The More Things Change …

For most expatriates serving in China, change is the only constant, forcing each of us to struggle daily with the difficulties of living faithfully in the midst of seemingly unending transition. The sheer pace of change in China means that today’s strategies might not work for tomorrow’s China.  At the same time, the size and vitality of China make identifying and understanding these shifts a very daunting task: if we do not understand the nature of these changes then it is unlikely we will be able to discern appropriate ways to respond.

In this issue of ChinaSource Quarterly we have collected a handful of experienced China workers and asked them to share some of their insights regarding expatriate ministry in a changing China. Hopefully, their reflections will help equip all of us to more ably respond to the rapid speed and complex nature of the shifts taking place in China today. The great variety of our authors’ responses, however, should keep us mindful of just how complicated a phenomenon change can be.

Todd Johnson gives us an aerial view of how recent developments in the Chinese church compare and relate to trends in global Christianity, providing a welcome warning against Chinese exceptionalism. R and J zoom in on China more specifically, documenting one particular societal change that is affecting contemporary China in profound ways. The more we understand the complex social and historical forces at work in China today the better chance we have of discovering effective ways to live out the gospel in this country. Suzanne then takes us down even closer, leading us right into the trenches with her survey of Chinese people who work with expatriates. These comments collected from real Chinese people remind us that effective ministry takes place in the messy places where our lives are shared with Chinese people—there are no shortcuts. The perceived distance between expatriates and Chinese people is shrinking, and this provides both a challenge and an opportunity.

And yet, in the midst of all these changes, there are fundamental truths that will never cease to be relevant. The Missionary’s Curse demonstrates that the need to develop appropriate Chinese expressions of Christianity has always been a central plot point in the story of China missions. As he recounts his lengthy pilgrimage in China ministry, Bill Job points out that beyond whatever words he said and the ideas that he knew to be true, his acts of obedience to the simple (yet not so simple!) gospel were the defining aspects of his witness. True transformation comes—irrespective of whatever changes China is experiencing—when God’s people obey him in all aspects of life, no matter how mundane or dramatic. Certainly, many aspects of life and ministry in China are, in fact, in flux. However, as Wright Doyle reminds us, many of the requirements for effective faithful ministry remain unchanged:  humility, cultural sensitivity, a long-term mentality, and true, godly love for other people.

May these articles help us all to think more carefully about the changes that are occurring and to commit ourselves anew to the timeless aspects of faithful Christian service.

Image courtesy of Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr.
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Andrew T. Kaiser

Andrew T. Kaiser, author of Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China, The Rushing on of the Purposes of God: Christian Missions in Shanxi since 1876,  and Encountering China: The Evolution of Timothy Richard’s Missionary Thought (1870–1891) has been living and working in Shanxi with his …View Full Bio