In a recent post Tabor Laughlin highlights three issues facing the nascent mission movement in China. Responding to the series by Si Shi and his Chinese coauthors, “Missions from China—A Maturing Movement,” Laughlin draws particular attention to filial responsibility to family members, the viability of “tent-making” platforms, and the question of how those sent out will be supported financially.
These and other matters related to the “mechanics” of training, sending, and supporting missionaries from China are complex topics that defy easy answers or quick solutions. Working through them will require much patience, cultural awareness, and time.
There is, however, a more fundamental issue that can be addressed now. It is not so much a matter of mechanics as it is a matter of the heart. And it has deep implications for the myriad thorny practical questions facing China’s new generation of missionaries.
In “The Chinese Church Prepares for Missions,” a translated post from the Chinese blog Good Tidings, several pastors referred to this issue:
The biggest problem is that many missionaries do not understand how to adapt to a different culture. Many missionaries go to other places and simply establish Chinese-style churches, instead of churches that are integrated into the local culture.
As far as the younger generation and world missions, the first question is whether or not they can break away from their personal restrictions and self-imposed boundaries…. The second question is how we respond to multiculturalism coming from a monocultural context.
Many Chinese people live scattered abroad, and this is clearly a favorable time for China to join world missions. The difficulty is that Chinese people abroad need to plant more deeply in local culture, instead of finding other travelers like themselves and clustering together.
To overcome this built-in tendency toward cultural isolation, one pastor urged:
We need to prepare to befriend all sorts of people and come into contact with different cultures, thereby transforming our views and horizons. We need to look at the physical and spiritual needs of those around us—the needs of society—from the Bible’s perspective, and experience the heart of God in their midst.
Training, funding, support structures, and arrangements for caring for family members are all vital concerns. Yet, unless the core issue of cultural adaptation is addressed, focusing on these other areas could become a distraction.
The good news is that entering into another’s culture does not require boarding an airplane. It may be as simple as getting to know one’s next-door neighbor. Today the forces of urbanization have brought Han Chinese believers face-to-face with a diverse range of cultures, from international students and business people to members of the hundreds of ethnic groups resident within China’s borders. By beginning at home to model Christ and “tabernacle among” (John 1:14) people of different cultures, they will be more likely to successfully cross the cultural divide as they journey abroad.
Image credit: Yu Ting Wong via Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio