Asking the Right Questions

In the series 7 Trends Impacting Foreign Christians in China, we examined how the role of the foreigner serving in China is changing.

Change requires a response.

In his 1998 business classic, Who Moved My Cheese, Dr. Spencer Johnson made the observation, “The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can find new cheese.”

If your “cheese” is opportunities for effective service in China, then adapting to the new environment means leaving behind those that are no longer viable and seeking out those that are emerging.

In the words of one foreign scholar who has worked in Chinese for many years, it means we need to be more creative, to think of new ways of doing things:

People, generally, do not like change. Why are we still driving fossil fuel cars? Because the people making them, and the people drilling oil, don’t want to start making solar cars and building windmills (not to mention the financial side of things). It means they may have to find a new job, learn a new skill. They have to invent new ways of doing the same things, or find new things to do. But people, Christians included, don’t like to have to work too hard, and change means work.

Even as we contemplate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we should remember that one of the big slogans is semper reformanda (always being reformed). Cross-cultural incarnational work is always reforming. Work is not static, and neither is culture. We always need to keep our ears to the ground, be alert for shifts and movements, so that we can make adjustments to keep in step, like a good dance.

As organizations serving in China contemplate the “new normal,” here are some questions to consider:

  1. What are we really trying to accomplish?
  2. What steps are we taking toward localization as a near-term goal? (If we’re not, we’re missing the moment).
  3. What are we doing to ensure that the vision, the drive for vision, and the direction for realizing it increasingly come from local colleagues?
  4. To what extent does a sense of entitlement to be in China drive our strategies? (No one is entitled to be in China.)
  5. Rather than asking, “What needs are there in China and how can we meet them,” it might be more helpful to ask, “How can I integrate myself into Chinese society in such a way that I meet needs?”
  6. Are we willing to learn new skills, trades, etc. to make our presence possible, even indispensable (assuming we should stay)?
  7. Are we willing to be creative and see something new come into being? Can we participate in bringing that new thing into existence?”

China is always changing. The question is how we will change in response.