Supporting China’s Indigenous Missions Movement

As the sending of cross-cultural workers from China gains momentum, many international sending organizations see China as a rich source of potential new workers for the harvest.

Yet when it comes to agencies recruiting workers from China, the advice from those involved in the emerging movement is: “don't.”

This advice comes from the latest issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, which is devoted to cross-cultural missions sending from China. Featuring articles by a number of Chinese believers along with expatriates who work closely with them, this issue delves into a number of the practicalities now emerging as more believers in China enter long-term cross cultural service.

In the case of the recruiting question referred to above, guest editor Wu Xi refers to the resurgence of outside agencies reopening recruitment offices in China as “akin to undoing the task of eliminating colonialism, a process that, by the hand of God, has taken several decades to give China a truly indigenous church.” Rather than siphoning off workers into foreign agencies, he instead advocates training workers for a specified period of time, then releasing them back into their own churches or sending structures in China.

“What China does not need,” Wu says, “is a structure of branch offices of outside agencies similar to the way Western denominations organized as they carved up China as a mission field before the 1940s. What China does need is to develop its own mission leaders so they can build mission structures that can be owned by the Chinese church.”

Wu cautions against bringing emerging Chinese cross-cultural workers into international forums where controversial issues—the “insider” movement in working with Muslim peoples, for example—are being discussed. The strong debates around such issues are more likely to leave Chinese workers confused rather than enlightened, and the emotionally charged atmosphere will likewise not be conducive to constructive learning. In this regard, Wu cautions that “Western and Chinese worldviews have very different understandings of opposing views, particularly when strong language is used.”

Wu also advises against holding up emerging Chinese mission leaders as “experts” in discussing missiological issues. Few currently have an in-depth knowledge of the fields where they have served or desire to serve. Quoting a Chinese proverb, Wu counsels overseas agencies and workers to be careful not to “pull up a rice seedling in order to help it grow.”

The writers in this issue of ChinaSource Quarterly provide ample evidence that China’s indigenous sending movement is maturing. Overseas agencies have an important partnership role to play, yet caution and restraint are called for as China’s Christians continue to explore their role within the global missions effort. In Wu’s words, “Careful planning and critical evaluation are absolutely necessary if we want to help Chinese missions grow. There is no magic bullet and no short cut.”

Image credit: Looking down at the Valley by David Woo via Flickr.