This month, in the series “Our China Stories,” I am pleased to hand the keyboard over to Laura de Ruiter, who grew up in China. In the coming months, she will be sharing thoughts related to the book she is currently writing. Here she describes the disconnect between her experiences in China and the China narratives she encountered when she moved to the West as a student as well as the journey this triggered. —Brent Fulton
I grew up in China. Thirteen years of my life were spent there.1 My parents moved there because they had a calling to work as Christian professionals; I moved there because my parents went. For the first three years, my family and I lived in Tianjin, as my parents completed their language study. Then we moved to rural north China, where my parents joined a small Christian service organization. My responsibility through all of this: going to school.
Growing up as I did in China, I had the privilege of listening and learning from many people who passed through our home and life. Around the dinner table and at conferences, all sorts of stories were shared and heard: the successes and the challenges, the joys and the tears of serving in China. From an early age, I was aware of the work being done across the country from many perspectives.
In 2010, I moved from China to Germany to go to boarding school at the Black Forest Academy. In 2012, I transitioned to the USA for my BA at Moody Bible Institute Spokane (MBI). That was when all the confusion and frustration started.
As a recent import to the West, it never took people long to figure out that I was a TCK 2 from China. Immediately upon this discovery, people would normally turn the conversation towards this topic, asking all sorts of questions about the state of Christianity in China. Often, the conversations would go something like this:
My new acquaintance: Oh, so you grew up in China? Wow. That must have been hard. I have heard stories about China. Actually, last year I went on a short-term mission trip to China and we smuggled a couple of suitcases of Bibles into the country. It was sweet being able to support Christians there who struggle so much under the Communist government. How was that for you growing up? What was the persecution like?
My response: Yeah, so that’s really cool you were able to go to China on a short-term trip. Actually, the members of our organization work with an open Christian identity. We have been there for over twenty years and have not had any problems with that. Now that I think about it, a lot of fellow expat Christian workers have the same experience we did. There is a lot of freedom and possibilities in China.
My new acquaintance: Oh.
In all these conversations and the questions asked of me, the underlying assumption was that there were always difficulties and persecution for the Chinese Christians due to the suppression of an atheistic, Communist government—the persecution narrative. However, I had a different story to share: the members of our organization have functioned in China for over twenty years as openly Christian without any problem. We have never had to run for our lives. We have never had to be afraid to openly live out the Gospel. We have never had to worry about our Bibles being found among our possessions. Most people have been shocked to hear about this reality. They cannot conceive of the possibility of a Christian organization openly existing and functioning without threat in closed Communist China. They wonder, “How can that be possible?”
I became puzzled by the wide disparity between the prevalent story in the West and the reality I and others had observed in China. So I asked myself, what is the real story? And from where do these two contrasting narratives originate?
I began my journey for answers in 2013. During the past eight years of my research, China has changed—the openness of my childhood years in China has been greatly lessening— and my own understanding has been challenged and sharpened. Yet my motivation for and the themes of my research and writing remain relevant and urgent.
An incorrect narrative is a crutch, not a tool. Misinformation inhibits effective Kingdom work. In my research, I have heard too many stories in which faulty narratives and incomplete or outdated information become the obstacle to Christian work and Christian growth both on the individual level as well as on the organizational level. To be effective, believers must be informed.
But there is more. Since moving to the West, I have noticed the situation for Christians here becoming more and more like the situation in which I grew up in China, as I will be expounding in the coming blogs. Yet, at the same time, due to certain Western (Christian) assumptions, Western believers have proven themselves ill-prepared to respond well to the changing climate. By engaging this topic, we might not only equip ourselves to help over there, but also prepare ourselves for the changing attitudes in the world towards Christians and Christianity. By learning from the Chinese Christians, we learn from those who have stood where we are now required to stand.
I invite you to join me on this journey in the coming months, hoping that you will be as challenged as I have been by this topic.
Editor’s note: This post was updated on November 30, 2021.
Image Credit: Vlad Bagacian via Unsplash.
Laura de Ruiter grew up in China (1997–2010). She completed her BA in Biblical exposition at Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, US in 2016, then earned her master’s degree in strategic leadership and change management in 2017. From 2018 to 2019 she worked as a pastor in Frankfurt with a …View Full Bio
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