First Person: Lunar New Year creates gospel opportunities

At the core of the Great Commission is the call for believers to scatter themselves to a world in need. As a worker serving in Asia, I see a wonderful picture of this happening each winter when it’s time to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday in several Asian cultures. In 2022, it falls on Feb. 1. Millions of people travel back to their hometowns to be with family. As a result, believers return from large urban centers to smaller villages and towns where the gospel has yet to take root or even be proclaimed.

A vendor at a local market waits for customers surrounded by traditional red and gold Lunar New Year decorations. IMB Photo

As they love and serve their families, they demonstrate how Christ has changed their lives. They have an opportunity to help spread the gospel in some of the most unreached places remaining in Asia.

I had a chance to be part of this personally, when one of my closest believing friends, Xin Yi*, invited me to travel home with her a few years ago.

Xin Yi had never heard the gospel or even met a Christian until she moved from her small town to our large city for college. Her father is an atheist, her mother is a Buddhist, and her grandparents worship family ancestors. She became not only the first believer in her family but also the first believer in her whole town, as far as she knows.

We traveled to Xin Yi*’s small hometown village for Lunar New Year. IMB Photo

Just reaching her parents’ house took almost a full day of travel on buses, aboard trains and in taxis. Once we arrived, we were warmly welcomed and spent the days before Lunar New Year’s Eve watching popular television shows, making dumplings and enjoying her mom’s home-cooked meals.

On Lunar New Year’s Eve, we drove to a small village where the rest of her family lived. Like many in her country, Xin Yi is only able to return home once a year during this time, and her extended family was so excited to see her. We had a big holiday meal together, played mahjong (a popular game in her culture) and walked around the village. When evening came, we headed back to her parents’ house.

As we made the two-hour drive back to town, the car was quiet; everyone was worn down from the day. Darkness soon swallowed up the countryside, except for silhouettes of kids lighting fireworks every so often, followed by bright sparkles briefly cutting through the night.

So many people travel home during Lunar New Year that it’s nicknamed “Spring Migration.” IMB Photo

I looked out the window at the rows of small concrete homes we were passing and began to notice something. Almost every front door was open. A warm rectangle of light spilled out of each doorway, illuminating the scene inside for just a few seconds as we passed by. It was like a quick series of snapshots, and I was captivated.

Every house was a little different. In some, families were gathered for a meal or they were watching television. In others, I couldn’t see anyone at all. But one thing they all had in common was an altar on the back wall. I could see the faint smoke from incense burning, the golden bowls holding food offerings and the picture frames commemorating ancestors whom families hoped would be sources of blessing from the afterlife.

As I saw altar after altar in home after home, those snapshots piled up. They were glimpses of countless families bound to idols who can never save them. Added to them were the faces of Xin Yi’s family.

Sharing a meal with Xin Yi*’s family on Lunar New Year’s Eve was a highlight of our trip. During Lunar New Year, families often gather together for meals to celebrate. IMB Photo

Sometimes the lostness in Asia can feel like an abstract problem to solve. Then there are times when the statistics fade, replaced by real stories of people I love, like this friend who is as close to me as a sister. Being in her hometown felt like being in a desert, a land parched for relief from hopeless striving.

And yet, Jesus says in John that all who believe in Him will have streams of living water flow from deep within them. When we trust in Him, God places Himself – the source of living water – in us so that life might flow out to those around us.

This wonderful truth is why believers like Xin Yi can be filled with hope even as they scatter back to spiritual deserts each year for Lunar New Year. They know that Christ is with them, Christ is in them, and that His living water flows through them to those who desperately need Him.

Though Xin Yi and I don’t live in the same city anymore, we’re still close friends. She’s raising her own family now with her husband, who is also a strong believer. We’re still praying and hoping for her family to come to Christ. I pray that one day, children grow up in her hometown so surrounded by an ocean of believers that they can’t imagine what it was like when it was still a desert.

Pray for believers in Asia who will be spending time with their families during Lunar New Year this year. Pray the Lord will open doors for them to share their testimonies and the gospel, and for the Lord to encourage and strengthen those who will be isolated from other believers during this time.

If you know students or families from Asia, Lunar New Year is a great time to love and encourage them. Many will not be able to travel home this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions in many Asian countries. Consider inviting them over for a meal and asking them about their family’s Lunar New Year’s traditions to help them feel a little closer to home.

*Names changed for security