After spending 30 years working with the Chinese people in Taiwan and China, the Winsteads continue engaging the culture by leading a Chinese Bible study at the Baptist Student Center on the Southeast Missouri State University campus in Cape Girardeau.
Most of the Chinese students who come to SEMO for school have not had much experience with the Christian church in China, Ron Winstead said. He describes the religious culture as being a “vacuum.”
Because of this vacuum, the verse-by-verse study of Mark that the Winsteads are leading has never gotten far. “Most of the time is taken up with questions,” he said. “They feel much freer than at home.”
Questions range from baptisms (Is the water special? How does it compare to the ritual cleansings they are familiar with?) to the concept of sin.
A popular translation of the Bible into Chinese translated the word for “sin” into “criminal.” The Winsteads help explain that sin isn’t simply crime, but something that separates people from God.
More questions arise when students visit church services with the Winsteads. While students are familiar with English, they are not always familiar with the religious context.
“The phrases we rattle off don’t make much sense if you’ve never heard them,” Ron said.
The Winsteads experience with the Chinese culture helps them explain in ways the students understand.
“Our people do a really good job of relating,” he said of First Baptist Church, Cape Girardeau.
Students are typically in the country for 1-2 years. While they may not initially be interested in the Bible, most embrace the chance to be around other students from their home country.
“We can tell by the questions their level of understanding,” Ron said. The Winsteads see their role in starting the process that the students can continue once they return home.
“Many know where churches are, but they have never been,” he said. He hopes being introduced to church here in the U.S. will help them become more involved when they return home.
Last semester, three students were baptized. “In China, the individual decides how they want to be baptized,” Ron explained.
In order for the church to survive, the various Christian traditions came together and decided to respect each other’s unique beliefs.
One student was baptized at the Methodist church, because he wanted to be sprinkled.
“Our church understands, and we affirm them,” Ron said.
Other students have suggested that they will be baptized and join a church after retiring, because they are afraid being too involved now wll be a problem in their careers.
“God has been at work,” Ron said.
Jennifer Harris is the news writer for Word&Way.