that one of the best ways to learn a foreign language is to watch videos of people using the language. We have often shown the BJU films (SHEFFEY has been the students’ all-time favorite), Moody’s SERMONS FROM SCIENCE (wonderful science lessons applied to a Bible truth, despite old cars), THE HOPE (an ESL tool introducing people to Christ), Sherwood films (with disclaimer or editing as needed), etc. Prior to each film, students learn new vocabulary/figures of speech that they will hear in the film, and afterward, they answer questions in English about the film. Besides evaluating a student’s level of English understanding, the questions also probe the heart regarding a person’s own standing before God. We have had many opportunities to talk further with students and sometimes have had the joy of leading them to Christ or to the next step in their discipleship.  

Using Assignments

Memorizing a related Bible verse in English is a typical weekly assignment. A yearly highlight for our English students has been the summer English Day Camp, which brings 10–15 people to our home for five days filled with English, fun activities, and films too long for a regular class period.

Using Holidays

When we first arrived on the field some years ago, we studied the language at a large government university. These classes also helped introduce us to the culture, its figures of speech, and local religious holidays. We have done the same in our classes at home and later when teaching at that same university. Teaching the meaning of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and even Halloween/Reformation Day opens door for presenting the Gospel. Teaching the meaning of English figures of speech can do the same (the good Samaritan, go the second mile, the Golden Rule, a house built on the sand, etc.).

Opening Doors by “Sowing Seeds of Kindness”

Genuine Christian love goes a long way toward melting a spiritually hard heart. The joy of the Lord in a Christian’s face and a genuine smile while meeting another person’s eye (known or unknown—rich or poor), touches many a heart.


Once we noticed water leaking under a neighbor’s door near our apartment. Timely contact about this led to a friendship that continues today (we also learned she was a discouraged believer!).

Once I opened the bakery door for a crippled man on crutches, which led to several meetings with him over coffee. The anti-foreign mindset of one neighbor melted after I let him know he had accidentally left his power tool outside.

A few baked treats first given to our trash collectors at Christmas years ago has not been forgotten to this day. After my wife turned in a lost wallet she’d noticed on a grocery shelf, we were always warmly received there.

Friendliness and a few words exchanged in the local language goes far in establishing rapport, often creating a natural opportunity to provide a gospel booklet to the recipient. The booklets are almost always appreciated as kind, unexpected gifts—and sometimes I’ve been asked to write a note in the front for them.

Knowing and Loving Students

Really getting to know and show love to our English students has opened special doors for us. We acknowledge each student’s birthday and take the opportunity (as is appropriate in each case) to give them an English or bilingual New Testament or Bible. One newly saved boy was eager to read his Bible, but his mother forbade it, so he started hiding in the bathroom to read. Later his mother became a student and also memorized her weekly verse. Another mother was very concerned for her young daughter’s deep grief after her grandfather’s death, saying that even the psychologist couldn’t help her. My wife asked the mother’s permission to talk with the girl after the next class. It was then that she learned about the Heavenly Father Who would never die but Who loved her and wanted to forgive her sins so she could eventually go to Heaven. The girl soon received the Lord Jesus as Savior.

We praise the Lord for so skillfully opening doors of ministry to His glory in this closed country.