In this issue of the journal we focus on those who serve cross-culturally in China today.
In the second chapter of Philippians, the apostle Paul looks at three critical areas related to service that we would do well to revisit as we consider what it means to serve China.
After appealing for unity among the Philippian believers, Paul then asks them to examine their motives for serving: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…”
What drives our involvement in China? Do we gauge our success against organizational goals developed apart from the input of our counterparts in China or Chinese brothers and sisters overseas? Or is it truly our desire that they be successful in what God has called them to do, even if we can’t take the credit?
Being willing to seek out and accept their input requires, in the words of Paul, that we “in humility consider others better than ourselves.” It requires acknowledging that God is doing something unique in their midst and that we need to learn from them first before deciding how best to serve them.
Submitting ourselves to our Chinese brothers and sisters also entails risk. Instead of asking, “Would you like us to do thus and so,” we must be prepared to simply ask, “What would you have us to do?” Then we need to step back and enable them to accomplish what God has laid on their hearts to do. Their ways of doing things may not fit our traditional mold. The breaking process that ensues may be painful. Together we must ask God to give us new wineskins, that together we may be filled anew with His Spirit.
Finally, Paul says, “look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.” We are confronted with the question: “For whom are we doing this?” Is it the prestige of working in a “closed” country in an exotic part of the world that fuels our efforts? Is it the superlatives—the biggest, the fastest, the furthest, the most—that make China so appealing to potential supporters?
Whatever we do, we must ask ourselves whether it ultimately serves to strengthen the existing church in China and to enhance its witness in Chinese society.
Our true motivation and our example is Jesus Christ, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
Christ, for our sakes, was willing to empty Himself and become a servant. We can do no less.
Adapted from “On Serving China: A Reality Check,” by Brent Fulton in the ICS Connection, Fall/Winter 1996, pp. 3, 4.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio