In this issue of ChinaSource, we pause to look back at some enduring themes of the past decade as we consider the challenges that lie ahead in the next. Unlike China of the late 1990s, still a question mark in the minds of much of the watching world, China today is a bold exclamation point punctuating the headlines of seemingly every news story, from global finance to global warming, international sport, fashion, culture and everything else in between. In the wake of the global economic crisis, the world’s other major powers have acknowledged their interdependence upon the nation whose stewardship of its vast foreign exchange reserves and growing economic clout profoundly influences their own futures.
L. K. Chiu, whose 2006 article is reproduced in this issue, pointed out that interdependence is not merely a factor in the socioeconomic or political spheres. Quoting globalization author Thomas Friedman, Chiu asserted, “‘The world is flat.’ In other words, we are in a new world, and we are desperately in need of a new paradigm.” Chiu went on to challenge leaders around the globe “to think intentionally and creatively so that partnerships and interfaces for global missions between the East and West, and the First-World and Two-Thirds World can be built.”
When ChinaSource began publication more than a decade ago, the majority of those who had come from overseas to serve were concentrated in minority areas or on campuses in China’s major cities. Massive urbanization—never mind the emergence of a vibrant urban professional church—was still more of an abstract concept than an everyday reality. The book Back to Jerusalem had not yet galvanized overseas interest in China’s emerging missions force. And, while much attention was being given to nurturing those from China who had come to faith in the West—many in the wake of Tiananmen—there was little thought of what would happen when, and if, they began to return in significant numbers.
Today an increasingly influential urban church, the gradual but steady momentum toward equipping and sending cross-cultural workers from China, and the growing role of the hai gui, or returnees, are among the more significant factors defining the landscape for those who come to live and serve in China.
A common thread running through these emerging issues is the need for greater integration of resources and relationships as those from outside China partner with indigenous leaders. To borrow another concept from Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, a prominent feature of globalization is the emergence of supply chains that may encompass several countries. Multiple companies come together in a seamless process, each producing components for a finished product that no one company could produce by itself. This specialization coupled with integration allows suppliers to focus on what they do best, while all contributing toward something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
In much the same way, effectively addressing the multifaceted needs of the city or facilitating a returnee’s successful transition back to China requires that we think in terms of “value chains” that entail a new level of cooperation across organizations and between East and West. In the case of ensuring that believing students continue in their walk following graduation, for example, intentional connections would need to be made between those serving on the campus, those in the work world who could potentially serve as mentors to new graduates, and leaders in neighboring churches. This collaboration would of necessity require crossing organizational and cultural lines.
Jeff Mennen argues that the problem is not a lack of resources or structures: “International agencies have the potential to broaden the scope of this work, but it all comes down to trust and relationships.” Referring to the need to help build the Chinese infrastructure for training cross-cultural workers, L. K. Chiu says simply, “No one has all the answers.”
Embracing that which we do not know or are unable to accomplish on our own requires getting to know others along the value chain. It requires seeking out those who may be very different from ourselves in terms of background or expertise, but whose roles are inextricably tied to our own in the larger picture of what we are together seeking to see accomplished. It is not enough to simply be good at what we do; we need to also be good at relationships—the glue that ties together the otherwise disparate efforts of many within the Body.
Huo Shui’s examination of enduring Chinese cultural themes in this issue is thus an apt reminder, particularly for busy Westerners who typically put task ahead of relationship. Realizing that our “performance” over a meal or a cup of tea is of equal or even greater importance compared with the performance of our jobs is an important first step in this era of interdependence. The answer for the new paradigm we seek as we look ahead may well be found by looking back into the very culture in which we are called to serve.
Image credit: Ink-ed # 2 by Nick Lo, on Flickr
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