Changing China, Continuing Challenges

Since the regulatory tightening that preceded the 2008 Beijing Olympics, simply finding a way to remain in China for any length of time has become increasingly difficult for most expatriate Christian workers. While many prognosticators predicted that things would return to "normal" once the tensions of the Olympic moment had passed, the pattern of increased bureaucratic scrutiny has instead increased. Despite assurances from the new Chinese leadership, current efforts to bolster local consumption and business activity have created an environment that is making it increasingly difficult for foreign businesses to thrive in China. With respect to taxation, long-term visas, labor permits, registrations, public security, property ownership or most any area within government remit, recent regulatory changes are requiring foreigners who wish to remain in China to make changes to the ways they operate.

At the same time, China's new confidence in the wake of the successful 2008 Olympics has also brought well-earned attention to China's growing strengths and resources. While China's successes in education, technology, and business have garnered praise, the social sector has also seen development with a growing range of increasingly high quality services available in many parts of China. The church has been part of this trend; expanding wages and increased access to education have combined with the benefits of on-line communication and commerce to yield a church with more money, more social capital and more access to theological education and resources than at any time in recent memory.

This new context for China ministry raises a host of questions for anyone committed to long-term ministry in China. Ministry goals and strategies that were formed in the 1990sand in some cases in the 1980smay no longer be appropriate for the conditions and needs of the Chinese church today. Models of cooperation and partnership that were developed to aid a church with little money and few qualified ministers no longer fit the current realities. Even questions as fundamental as, "How do Christians relate to society?" need to be reconsidered in post-Olympic China. For those already deeply engaged in China service, there is a great need for reevaluation.

However, for the new China worker, the basic challenges will remain the same. First, any newly arrived or arriving expatriate must work hard to understand the basic context within which the local Christian community exists; Mark Strand's article introduces some of the current trends and priorities shaping that context. Second, anyone hoping to serve the local Christian community must develop a broad understanding of the state of the larger church in China; Mark Mcleister's article highlights some of the more recent trends that are too often ignored by those already familiar with the Chinese church of the past. Third, regardless of ethnicity, the realities of cross-cultural living and working demand that any expatriate who hopes to minister in faithful and effective ways in China must make healthy cultural understanding and adjustment a top priority. Andrea Klopper points out some of the areas that will require concerted attention, while Mark Batluck recommends one helpful guide through this process. Finally, a list of key resources is provided to guide further reading.

While far from complete, it is our hope that the information in this issue will provide a good introduction to what every expat in China ministry needs to know.

Image Credit: Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr

Andrew T. Kaiser

Andrew T. Kaiser, author of Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China and The Rushing on of the Purposes of God: Christian Missions in Shanxi since 1876, has been living and working in Shanxi with his family since 1997. View Full Bio