For those who have invested many years in China and now find themselves outside the country and unable to return, there are still opportunities to be involved. How mission is being done is changing. The narrative of China-related work has changed and is changing as I write. After thirty years of mainly receiving, China is not only sending workers, they are also becoming a much-needed voice and stakeholder in shaping the new narrative.
When I, and many others, went to China it was mainly to give—although often we received and learned far more than we gave. Now as we talk about the Global South and new sending countries, there is a shift in the narrative, and not a day too soon. I sometimes find myself in meetings or conferences where I feel embarrassed and ashamed over the colonial mindset I have been part of perpetuating on the mission field. We know that Christ came to die for us all, but do we interact on equal terms?
With COVID-19 restrictions dropped, the door is opening again, both for some to enter China and for others to leave to serve cross-culturally, revealing new ways to cooperate and partner together.
A recent example is when a Chinese friend of mine wanted to introduce me to one of her Chinese friends—someone she said I really had to meet. Her friend equally wanted to meet me, the laowai (foreigner) with a big heart for China. When my friend showed up with her friend, we both smiled, laughed, and said: “Wo renshi ni” (I know you)!
The young man in front of me and I had met several times at different under-the-radar networking events in China. As a leader and networker for a Chinese organization, he represented many other Chinese cross-cultural workers. Now here we sat, elsewhere in the world, eating pizza and drinking Coke Zero! “Yes, I am becoming Americanized,” he said and laughed before he continued, “because of overseas opportunities for my child’s schooling, a new world has opened.” I felt confused; it seemed so strange to meet him here in my Western world. Me going there felt somehow normal, but the opposite—him coming to me—is taking some time to get used to. Strangely so.
This newly opened door of opportunity for children from China to attend international schools abroad accompanied by their parents on guardian visas, provides a bonus opportunity for the parents to partner in new ways. It is also an avenue for those who were serving in China, who have cross-cultural experience, Chinese language skills, and a continuing heart for China-related ministry to work together today. Some workers may not even have to fly to another country to serve together; it may only require a short drive across town.
A key benefit is that meeting with Chinese workers may not be a one-off opportunity to meet face to face as when I met my friend at those earlier meetings. Rather there can be an opportunity to meet regularly and on a more equal footing, providing the possibility of growing deeper and doing life together in a way which was not so easy in previous years. Spending time together develops trust and helps us see more of each other than during one or two days of meetings. These new opportunities are a great way to gather regularly to pray for China and ask our Father to show us what he has for the future. It is also a way for leaders, recruiters, or those with specific roles (member care, language acquisition, and so on) to come together to share their experiences and expertise and be a part of forming the new narrative for Chinese missions.
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