As my wife and I sat opposite Amanda* on the living room couch, her tense expressions and nervous speech exposed the inward agony of her heart. Amanda’s family migrated from a poor village to the city ten years ago in search of a better life. While her parents and uncles and cousins commuted from the city outskirts to work the odd food-vending or construction job, her family was able to borrow enough money to send her to a bottom-tier community college to study accounting.
The shock of city life and the rigors of academia still seem fresh to the girl who only recently left an essentially hand-to-mouth existence. Imagine, then, Amanda's surprise at meeting my wife, a curious, blond-haired, blue-eyed foreigner with a kind heart, a listening ear, and speech brimming with the message of Jesus. Strange sight indeed! And yet paradoxically winsome. My wife and Amanda’s relationship grew to the point where, in need of a place to stay over the New Year's Holiday, Amanda came (with her parent’s permission) to live in our home for six weeks.
When the Struggle Began
Since Amanda is a Chinese Muslim, it was absolutely necessary that our home be pork-free. We all began to settle into the joyful chaos of two cultures colliding at close range. Through the laughter and struggles of cultural miscues, the Lord opened Amanda’s heart to read the Gospel of Mark along with our family devotionals in the evening. We read about half of a chapter each day, discussing our impressions along the way, and then we prayed together. In the beginning, Amanda was fascinated by the compassion of Jesus and His care for the outcast. As time went on she began to share more about how Jesus’ teaching and life seemed so different from the fear and exploitation she saw in Islam.
As time went on, Amanda began to come to grips with the demand Jesus makes on those who follow Him. She read Peter’s messianic confession in Mark 8 followed by these words from Jesus:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34–38).
That is when the struggle began. “I couldn’t sleep at night” she told us. “In my bed I would feel so nervous and afraid.” The internal agony finally came to a head the night we read the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. We talked for almost two hours about how Jesus will have no rivals on the throne of our hearts; that no matter how good our earthly treasures may be, we must surrender them all to follow Him.
An Honest Confession
That night, sitting opposite to us on the couch, Amanda confessed, “Honestly, I have very little faith in Islam. In reality, I worship my mother; she is my idol. She has loved me and given me everything I have. For me to abandon Islam and follow Jesus isn’t about any persecution I would receive. The burden I can’t bear is the shame my mother would receive from my relatives who would label her a failure for raising a “disobedient” and “wayward” daughter. Following Jesus isn’t worth that kind of sacrifice.”
A flood of thoughts and emotions swept over me in those moments. The first was my complete inability to understand the cultural weight and the individual anguish our friend was going through. As a Westerner, the thought of how my major life choices affect my larger community rarely if ever factors into my decision-making process. In addition, I was struggling with the reality that, for Amanda, following Jesus meant a depth of isolation and shame that exceeded all of my previous conceptions. In such a tightly-knit, nominal Muslim family, the life of reproach Jesus “offered” seemed worse than death itself.
Second, I was broken as I saw mankind’s utter inability to see the beauty and truth of Jesus apart from the (necessary) regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. With the light of God’s Word and with God’s people glaring right in Amanda’s face, her blind eyes could not perceive Christ’s worth. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44) never felt so concrete. I wish there was some magic phrase I could say that would make Amanda believe. I wish so badly that I could end Amanda’s story on some hopeful, triumphant note. But for now we stand clinging to a Sovereign who hasn’t swept in and brought that triumph. Not yet.
Still Worth It
In all honesty, my wife and I have had some serious tearful conversations with the Father over this friend that we love so dearly. I’ve wrestled with my own feelings of guilt. Following Jesus hasn’t cost me my family. How could I tell someone else to give theirs up?
So is it true? Is Jesus really worth the sacrifice? I’ve had to go back to the story of the rich young ruler many times, and two truths from that story lead me to say, Yes, He still is.
First, before Jesus calls anyone to sacrifice, He first sacrificed Himself. Right on the heels of the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus prophesies to His disciples about His coming crucifixion (Mark 10:32–34). This side of Calvary we see that no sacrifice is greater than the one who left His heavenly home to bear the shame of a cursed cross (Philippians 2:5–11). All that we could ever give for Him is nothing compared to what he lovingly gave for us.
Second, Jesus’ resurrection promises that whatever we give up for Jesus, we will get back––and so much more. It’s in that resurrection hope that Jesus tells his disciples,
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29–30)
No other religion offers the restoration that Christ promises. Have you lost earthly riches for Jesus? Receive the down payment of the Spirit now and heavenly riches forever. Have you lost family for Jesus? Receive God’s forever family, the church, both now and in glory. This hope is what makes all suffering fleeting and momentary, and it makes dying for Christ eternal gain (2 Corinthians 4:16–18; Philippians 1:21).
Is Jesus worth it? Absolutely, yes. Pray that more “Amandas” in the world would believe it.
T and his wife S (names withheld for security) live and serve in an East Asian city working among an unreached Muslim people group. T currently studies language at a local university.