While I certainly have aspects of my life that need work, there is one constant in my weekly routine that I can look forward to that is nearly perfect: Once a week, I frequent the single greatest Chinese restaurant in the history of human civilization. If you’re ever in town, swing by and I’ll take you there. Within minutes you’ll agree with me.
If I took you there, and we were able to actually get a seat right away, you’d probably point to the amazing sauce that they put on their Sesame Chicken as the secret to their success. No place anywhere, in any city, any place on the planet, can match the sauce. I’ve checked. There is a universal principle understood by all professional connoisseurs of Chinese food: You either “get” Sesame Chicken sauce, or you don’t. There is no “try” with Sesame Chicken sauce. Either the Sesame Chicken sauce gods have magically bestowed their secrets upon you, or they haven’t. The Spring Rolls are to die for. The Sweet and Sour Chicken is unparalleled. People stand in line forever to order take-out Mongolian Beef and Shrimp Lo-Mein.
But as amazing as the food is, that’s not why people keep going back to this particular restaurant. People in our town swamp this little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, not because of the food, but because of the owners—Tony and Shelly (as they are known by their chosen American names). They call you by name when you walk in. They remember the names of your spouse and your kids. Their personal interest in their customers isn’t some technique they picked up at a Dale Carnegie seminar. They actually do care, deeply. They personally greet you at the door when you arrive, walk by your table two to three times during your meal to personally check on things, and shake your hand on the way out. People love to be loved, and as anyone in our area knows, love is the best thing on their menu.
Over the years I’ve come to know Tony and Shelly quite well. Both were born and raised in China, came to the United States in their twenties, and have worked hard to speak the language, ﬁt into their adopted country, and pursue their dream of running a great restaurant.
Tony always works hard to carry on a conversation with me in his broken English. Every time he speaks I sense his frustration with the limits of his language skills. He’s an extreme extrovert. If he were speaking in his native Mandarin, I’m sure I’d never get a word in edgewise.
What’s special about Tony and Shelly is that every summer they send their two kids back to China to live with the grandparents. “Very, very important to learn Chinese culture,” Tony tells me. While in China their kids hone their Mandarin language skills, reconnect with their family, and go on various cultural excursions. It’s an annual reintroduction to the culture and the religion that Tony and Shelly hold dear.
And therein lies my greatest struggle.
As a Christ follower who stumbled into their restaurant by accident one day, just happened to develop a friendship with the owner, and who is naturally quite timid when it comes to sharing my faith—I don’t want to talk to my Buddhist friend Tony about Jesus.
I don’t want to risk ruining this nice friendship we have going.
It might be awkward. He could be oﬀended. He might misconstrue my attempts to explain the unbelievable good news of Christianity as a cultural slap in his face. I understand the risks. The risks are real. But there’s one thing I know that Tony doesn’t:
Buddhism is not enough.
And while I’d like to pretend that I can be a faithful follower of Jesus and live my life like a fourth grader, never rocking the relational boat and keeping everyone happy, there is one thing about which I am absolutely conﬁdent: Tony is a genuinely loving person, and if he knew what I knew, I know he’d risk our friendship to tell me about it.
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