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FieldPartner Helps Workers and Sending Churches to Cross Cultures

From the series Meet Our Partners

Today we are pleased to have an article written by the co-founder of one of our partner organizations, Field Partner, an online community and resource for Christian missionaries working across cultures.” It is also “committed to helping church leaders, family and friends who provide support for these missionaries as they undergo the process of living and ministering in a different culture.”  They offer free online courses, insightful interviews with those serving or who have served cross-culturally, and a host of articles and book recommendations.  We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with them in providing resources on serving in China. In this article, Christine shares about their work helping Chinese who are serving cross-culturally. –Joann Pittman

About ten years ago, my husband Ross and I found ourselves standing at the front of a crowded meeting in northeast China. We, along with our colleagues (a couple from Taiwan), had been invited to share about the need for cross-cultural training for those they wished to send out into missions. The leader of a network of 5,000 house churches was present. After I had shared my heart about the additional need for genuinely supporting those who go (not just sending them out!), this leader got up and said the following, which cut us to the quick: “Now I understand,” he said. “A few years ago, we sent 24 missionaries to the northwest [to Xinjiang province] and today we have no idea where any of them are!”

That single statement was a game changer for us. It underlined afresh that zeal and commitment to spreading the gospel is not enough. Even where there has been great success and fruitfulness in evangelism in one’s own culture, and the Chinese church can certainly lay claim to that, it does not follow that the same methods or approaches will work in another culture.

Those who go out expecting quick successes will certainly be disappointed, even disillusioned, in a short space of time. Sadly, over the years, we heard other similar stories, including the sad “90 by 90” statistic—that is, 90% of Chinese missionaries going out (often to the toughest, least-reached areas of the world) were returning home with a sense of failure within 90 days. We could only begin to imagine the fallout from that in a shame-culture context. Where were all those who have left the field, we wondered, and had anyone helped them work though their disappointments from this experience?

Even if this statistic was exaggerated and not true everywhere, it was still devastating to hear. We concluded that, while the majority going out would have been Bible-school trained, they probably had not received much, if any, cross-cultural training. In other words, they would not know how to adapt to another culture’s ways, so as to “do life” successfully there, nor how to share the gospel appropriately in that context. Nor, we assumed, had the churches that sent them any real idea of how to provide meaningful support and encouragement to help them keep going for the long haul. (The last thing anyone needs as they are just starting out is pressure from home to produce results!) Within a short space of time, probably while in the height of culture shock, many of these passionate people were returning home, feeling they had failed and lacking understanding of what they were going through or the resilience to press through it. The urgent need to fill that training gap was being impressed upon us.

Fast forward another few years. By then we had, through our colleagues mentioned above, run several training schools in country. These were based on the model we had used for preparing Westerners to work in China—four months of teaching in class, followed by eight months practical work amongst one of China’s many minority people groups. As well as helping with those schools, when possible, we also gradually became involved in member care for those who had already gone out of China, often to the toughest areas of the world for Christian witness—countries in Central Asia and the Middle East.

While helping at two member-care conferences I spoke at, we met a delightful couple. Daniel and Rose had already been on the field for 14 years by then. Early in their cross-cultural work, they had weathered a completely unprovoked attack by local youths on motorcycles, who had left them badly hurt, when Rose was heavily pregnant. Already struggling with the language and culture and a debilitating sense of isolation, they had been on the brink of giving up. But the Lord met with them powerfully that night and they both found themselves overwhelmed with a sense of God’s love for them and for the people they had come to serve. They had stayed and pressed through their own struggles, then started reaching out in support of others who were likewise floundering. Their vision was one we resonated with—to start a center for both training and member care in their city, a place where their fellows from China could receive orientation into the local culture, learn first-hand about the local religion and find help in processing their difficulties. In that way they hoped to reduce the awful attrition numbers and to help people to thrive on the field.

By this time, though, there was another harsh wind of difficulty blowing within China itself, that of the tightening grip of the Party over the entire population including the church. It became increasingly difficult to run any training in country, without endangering those taking part. We investigated the possibility of doing schools in other nations nearby, but with the advent of COVID-19, that avenue also closed. And so, it became increasingly clear that the way forward for us, and the way we were already being guided, was to develop a training platform online, which could be accessed by anyone anywhere.

“FieldPartner” was the name we chose for our “school in the cloud” (禾场伙伴 in Chinese). We developed it in English first and identified four target audiences—recruits in the pre-field stage, those already on the field, returnees from years of service, and the sending churches. Then we added a fifth section to our platform (all color-coded) and called that “Foundations.” We concluded early on, on the English side, that the best approach was not to reinvent the wheel by creating multiple courses, but to partner with others who may already have done good content creation.

On the Chinese side, however, it was different. Daniel had previously informed us that he had searched the internet, looking for suitable resources in Chinese to help them with their vision. When he heard what we were seeking to do, he was super encouraging. He pressed us to create courses that could be taken by anyone in their own time, an increasingly common trend across the board in China, which the COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced. While we know that the internet is increasingly policed and Christian content removed, the fact remains that, as a population, the Chinese are used to studying online. Thus, we have gone out of our way to produce actual courses (twenty to date) as well as other resources. With even stricter regulation of the internet having come in on March 1, we are finding ways to distribute all this on digital devices as well.

Reaching the sending churches with training in how to care for the ones they send, especially in the current sensitive times, as well as valuing them when they return—these remain critical burdens for us. Fundamentally the vision is to train both the senders and those who go, so that there is genuine partnership in the work of reaching the nations for Jesus.

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Image credit: Philippsaal via Pixabay
Christine Paterson

Christine Paterson

Christine Paterson, together with her husband Ross, has served in the Chinese world over many decades. Ross first went to Asia in 1969. Over the years they have been involved in campus ministry, literature, and radio work, placing of professionals across China, humanitarian projects in minority areas, and recently in …View Full Bio

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