Just over two years ago, our family made the decision to stay in China and wait out the pandemic as long as possible. Many families and individuals in our community made that same decision. I recall our conversations at that time were often charged with a sense of optimism. We spoke about “toughing it out” and eagerly expected life would return to “normal” sooner rather than later. We began our sentences with “when” statements and said things like, “When the virus dies down…” or “when borders loosen up…” or “when so-and-so comes back…”
However, over the past two years, we’ve seen a steady trickle of friends, workers, and even entire organizations pull out of China for a variety of reasons. That sense of optimism, while still present, has been noticeably tempered with caution. Our conversations now begin with more “if” statements than “when” statements.
I was asked by ChinaSource to share about what it’s like for a foreign worker these days two years into the pandemic. Two years on, more people are finding it harder to stay. Two years on, many people in China are asking hard questions about the future. Two years on, we have more questions than answers.
To give you a sense of what it’s like for workers in China two years into the pandemic, below are a set questions and concerns that capture regular conversations among workers in a first-tier city in China.
Seven Common COVID-Era Questions and Concerns:
1. Friends who left, how will they be able to get back in?
When the pandemic began, there were many workers stuck outside of China. There were also many who left early on in the pandemic assuming the borders would be open and they could re-enter. Now, however, many people are in limbo outside of the country. The Chinese border is all but closed to most foreigners. We are often looking for new information about who can get back in the country. What visas are acceptable? What about children? Do they need vaccination records? What about quarantine periods?
2. Will people want to come back?
People who have been stuck outside of China have had to move on with their lives. They’ve moved children and placed them in new schools. They have found temporary or new jobs. If China re-opens, will they even want to come back?
3. Is this (COVID, fewer workers) the new “normal?”
Will wearing masks in public places be expected? Will strict travel restrictions to China remain in place for years to come? Consequently, has the pandemic hastened the close of the golden age of foreign workers in China? If China reopens, should we expect fewer workers to China in the future?
4. Are “things” getting tighter?
That’s the perennial question for China watchers. Is the political environment getting tighter? Is pressure against Christians increasing? COVID has put a new twist on this, but the best answer still remains: China is made up of many different Chinas, so it’s hard to generalize. While it might get tighter in some places, in other places ministry continues unabated. How are we to read those tea leaves?
5. When will borders open?
There’s a lot of speculation among expats right now over when the borders will open. Rumors can spread rapidly. Some say they heard China will loosen up after the Olympics. Others say restrictions will ease after the big political event in October. Official sources in China aren’t exactly clear on details. Several weeks ago, one expat magazine reported that in six months China will likely resume more international travel routes. A few weeks later, another article said that China will maintain its zero-COVID policy indefinitely and flights continue to be canceled. Who can you believe? Where is reliable information? We in China are often looking for the latest bits of local news that will shed light on answering that question of borders reopening. We just don’t know when borders will open and we are frustrated.
6. How long can I wait before I need to go back?
How long before there is a family emergency, a family milestone, a personal health concern, issues with support raising, a crucial business or career decision that I need to attend to and that will require me to go back to my home country? Isn’t it just a matter of time before I have to go back and at least visit? What do I do with my life in China should that happen?
7. Do my family and friends understand?
Do people “back home” know how much I miss them and would like to visit? Do they see the value in me staying here? Or, will they hold it against me? Can they wait patiently and wait on God’s timing?
Despite all of the concerns and questions many workers face right now, perhaps I can speak for many of us by saying that we choose to stay for now because of our firm belief that God will use these circumstances according to his will and for our good. We also stay because of a strong sense of call to China and our love for China.
If you’re reading ChinaSource (and you are), my bet is that you might have a family member or friend working in China. Or, perhaps your church supports a worker. Or, maybe you watched the Olympics and it reinvigorated you to pray for China as a nation. Or, maybe you previously lived and worked in China. Perhaps you were even one of those forced to leave China because of the pandemic. Perhaps all of those apply to you!
My hope is that by reading this you’ll be able to enter into our conversations. You can have a better sense of how to pray for and encourage your friends and family, as well as ask God to bless China as a whole.
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