Help New Converts From Non-Christian Backgrounds Honor Their Families

Too often, we failed to stress how important it is for new believers to maintain good relationships with their families. In our excitement at seeing conversions, we overlooked the importance of healthy family relationships.

Help New Converts from Non-Christian Backgrounds Honor Their Families

FAMILY OBLIGATIONS AND TRADITIONS

We also need to help converts think through their family obligations. As a general rule, Christians should obey their parents, whether they’re Christian or not (Col. 3:20). Only when such obedience involves disobeying the law of God must the child respectfully refuse. Sometimes, parents make unreasonable demands on their children, but unless these demands are oppressive and damaging, we recommend that they obey.

In cultures where family solidarity is strong, some of the most important family events have religious overtones: funerals, acts of remembrance of the dead, weddings, festivals, and family holidays. Not participating in these can be viewed as a serious violation of family honor. We usually talk with new believers about what they can and cannot do at such occasions. Some practices don’t have religious connotations. They can participate in these events without violating their conscience. In a family meal at a special event, part of the food is given to priests before whom the family members kneel. The Christian, of course, cannot do that. But she can help with the cooking, the washing and the cleaning up. The family may visit a shrine or temple as part of a family holiday. The Christian can certainly join the family on the holiday, but they must stay outside the temple when others go in to worship.

I know of sad situations where parents have disowned their son because he became a Christian. But this disowned son continued to send financial support to his parents when they were elderly, as was expected of sons in his culture. In one case, after many years, the mother reestablished contact and came to spend her last days in his home.

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In many community-oriented cultures, brothers help pay for the costs of their sisters’ weddings—even delaying their own marriage in the process. Becoming a Christian doesn’t exempt one from such responsibilities. Sometimes, the fact that they conscientiously and sacrificially care for family needs—unlike non-Christian family members—has been a source of joy and a witness to the gospel.

In short, it’s vital for older Christians to talk often with new Christians, making sure that in following Christ, they haven’t unduly harmed their relationship with their family.

 

This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

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Ajith Fernando is the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka after serving as the ministry's national director for thirty-five years. He and his wife, Nelun, are active in a church ministering primarily to the urban poor, and his ministry includes counseling and mentoring younger staff and pastors.