Editor’s Note: In the first post of this interview series, TT laid out many of the difficulties Chinese Christians, especially cross-cultural workers, are facing in light of the tightening since 2017. In particular, he discussed how the loss of foreign workers has negatively impacted many ministries.
In this post, TT addresses several ways foreign workers can continue to do kingdom work among Chinese Christians and cross-cultural workers. Some foreigners may be able to return to China in a few years, while others can be teachers and mentors in online classes or other countries.
Many of us who have left China still have a call to serve you and continue to pray for you regularly. What else can we offer to the Chinese church while we are physically separated from you?
First of all, thank you, Julie, for relaying this message. It is a great encouragement simply to have you ask the question. And thank you to all the people overseas who continue to pray for us.
We are also anxious to keep in touch with our friends and coworkers in China. How can we do that without jeopardizing their security?
I studied history, so I’ll tell you a historical story. When the Sino-Japanese War broke out, many missionaries had to leave China and retreat to America. While they were there, some of them raised funds, conducted training, and kept in contact with China. However, back then, all their communication had to go through port cities like Shanghai. They established an organization called 中华福音自传会 (CNEC). From the 1930s to the present, it is still there. They changed their name recently to Partners International. These days, they have become more international, not only serving China but also other majority world nations. After the great exodus of 2017, there is a lot the overseas church can learn from what they did and continue to do for China.
Some cross-cultural workers want to return to China as soon as possible. What can these people do while waiting?
In normal circumstances, if the person hasn’t been forcefully evicted or had their passport stamped with a re-entry ban, I don’t think that preparing to return to China in five or six years would present too much of a problem. However, they might need to change their strategy, especially if they were previously based in a university. Whether the foreign Christian was a student or a teacher, they must seriously consider their future role.
These days, universities are extremely sensitive places. They do not permit any activities related to religion. This does not only apply to foreigners. Chinese Muslims are not even allowed to wear their head coverings on campus, let alone read scriptures together. Now is a time to veer off the well-known path of great Christian groups like Friends of China (FOC). Expats and locals alike will need to seek out new identities and new ways to serve in such a sensitive environment.
For those who are looking to return to China, what would you suggest they study, or what approach might they prepare for?
I know that doing business is not easy, and not everyone has the right skills or personality for it. It’s even harder to expect an evangelist to transform into a businessperson overnight. But for those who can handle it, I recommend business as a platform. Multimedia businesses are an option.
What about medical professionals?
If medical professionals hope to work in an NGO or NPO, that’s not going to be easy. But the good news is that in western China, especially in minority areas, the Chinese government is starting many national NPOs. Children’s health services are on the rise. Experts in conditions like cerebral palsy and autism are in desperately short supply, so they are willing to recruit foreigners to work in these NPOs and train locals.
My mission has some experience training locals in Western minority areas to care for children with disabilities, but it is not an easy road. Of every ten local people we train, only one or two end up becoming qualified to take up the work.
Some foreign intellectuals speak fluent Chinese, hold advanced degrees they earned in China, and have extensive field experience. They still have a desire to bless China, though they cannot return.
There are so many opportunities. We need them to serve as teachers. We need people who can teach and mentor Chinese missionaries who speak little or no English. The teachers should ideally be experienced workers with relevant qualifications who can operate in Chinese.
Last week I spoke with a coworker from a mobilization office in another Asian country; let’s call him Murat. East Asian sending is rising quickly, but they have difficulty getting enough training for their missionaries. A huge obstacle is that most of the training material is in English, with some in French, but very little in Chinese and other Asian languages. These Asian coworkers might have some English, but not the level required to benefit fully from the training they get from international agencies. It’s even less likely they can get a formal education at a good seminary. If you can’t read the books, how can you learn?
They need more than a few basic tools. They need to grasp a biblical notion of mission. Today the global church has excellent resources for training and transforming our minds, but these people can only scratch the surface of what is on offer.
You and I know we are all getting older. Before we prepare to retire, we need to collect the important lessons we have learned and create systematic and comprehensive training. In the short term, China, Korea, and other emerging mission senders are still a few years away from producing our own high-quality professors of Islam or cross-cultural theology and the like. We are working towards it, but realistically, you and I will be retired before we see this kind of fruit. Therefore, foreigners who achieved a PhD while serving in China are incredibly precious and valuable to the work.
For this reason, we hope to recruit this kind of Christian to help us launch new courses for training Chinese missionaries. The classes will all be online and will serve people in China as well as Chinese who have been sent out to the Middle East or Africa, or other regions. We would like to have a training center in a third country and have started talking with potential partners about perhaps hosting the center in another country with a decent sized Muslim population. We are working hard and praying God will allow us to launch our first course in the next three to five years.
There are already theological colleges and Bible schools throughout Asia, and several reputable seminaries in the West now offer Chinese language classes. How will your training center be different?
My vision is for training with the goal of fruitfulness. Julie, I don’t know whether you have noticed this problem. Recently, Chinese missionaries have been going out to various fields in great numbers. We all talk about church planting movements. Sure, there is a great movement happening in the Chinese church, but there isn’t a great deal of actual church planting happening. Church planting is just a shadow in a mirror. So how do we help them to bear fruit? This is an essential goal of study.
Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a three-part series. The third post in this series will be published soon. It will examine more practical ways that Western cross-cultural workers can mentor their Chinese counterparts to share the good news of salvation more effectively.
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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