Wang and Kam have had significant experience with Chinese missions. Wang is a mission statesman in China with almost two decades of experience. He is also a trainer of missionaries in various schools. His sending organization has sent out dozens of missionaries cross-culturally. Kam has served the mission movement in China extensively. He established many sending structures alongside Chinese leaders and served as a mobilizer, advisor, and board member.
This article is based on an earlier work in Chinese by Wang and has been rewritten with extensive input by Kam. Wang’s original (and much longer) Chinese article is available here.
Introduction and Influencing Factors
There has been a revival in the Chinese church. The exponential church growth in China and her venture into missions are vivid proof. There are obvious advantages to China’s engagement in world evangelization.
- The enormous size of the Chinese church;
- The global spread of the Chinese diaspora;
- The hard-working, long-suffering character of the Chinese people;
- The overflowing indwelling of the Holy Spirit;
- The warm historical relationship with Muslims;
- The presence of various religious systems in China to allow cross-cultural ministry within the country.
Furthermore, two significant geopolitical factors have emerged.
1. Linguistic consideration: the global wave of learning Chinese. The expansion of the Confucius Institute worldwide and the influx of international students to Chinese universities point this out. This paves the way for missionaries from China to serve in these countries.
2. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): there are many aspects of BRI that affect Chinese Mission.
- BRI has two routes: one land-based and a sea route to the south.
- BRI is based on common interests: in business, in development, and in benefit.
- BRI is based on mutuality: in connectivity, in strategic interaction, in natural resource sharing, and in development of other markets outside the vested countries.
- BRI is entrepreneur driven, market-governed, government approved, and based on international standards.
- BRI includes five spheres: policy, trade, investment, systems, and people.
- BRI connects six trade corridors: Euro-Asia, Sino-Russian, Central Asia, Indochina peninsula, Sino-Pakistan, and the Sea Silk Route.
Through BRI, Chinese mission can also reach 68 strategic countries.
- 13 Eastern Orthodox countries
- 10 Buddhist countries
- 29 Islamic countries
- 10 Catholic countries
- 2 Hindu countries
- 2 post-Christian countries
- 1 Apostolic Armenian country
- 1 Jewish country
Lessons Learned from Chinese Mission
Although China has just ventured into mission, there are already valuable lessons learned. Since the church is quite young and experience is very limited, the uncharted waters of cross-cultural mission have posed significant challenges to the Chinese. Thus, the first batches of practitioners are the “spies” (cf. Numbers 13). We thank God that there are such experimental soldiers who are preparing the way for the elite troops that will come later (2 Corinthians 6:4).
The following lessons are based on years of observation and actual front-line incidences. We can summarize them into the following fifteen lessons.
1. Missionaries do not understand their personal call; they merely follow their leader’s direction and go out. This came out of student interviews in training institutes. The obvious solution is to strengthen mission education and only train candidates with a clear calling.
2. Missionaries are not properly screened; there is no objective standard for screening. Many missionaries do not know cross-cultural, incarnational living and do not understand the principle of “become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Inappropriate behavior, such as using alcohol and playing cards, is not a good testimony in the Muslim context. Incarnational living is a nonnegotiable prerequisite for frontline workers. Missionaries should learn to be like their cell phones—with world-wide roaming capability. It is also important for missionaries to not just transplant their sending church to the field. We were shocked to hear that some missionaries serving in an Islamic context planned to establish a large church building after leading locals to Christ. An in-depth understanding of serving in creative access nations must be ingrained into the mindset of such missionaries.
3. Missionary training has become like quick turnaround, fast-food outlets. Missionary training takes time, just like Abraham’s 318 elite servant-soldiers (Genesis 14:14). A shared set of missionary training curriculum must be established to guarantee a minimum standard for frontline workers.
4. Mission should not be dependent on foreign finances. Some Chinese sending structures are wholly supported by overseas contributions. We must develop totally indigenous structures. We should support and send workers according to the measures entrusted to us by the Lord. We need to connect with and learn from our international partners, but the financial support should be totally indigenous.
5. Member care for missionaries must be part of the system. Missionaries cannot be sent and forgotten; they must be followed up in the field and supervised. Member care is essential to the survival of missionaries. Sending without caring is irresponsible and will cause major problems when these workers fail. This raises the question of how to set up sending structures. Can a local church serve as a sending structure and provide all the care and supervision needed? Can a network provide these functions? Should this be entrusted to sending structures or even to the local Christian body in the field?
6. It is most important for missionaries to learn one-on-one discipleship, small group pastoral care, and house church ministry in today’s mission context. Almost all of the easy fields have been taken up by older mission agencies. What is left for Chinese missionaries are the creative access fields where open ministry is unlikely.
7. The Chinese church has been prepared by God for such a time as this—to serve him in persecuted countries. The people of China’s church have been prepared by meeting in caves and by learning to memorize entire passages of scripture. They learned without computers and PowerPoint presentations. They met in homes and offices. These models are more suited for countries like those in the Middle East, for example. The Chinese church is intended for the countries where believers are persecuted. It is Esther 4:14a being fulfilled. “For if you (the Chinese Church) remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews (the people) will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.”
8. Mission should be frontline driven, not controlled by armchair strategists sitting in the sending office. Some Chinese agencies still have their chain of command starting at the sending office, following an extension of the traditional Chinese church leadership model. Frontline partnership with other missionaries cannot take place because the sending church or agency has never partnered with anyone else. The ultimate solution to this is to have mission executives in the sending structure come up through frontline assignment experience. However, this will take time as those workers need to accumulate enough experience in the field.
9. Short-term mission has its limitations. Some groups organize short-term mission trips but only give the participants minimal orientation. An example is young participants who distributed gospel tracks in an Islamic state. This caused tremendous difficulty for the long-term workers in that country after the short-termers left. Ultimately, the root cause of this is lack of frontline sensitivity by the leaders of the sending structures. Had they listened to the input of their own long-term workers, this situation could have been avoided. More importantly, short-term mission work must be under the leadership of long-term workers.
10. Hosting short-term teams can be a major distraction for long-term workers. Some churches are good at sending short-term “care” teams to visit long-term workers. Nevertheless, managing the livelihood of a ten-member team is not an easy task. These teams often desire to stay with the missionary who has to wake up early to prepare the meals and arrange activities all day. A much better way is for the “care” team to stay in local hotels as tourists and visit the missionary without putting pressure on him/her. Better still, such teams should only be three to four people at most, so as not to draw attention to the missionary.
11. Language and cultural learning are best done in immersion settings. Some groups started preparing their Muslim workers with the Arabic language while in China. However, there is no context to practice the new language. We strongly suggest missionaries start their foreign language with a minimum level of English as the universal language of interaction with international colleagues. Picking up the local language in situ through immersion is the best way to learn.
12. While some churches are good at sending, they are not good at sustaining support. The local church cannot just jump on the mission bandwagon. Each church is better off partnering with like-minded networks and doing some careful planning in long-term sustainability. The average pastor in China is too busy to be a good pastor and a good mission executive at the same time. Mission should best be handled by a dedicated group of people, be part of an independent sending structure, or a mission board of a network of churches.
13. Groups have different definitions for mission. Most accept mission as only cross-cultural ministry towards an unreached people group. However, some still consider benevolent ministry and caring for the poor as their only involvement in mission. Rather, we see unreached people groups ministry as the major mission ministry and social service as a supplemental service that will ultimately lead to the former. The investment between these two “legs” of ministry should be appropriately distributed instead of distributed evenly.
14. Martyrdom is a reality in mission. The highly publicized first martyrdom case of two Chinese citizens serving in Pakistan have caused a significant ripple effect.1 The sending leaders were incarcerated and the structure was closed. Although the ultimate responsibility lies with the Korean sending structure that trained, commissioned, and managed the team, the particular, high-profile approach of the sending structure is a significant factor. However, planning on the part of the Chinese senders to manage such a crisis was evidently not in place. This incident points to an obvious lack of contingency planning, insurance coverage, and instruction for frontline workers if they are incapacitated.
15. Children’s education is a looming issue on the horizon. After serving on the frontline for over ten years, some workers have children who are now school age. Third Culture Kid (TCK) education is fast becoming an important issue. Not all Chinese workers can handle home schooling. Local schools often are not an acceptable option—particularly in light of tertiary education; TCK’s cannot fit into the Chinese system, and a Western education option is financially prohibitive. Something new needs to be developed that will include provision to keep the Chinese language or have strategically located Chinese TCK boarding schools. The alternative is to limit missionary assignments to specific countries that have good local schools or leave the children in China in the care of extended family or the church body.
In conclusion, we can see that the Chinese church has benefited from some early trailblazers who dared to follow Christ’s call to declare his glory among the nations. There have been many challenges, but there is a pathway for others to follow. We can continue to enrich our experience through several directions.
First, we can learn through history. We can learn through the history of our international colleagues who have had much longer involvement than we have. We can learn from their mature structures. We can also learn through our own involvement of “crossing the river by touching the stones on the riverbed.” Second, we should learn to partner with others instead of forging ahead into battle as lone rangers. Third, we have never done this before, and there are not many recent precedents from other countries that we can follow. A certain spirit of exploration is necessary. Lastly, there are things that we can now see, but they are beyond our ability to change. This is an inevitable part of the growth process and birth pain. By God’s grace, we learn through these precious experiences, but ultimately, we trust the word that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in his epistle to the Romans: “All things work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans. 8:28).
- For information about this incident, see: ChinaSource, “Mourning Two Chinese Christians Killed in Pakistan,” June 20, 2017, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/chinese-church-voices/mourning-two-chinese-christians-killed-in-pakistan/ and Drazen Jorgic, “Pakistan says Chinese killed by Islamic State were preachers,” June 14, 2017, https://uk.reuters.com/article/pakistan-china/pakistan-says-chinese-killed-by-islamic-state-were-preachers-idUKKBN1931DE.
Wang and Kam have had significant experience with Chinese missions. Wang is a mission statesman in China with almost two decades of experience. He is also a trainer of missionaries in various schools. His sending organization has sent out dozens of missionaries cross-culturally. Kam has served the mission movement in …View Full Bio