Chinese Missionaries—Being Filial and Faithful

Chinese children generally want to please their parents. Traditional Chinese culture encourages this, and those children who fall outside of this cultural norm may even be looked down upon by their peers. So what do Chinese Christians do if they want to become missionaries? How can they blend their responsibilities toward parents with the calling they feel from God to go to a foreign country for extended periods of time? How can they blend these two responsibilities even in cases where they have non-believing parents? What can be done in light of the realities of the after-effects of China's previous one-child policy and the implications this has on the aging parents of Chinese long-term missionaries without any nearby children?

Chinese parents want their children to bring them pride, to be the ones to “lift up their heads.” In the face of a Chinese missionary’s faith-based sacrifices, relatives may purposefully set themselves against the gospel, which they view as the cause of their children’s disappointing life choices. One missionary who had given up a lucrative, high-status job as an ENT surgeon in order to plant a church in a remote part of China among an unreached people group revealed, “I tried to share the gospel with him [my older brother], but he wouldn’t accept it because he feels that I became like this because of my faith in Jesus. He simply won’t accept the fact that I made this decision.”

The pain and guilt-feelings of currently serving Chinese missionaries are real, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for every case. Still, there are things that can be done, both by the Chinese missionary and by the church in support. Chinese missionaries sometimes may need increased sensitivity and patience in the timing of the fulfillment of their call as they work within the framework of family-of-origin expectations. Individuals in the church, in some cases, can provide emotional support that can offset some of the sense of loss parents of missionaries may feel. The church might help with finances, partially making up for the loss of income that would have been given by a son or daughter serving abroad. Frequent furloughs for Chinese missionaries, though adding to the overall cost of missions, may prove to be a necessary prerequisite to long-term missionary sustainability from China.

Without plans for taking care of the needs of parents of Chinese missionaries, it is difficult to imagine how sustainable mission-sending practice might take root in China. To the extent that parental issues are not resolved satisfactorily, the mission-sending activity of the Chinese church will be significantly hampered in the years ahead. You can read more about Chinese missionaries and issues related to family of origin in my extended article, “Chinese Filial Responsibility and Missionary Sustainability: Parent and Extended Family Issues and Their Effect on Chinese Missionary Sustainability.”  

Image credit: Joann Pittman.