Ten years ago when I visited a Western country, many people were excited to see me, a mainland Chinese, who was able to exit China to attend a conference for pastors and ministers. Many people came up to me and asked countless questions about the “persecutions in China.” However, more recently, whenever I visit another country, the most common questions people have been asking are about the “indigenous movements in China.” When they hear true stories of what is happening in China, they start to ask for cooperation or introductions to international mission agencies that have mission activities in China. When I am asked for partnerships in missions, my answer is always, “I am willing,”—even though sometimes I know that I cannot (since I am already busy enough), but at least I am willing to introduce them to some other local people, churches, or agencies for possible partnerships. However, there are always difficulties in connecting the local with the international. In this short article, I would like to share with you my experience of working for, working in, and working with international agencies.
Fifteen years ago, I received a clear call from the Lord that I should become involved in missions to minority people groups in my own country. I obeyed the call and started preparation and self-equipping. I went to underground training programs to be trained theologically, and I went overseas to learn mission strategies. A Western missionary in my town saw my biblical knowledge and field practice, became interested in me, and invited me to work in some of his projects in China. Because of my English skills and faithful laboring, he gave me many tasks to accomplish. After working five years for that missionary and his sending agency, I thought that I would like to be not only a hired hand but an official member of that organization. Therefore, I sent my request to them and the answer from their top leader was: “We don’t accept Chinese nationals on our team because of security issues.” I was discouraged by the rejection but still returned to my previous work with that international agency. At the same time, I worked on projects for a few other international agencies, but none of them showed interest in having me join their organizations.
It is not easy for a Chinese national to join an international agency, not only because of security reasons, but also due to structure and trust. Some agencies have policies of not having a local Chinese on their team, and some do not even believe that a local Chinese is trustworthy enough to be given important mission tasks that he/she can finish independently. However, there was an international agency that focused on bringing the word of God to minority people groups in China that saw my abilities and fathfulness and started negotiating with me about working in their organization. I was very happy that I eventually had the opportunity of working in an international agency; furthermore, the nature of the work was something that I had been longing for. I started the application process, was approved and signed a memo of understanding with that organization.
Working as part of an agency is different from working for an agency. I was no longer a hired hand but a member with many responsibilities. The mystery of an international agency from an outsider’s eyes no longer existed. As an insider, I saw more of the cross-cultural conflicts between our local workers and the expatriate leaders. It took time for all of us to understand one another. The expats wanted us to follow plans strictly, but we wanted flexibility. The expats wanted us to make plans for our own projects; however, most of the national workers wanted them to give us orders or assignments. The expats wanted us to do critical thinking, but we had been educated in a dogmatic, Chinese system. The expats wanted us to get focused on “work only,” but we wanted to build relationships first. We owned the same visions, ran towards the same goals, but because of cultural differences, we could only advance by taking challenging steps at a slow pace.
The revival of Chinese churches, the growing number of mature, mission-minded local Chinese Christians, the large population of unreached people groups (UPGs), and the difficulties that international agencies in China face all call for the birth of Chinese indigenous mission organizations and sending agencies. While many indigenous mission agencies have already been born in China, most of them are still in the infancy stage or that of a child. They need nurture, help, and support.
It is exciting to see many Chinese indigenous agencies established and working together with international agencies, either in a coaching relationship or a pure partnership. Some international organizations are thinking about fading out of China, so they are very eager to press Chinese local people to form new indigenous organizations. However, it is impossible for Chinese people to legally register mission agencies in China’s current political environment. Therefore, local mission agencies have to run underground and partner with international agencies in “hidden ways.” Then the problem becomes this: If a Chinese, local, mission organization is not officially registered or is just a virtual organization, it is difficult for the overseas partner to report or practice its financial audit system.
Following the trend of missions in this special century, some key leaders from a few churches and I got our heads together and started to brainstorm on forming a local mission organization to bring God’s word to minority people groups in China. We have communicated with four well-known international organizations and some churches in the east about the new organization that we are bringing into existence. They are eager to see such an organization and willing to cooperate with us in certain areas.
With the applause and excitement of supporters, I now feel strongly that I need to quiet myself before the Lord and seek his guidance on this initiative and cooperating with international agencies. While in a store buying a slow cooker, the Lord spoke to me about the “slow cooker approach” regarding this new organization. This decreased my anxiety about establishing the new organization as well as my eagerness for working with international agencies. If we put all these networks of international and local agencies in a “slow cooker,” a new functional, indigenous mission organization will be born naturally and healthfully in God’s timing.
Image credit: Gaylan Yeung
Ryn Chang is a mainland Chinese and visionary who served among tribal people groups in China for more than ten years. He helped several overseas mission organizations fulfill their mission goals in China. His working experiences inspired him to form a new indigenous organization that serves wider groups of people... View Full Bio