Your Questions Answered! – by Theresa

The abridged version of this interview was first published in Compass, Spring 2019.

Being on mission looks different for each of us. Some are compelled to go to far-flung nations while others are called to stay right where they are. What does being a local missionary look like?

Theresa Suan is a Sydney-sider who sees a local university as her mission field, teaching English to international students as her door to reaching those who need Christ. While she is not able to speak about Christ during the lessons, she uses her time in the classroom to build relationships, drawing students in as she lives out her faith. Compass sat down with her to dig deeper and find out how she eventually makes connections to the Gospel. 

Theresa, what do you do here, and why choose university?

I volunteer one day a week, running English conversation classes for students who need to improve their English abilities, so that they can begin their university courses.

University is the gateway to the nations. People from different countries come to our universities to study; most of them don’t know Christ. I have a heart for students. While others go overseas as missionaries, this [university] is my mission field.

Many verses in the Bible show the breadth of God’s concern for men—the world is on God’s heart. And God calls us to make disciples who will multiply and penetrate the world for Him. There is no greater honour than to be the instrument in God’s hands of leading one person out of the kingdom of darkness into the glorious light of heaven.

I have chosen to do campus ministry for one simple reason. I have come here for people, as is the case for any missionary going to a foreign country. I have observed over the years God bringing tens of thousands of foreign students from various nations, backgrounds and cultures to many of our universities in Australia.

How do you move from English lessons to sharing the Gospel?

I can see right away that I have my work cut out here on this campus. I have had many opportunities to meet foreign students in Academic writing workshops and weekly English conversation groups run by [this] Uni and English Language Centre. During lessons, we don’t talk about the Gospel. In those activities my focus is to help these students to work on their English writing and speaking skills, and to make meaningful connections. Here, a tactful and diplomatic approach is needed. My strategy is first win them to myself, and then I’m able to win them to Christ.

Once we’ve established a connection, I invite several people to dinner or lunch. We enjoy going to restaurants for different authentic cuisines from different countries. From time to time, I invite the students to my home for birthdays, sports, games, movies and meals, to try out my new cooking and baking skills.

I sometimes organise bus tours. Travelling together in Sydney is something we do on weekends or when they don’t have much homework to complete. We have been to many tourist attractions: Manly Beach, Port Stephens, Lakes Entrance are just a few.  Many of the students are here without their families, and it’s important for them to feel like they belong. Once they are comfortable with me and they have glimpsed a little of my life, I ask them if they would like to read the Bible or do a study with me.

Why is your approach so effective?

An invitation to overseas students to come to one’s home, I observed, is a natural way to build deep and meaningful relationships. I can gain a great deal of ground if I can make people feel at ease with me. To walk wisely is a testing of spiritual light before those who live in darkness (Eph 5:8-10). To establish rapport and to create an atmosphere favourable to the presentation of the Gospel are always at the forefront of my mind. I have started going to my local Mandarin-speaking church on Sundays to learn Mandarin. It is hard but I make myself read the Chinese Bible, too, to help me better share the Gospel and lead Bible Studies in Mandarin.

Theresa takes her time to explain the Gospel in a dialect this student is comfortable with. Moments after this photo was taken, this student makes a decision to accept Christ as her Saviour!

Being tactful (the ability to say or do the right thing at the right time, and in such a manner that the other person is not unnecessarily angered or offended), courtesy, observation (to make the right diagnosis), sensitivity, prayer for guidance, wisdom and power, and a working knowledge of the scriptures are all important factors for effective evangelism for cross-cultural ministries.

I also use a bilingual Bible to show the students:

1) That there is a personal living God who loves them;

2) Our need for a Saviour;

3) How and why Jesus is exactly the Saviour we need;

4) How we can make Him our own Saviour; and

5) Answer questions and help them with problems that hinder them in taking the next steps to faith.

God is with me. I know He is blessing me and giving me men and women as I claim His promises for a fruitful ministry on campus. I find it is helpful to regularly reflect on my ministry skills and approaches. In doing so, I constantly learn and seek ways to equip myself to be a skillful disciple-maker. Also, giving my time to my contacts and doing good to them are crucial factors in winning their friendships and trust.

* Theresa works for the Red Cross Blood Service and volunteers one day a week to her ministry at the university.

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