TT is an experienced missions coordinator and is the founder and director of one of China’s oldest sending organizations. He has contributed several articles to ChinaSource over the years and was the co-editor of the spring 2013 issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, entitled “China’s Indigenous Mission Movement.”
This post is the first of a three-part series looking at the current state of China’s missions movement, its relationship to Western missions structures, and how the church in the West can work with the church in China to effectively train and mentor Chinese missionaries.
TT’s thoughts were originally part of an interview in Chinese with Julie Ma and have been translated and lightly edited for clarity.
Which organization(s) do you represent?
National Missions Conference of China (NMCC) and Asian Connections Today (ACT).1
Can you introduce NMCC for us?
NMCC is a fellowship of Chinese churches and mission organizations that was formed last year. Its goal is to serve the church, to help the Chinese church be more fruitful in missions sending. There are 16 people in the meeting, representing 16 different groups. Half are missions-sending agencies and the other half are what we call missional churches. These churches are not necessarily doing large amounts of missions work or sending large numbers of missionaries, but they are working hard at it.
Behind the NMCC fellowship is a broader network associated with the Asian branch of the Lausanne movement, responsible for the Asia Congress in October last year. A small number of our people are also associated with the CM2030 movement. People often ask us if our organizations are in competition with each other. We agree there’s a degree of competitiveness in our relationships, but we wouldn’t say we are rivals.
There’s a big difference between NMCC and CM2030. CM2030 is a church-based movement. They are squarely centered on the existing church, and they are working to move the church toward missions.
NMCC is not trying to start a movement. Neither are we solely focused on the existing church. We are a space for fellowship between churches and missions organizations. What we do is more tangible and immediately applicable. We do training for new missionaries and connect people to resources and ongoing support.
What can you tell us about Asian Connection Today?
Our mission organization’s full name is Asian Connection Today International. We included “international” in the name because we hope to broaden our sphere of service outside of China. Of course, we already have some members serving abroad, but we are mainly concentrated on serving within our country’s borders.
We are one of the oldest indigenous Chinese missions agencies. We were probably the third or fourth to be formally established. Of course, I’m not including the “big five” in these numbers, those Chinese missions that were built on the foundation of Western missions using their resources and methods. We learned many things from Western cross-cultural workers, but we built our own separate structure. ACT, as a formal organization, has more than a decade of history. Counting only cross-cultural workers, about 3,000 to 4,000 workers have been sent out, including within China.
We serve Muslims. We started by sending workers to China’s Hui Muslim people. Then we expanded to serve the Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in China. More recently, we have also sent workers to West Africa, but the majority of our work is centered on Muslims in China.
The most recent article you co-wrote for ChinaSource was in 2013. Update us on what has happened since then.
In the past five years since 2017, most of the foreign mission agencies have withdrawn from China. In this vacuum, a bunch of indigenous missions have sprung up. Most are focused on serving within China, with quite a few sending people to the Northwest and the Southwest. I estimate the number of Chinese agencies at about fifty; of those, about twenty are new agencies in the last five years. However, the degree of development varies. Some agencies just have a leader and no members, but the leader has a vision and call. Others have sent out many workers but have not seen any fruit yet.
How have indigenous missions been negatively impacted?
The negative impact [of the withdrawal of foreign missions agencies] has been tremendous, especially in the Northwest. All the leaders were foreign; the Chinese were assistants. The most significant loss for these Chinese missionaries has been the loss of mentors. They lack guidance. They don’t know where to go next.
Another significant negative impact is that a lot of Chinese citizens are no longer allowed to travel. They can’t physically get to their fields and so their work has stopped.
Because my people are serving among Muslims, I can share many examples of negative impacts from the Northwest. For example, I know a young Uyghur woman named Marilla. She put her faith in Christ during university, studying with foreign Christians. When all the foreigners left, she lost everyone who could pastor her. She left Urumqi and went to Lanzhou, then Xining, searching for someone to fill the gap. To start with, she was just looking for another foreigner to look after her. But then she started trying out different local churches, Han churches, but never found a church home.
One reason for this is the cultural differences between Han and Uyghur. Another factor is probably the habits she adopted from foreign Christians. She tried but just couldn’t get used to the local Han churches.
Editor’s Note: This is the first post of a three-part series which examines the current ministry landscape in China and ways cross-cultural workers can adopt new methods to continue to spread the gospel. In part two and part three, TT discusses practical ideas about working in the current environment.
Julie Ma (pseudonym) is a graduate of Sydney Missionary and Bible College (SMBC) and a member of the Angelina Noble Centre for women in cross-cultural missions research. She left her home in Australia over a decade ago to serve Hui Chinese Muslims alongside her Chinese husband. After all these years overseas, …View Full Bio
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