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Business as Mission—What I Have Seen

God knows and loves China better than we do. We can find him here and take him into every situation to accomplish his kingdom goals.

In 1990, as I prepared to go abroad, I visited an American family doing full-time Christian work in France. The husband told me he went to France to save France—but God first wanted to use France to change him. That was a good word. I’ve found God has already been wherever I have gone in China—and I do not just mean local Christians. God created the Chinese culture and, though it is marred by sin, his hand can be seen in it.

I’ve witnessed many who have come to work in China with the desire to share their faith. Their stories are instructive.

Frank* came to China as an “undercover” full-time Christian worker because he felt that was the best way to work for God. Frank worked hard but with little fruit and really did not know who he was. That took time. Ten years later he has found God’s place for him leading a Christian-owned business here.

Ed came to China right out of college. He dove deep into the Chinese culture and absorbed everything. He learned to do business the Chinese way, including its dark side. His lying, cheating, and stealing have marred Christian witness here ever since. I know of three men who followed this path.

Sam came to China and worked in factories and led factories. He felt it was improper to talk about faith at work. He attended an international church. All his friends were on Facebook and were Western like him. He did honest business but seemed to make little Christian impact; he did make a lot of money. I know two men who worked this way.

Lou came to China and was afraid to talk to Chinese Christians because he thought he would get them in trouble. Fear dominated all his outreach. He thought the government was anti-Christian and lots of Christians were in jail. He made friends only with non-Christians at work, in English. Some people did pray to receive Christ years later, but real life change was not evident. It seemed that those who prayed were Christian in English with him, but not in Chinese with anyone else.

Mike came to China with a shaky marriage. Within a few years he had a Chinese girlfriend. The first time did not lead to divorce but the second time he had a girlfriend did. I know of three cases like this.

Andrew was not a Christian. He came to China after a difficult time in the US. He met a Beijing girl online and grew to like her as they chatted. To get to know her better he came to China. She helped him find a job teaching English. The work suited him. Both of them found faith and became a nice family under God. Andrew told me, “Jim, in America at times I was living in my car! Now I own a house in China.” He says coming to China was God’s way to lead him to faith and a new life.

Adam came to China as an undergraduate and loved it. He went back to the US, married and had children. With his family, he moved to China with an MBA, Chinese language ability, and a lot of debt. He had no supporting church. He found a job just before going bankrupt at a large, multinational company. He did well and changed jobs to a better US company. He had more kids and they all learned Chinese and connected with Chinese people. He and his wife gained a heart to help Chinese marriages and family life. However, the multinational company had hired him as a local and the pay was not enough to put his kids in international school in the large city where he had found work. The local schools were good for language learning but not suitable for the kids overall. His position was moved back to US so he left the company and moved his family back to his hometown to regroup. They hope to return to China but with more support.

So where does one start? There is no one path and many pitfalls to avoid.

Some specifics I have learned:

  1. Know God and his expectations for you. Leave methods at the door but hold onto principles. Only let them go with godly counsel and prayer.
  2. Get and keep mutual accountability partners. For example, my wife and I are in a marriage class right now with Paul, my general manager, and his wife. Paul and I talk about everything and can get frustrated with each other. However, our deep friendship keeps us accountable in our marriages, parenting, work, and outreach in Christ.
  3. God is here, find him. The government is not anti-Christian though some local officials are more nervous and college campuses can be more sensitive locations. Yet much can be done, much can be learned of God. Come and love the Chinese people. Get into the culture and language. Do not edit God out of your conversations. He is there, talk about it. How do Chinese Christians see God impacting their lives? Ask. China is not about privacy. Ask all that is on your heart with everyone you meet. Be prepared to change—but guard against losing God in the process.
  4. Teaching English is one path, and great for some people, but there are others. Finding other kinds of work is hard. Chinese companies think they should indigenize, although some are moving back toward having an expat on staff. Starting a business is no picnic—it will cost more and take more effort than imagined. However, God has enough money. I never thought I could start my own business and support my family—and three other Christian families besides— by what we earned. Only God could have done this.
  5. If you have not spent time in China, then first come and learn language. If you come with a spouse, make it a priority for you both to learn Chinese and support each other through the process.  Spouses who learn language connect with others and want to stay.

If you want to start a business in China, I can connect you with honest and capable Western Christians who can help you register, find a location, and understand the market here. My company can help you hire trustworthy talent and even find people of faith as needed.

 China can be the best thing that has ever happened to you. It was for me, but only because God was here first and has been holding my hand all the way.

 * All names have been changed; some are composites of several individuals.

Image courtesy of Jim Nelson.

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Jim Nelson

Jim Nelson

Jim Nelson graduated from West Point in 1987 and came to live in China in 1991. His goal has always been to hold the cross high and make himself valuable to China and the government. He has taught English, studied Chinese full time, started and led a Christian nonprofit, and has …View Full Bio

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