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Concerns of Cross-Cultural Workers from China

Recently our friend and ChinaSource contributor Amy Young wrote a post for A Life Overseas called “7 Ways We Secretly Rank Each Other.” We wondered if cross-cultural workers from China would judge or evaluate their fellow workers in those same areas or if other issues would weigh more heavily on their hearts. We asked Lisa Tsai, who has done research on member care for Chinese missionaries, to respond to Amy’s post. 

The research I have been involved with deals with the perceptions of Chinese cross-cultural workers concerning member care. Although the theme of Amy Young’s post “7 Ways We Secretly Rank Each Other” is not exactly my focus, some experiences that Chinese cross-cultural workers shared with me when I interviewed them relate to this topic. And so, I would like to share some thoughts based on their responses and my research.

Why they leave the field.

In my interviews, I found that the most common reasons for Chinese cross-cultural workers to leave their fields of service are children’s education, finances, marriage and family considerations (such as changes in marital status or having children), internal conflicts within the team, life crises (such as physical illness, lack of cultural adaptability, conflict within the extended family, and relationship issues), and security issues. However, there are few people to judge them when they return because their departure from home is rarely known widely due to security concerns. 

Education choices for their children.

This is the most challenging for Chinese overseas workers because of the particularities of China’s education system. If a child is not enrolled in a good school in China, he or she has lost the opportunity to receive further education in that system. Chinese cross-cultural workers usually don’t hesitate to sacrifice themselves but sacrificing their children’s education and future poses a greater challenge.

The numbers game.

The issue of numbers of converts is an issue being addressed by Chinese cross-cultural workers. But I have found that when they talk about stress, this issue comes up less often than other factors such as financial needs and children’s education.

Type of work. 

Missions from China and those being sent out are still at a developmental stage. That along with lower overall education levels and limited experience means that in most cases there are not many jobs available for those going out from China to serve cross-culturally.

How many suitcases they travel with.

Most of the cross-cultural workers I’ve heard from and interviewed are poor and don’t have much to carry. Therefore, this is not a problem for them. Many sending agencies in Asia (the majority of them in Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong) have a very different budget for the workers being sent out from their home regions/countries than those from China. This worsens their financial embarrassment.  

How large is the cultural divide you crossed? 

Most of the people I interviewed don’t rely on fundraising for their support, so they don’t need to tell exotic stories to encourage others to support their ministry. The concepts of raising money and writing prayer letters were new concepts to most of the missionaries I interviewed. They rarely thought of telling an impressive story rather than working in obscurity. Most of those I interviewed did not publicize themselves or their stories.

Some concluding thoughts.

Cross-cultural living has its unique challenges and cross-cultural ministry adds more. These include depression, broken relationships, premature departure, burnout, and third culture kid (TCK) challenges. These are challenges common to both Chinese and Western cross-cultural workers.

Chinese culture is honor and shame-based, and the education and social system in China are significantly different from that in the West. Most Chinese cross-cultural workers serve in developing countries, especially Muslim ones, where evangelizing activities are dangerous and restrained. These create special challenges for workers sent from China. Those challenges include the impact of honor/shame culture, their identity as a cross-cultural worker, their children’s education, language learning, theological training, and so on.

I hope this comparison will trigger some new thoughts and further discussion of how to care for Chinese cross-cultural workers. And most of all, that it will help more people understand and support this special group of gospel cross-cultural workers from China.

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Lisa Tsai

Lisa Tsai (pseudonym) is a trained family therapist from China and has done research on the needs of cross-cultural workers sent out from China. View Full Bio

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