What was the shortest cross-cultural mission trip ever, and who was the first person to return one-way by air? Philip, when dealing with the Ethiopian eunuch!
- Team size: one
- Time at destination: a few hours
- Target people impacted: one
- Follow-up: none
The trip was, we may say, poorly designed—certainly not a model paradigm. Oh yes, there was one other component—the trip sponsor and planner was God.
Philip is not the only example of a cross-cultural mission trip in scripture. We might call his a "VIP" trip: a select leader impacting a select leader(s) for leveraged impact. However, many other cross-cultural trips come to mind (see "Examples").
As we sponsor short-term trips, we have witnessed all of the examples listed applied in China with an interesting mix of results. One retired minister went to China despite his doctor's protests. He had already had five heart by-pass surgeries. However, he was mature enough to recognize God's voice—and not afraid to die. Our organization took him—with insurance. Two weeks in China changed, not ended, his life. When he returned home, he decided God was keeping him alive just for China. His subsequent efforts resulted in an entire large denomination, previously uninvolved in China, being significantly mobilized for China ministry. He has returned with us on eight more trips, most recently with a heart transplant.
Numbers of our former trip members are now living in China long-term—studying Chinese, teaching English, and heading mercy services among other activities. Others are studying in preparation for doing so. Still others are reaching students from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) at US universities; one individual has even started a new organization for that purpose. Many support various China ministries financially. Most pray. All have brought Bibles or materials requested by Chinese Christians. All have discreetly shared their testimonies one-on-one as relational opportunities have arisen, and scores of Chinese have come to Christ—from PhDs to peasants. One group adopted the Miao, another the Musuo, another the Tibetans, and another North Korean refugees. Several have adopted the obvious—Chinese orphans—which guarantees lifelong China interest. Others, who back home had been seeing counselors, were so profoundly affected that their counselors discontinued any appointments upon their return! As with the scriptural patterns, there are a plethora of purposes.
Most importantly, all these activities and purposes are in response to specific requests as well as in coordination with both local Chinese believers and long-term expatriates. Furthermore, all the short-term purposes are consciously linked to long-term ones: each trip is a joint-venture with leadership shared by multiple organizations including placement agencies. For example, a young widowed teacher went on a trip in July and by that November was living in China under a sending agency which co-led her trip.
From orientation to debriefing, multiple options for ongoing involvement and contacts to pursue involvement are presented and experienced by short term trip team members. Three groups are intentionally targeted for impact: Chinese, team members themselves, and those who are part of a team member's circle of influence back home.
The philosophy behind this strategy comes from an unusual background. While living in China, I served for two and a half years as the on-site middle man for an average of two trip groups per week from a dozen different ministries. Since then, I have led literally dozens of trips to China for many different agencies and churches. The paramount conclusion those experiences brought me to can be stated very simply: broaden your purposes! Why should a team deliver Bibles and then spend their remaining two weeks in China writing postcards from their hotel rooms? Why not visit an English corner? Why should another team teach English but never appropriately share their faith? Why not visit an unreached minority? Why not intercede at strategic spiritual strong holds, like temples? Why not have dinner with a mature Chinese believer? Why not arrange a dinner with PRC students at a nearby university once back at home?
Right now, you may be thinking of one or both of the following objections to these suggestions. First, the risk is too great. A secondary purpose might jeopardize the main purpose of the trip, or possibly jeopardize the Chinese. It might also jeopardize long-term workers. Really? How do you know? Do you really know, or are your objections just rationalized timidity? Try this: ask local Chinese believers—not just foreigners—what is or is not risky, and what is or is not worth some risk. Their answers may surprise you. I have found that the most important issues are to stay low-profile while being one hundred percent non-political, loving and doing only good for China.
Second, you may think that these other activities are not the organization's purpose. However, perhaps they are God's purposes—at least for some members of the team. Maybe one of those Bible couriers is called to be an English teacher or a nurse in China. Maybe one of those giddy teen-agers could be the next Hudson Taylor or open a counseling center for suicidal Chinese women. Maybe that doctor is called to reach PRC graduate students at the university near his office. So, what if that is not what our organization does? Why withhold that option from at least being presented? Underlying is an even deeper question: Is our calling as narrow as we think? Are we afraid of a more complicated approach when the familiar is easier?
China is a big, big place. Hundreds of people groups have no known Christians. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have never heard of Christ. China's churches are struggling to pastor their tens of millions of converts and impact society. The entire society is at a historic crossroads seeking for a new national belief system. This is no time for narrow, one hundred percent risk-free territorialism. Multiple viable approaches are available, and all are under-resourced. Maybe we are overdue to put Christ's kingdom first and our pet niches second.
Why not broaden the purposes of our trips? Why not collaborate with others for those purposes? Why not maximize the options of team members for long-term China service? For God's Great Commission to be fulfilled in China, it will take significant collaboration between national believers and internationals, allowing iron to sharpen iron.
The scale of the resources—prayer, human, informational and financial—needs to be proportional to the scale of the task and, at present, it is far from that. Thousands more need to catch China ministry fever! Fortunately, the mixture of God and China seems a singularly intoxicating concoction, often resulting in chronic addiction. The key is administering that first dose. Inject as many qualified candidates as possible and make that first dose count!