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Missions from China Today

A Reader Responds to the 2020 Summer Issue of CSQ

Read this fast, because things will be different tomorrow!

The current issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly, “Doing Missions with Chinese Characteristics,” provides a fascinating perspective on how God is working to move his people in his church in China further into mission.

Watching “insiders” evaluate from their deep experience, demonstrates to us that they are further down the road than we might have thought. It is a joy to observe how outreach efforts grow and change over time. What was effective for the previous generation, has become the foundation for what is now happening. All of it in the wake of:

  1. the mainland’s economic development,
  2. the Belt and Road Initiative,
  3. the increased teaching and learning of Mandarin, and
  4. increased travel globally.

The Belt and Road Initiative, when it is complete, will connect China to well over 65% of the world’s population. I wonder if China will need US consumers when it is finished?

And who would have thought Pakistan would have “open arms” for Chinese businesspeople? Americans don’t tend to get that kind of reception right now. Of course, it is motivated, in part, by Pakistan’s dislike of India, its need to depend on the US less, and its desire for a significant economic partner.

It is intriguing that there is a vision for Chinese Christian language teachers. What a contrast to the late 1970s, when there was a call for people in the US to teach English in China! About that time, we started a TESOL program. In 1980, we reported that students who had just taken what is now known as the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course, “have decided to enroll in a certificate or master’s degree program in teaching of English as a second language as a means of perhaps actually working in the People’s Republic of China someday.” (Mission Frontiers, 1980, Vol. 2:1, p. 3)

When we learn about the spread of the gospel in the history of modern China, it is a challenge to our faith. More than once, when I have heard stories or met leaders, I have asked myself if I am really trusting the Holy Spirit to work in and through me. The excuse, “we just aren’t seeing this kind of spiritual breakthrough or perseverance in suffering in the West” should not make me feel better.

Of course, not everything is perfect. Movements don’t always last. Creative and resourceful activities as we saw earlier in the “Wenzhou model” give way to a “this is how we do it” mentality— which can turn obedience and trust into set systems and methods. Unfortunately, the church in the West has been a stellar example of how to stifle change! Still, I’ve met workers sent from the Wenzhou area to establish churches in the Sichuan area. Just like (most) western global servants, they learned the local language and gained the respect of people. The food in Wenzhou is not spicy, but one brother from there sat next to me, sweating from eating Sichuan hotpot. He had adapted in order to relate to the people!

It is also fascinating and praiseworthy how God uses the growing business and educational opportunities as platforms for ministry. The “coming out” of China over the last 30 years has paved the way for gospel witness and the establishment of fellowships in the most unlikely places.

When we outsiders read about the hard lessons Chinese workers have learned, we might have guessed what some of the issues might be. For example, the national pride each of us feels about our own country is ingrained. A country that has the largest population in the world has reason to “boast.” In a culture where “face-saving” is one of the highest values, misunderstanding can abound in cross-cultural situations. Naturally, almost every other “short-coming” mentioned in these articles, can be found in workers sent from the US over the years—even with our 200 years of “experience.” Our (US) sense of national identity, freedom, and independence are all legendary. Every culture has elements in their background for which they are rightly proud. The problem with national pride comes when you see yourself as superior to someone because of those perceived or real advantages.

When we learn what is happening within the indigenous missions movement from China, we see that problems arise we didn’t think about. Some of them are related to infrastructure and lead to questions such as: How does a Mandarin speaker learn Arabic when it is taught in English? How does a Chinese language teacher teach students around the world when there is little effective training and few materials to train the teachers?

I encourage you to read every word of “Doing Missions with Chinese Characteristics,” pray, and ponder both what God wants to teach you, as well as how you might apply it to your service to the world.

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Image credit: Aliis Sinisalu on Unsplash.
Greg Parsons

Greg Parsons

Greg Parsons and his wife Kathleen have been on the staff of Frontier Ventures (formerly the US Center for World Mission) since 1982. Greg worked 27 of those years with Ralph Winter serving from 1990-2010 as the General Director. He now serves as Director of Global Connections and takes great …View Full Bio

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