In 2010, I found myself in Hong Kong at a five-day intensive biblical peacemaking, conflict coaching, and mediation training. I knew I needed to be there because prior to the training, a local Chinese church leader in the city where I lived confided in me saying she had no idea how to help two of the worship team members who weren’t speaking to one another. Could I help? I told her that I didn’t know what to do either, but I would soon take a course on mediation and would attempt to use what I learned to help these two reconcile. I had also recently been slandered to the local church by a former team member and was angry, sad, scared, and at a complete loss regarding what to do.
Through this training, God equipped me with practical tools to mediate between the church worship team members and, through forgiveness, freed my heart from hatred and bitterness regarding my personal situation. Having experienced such a complete transformation of heart and mind, and knowing that just like in the United States, many interpersonal conflicts in China are left unaddressed with relationships suffering as a result, I solemnly said to God, “If you would like my team and me to introduce peacemaking in China, I am willing.” A vision was born. After searching high and low for Chinese materials, we finally found a small group study curriculum developed in the United States and translated into Chinese. We began teaching it to others. The teaching was eagerly received because it was solidly biblical and practical.
Yet, because all the examples and the framework for the curriculum were from a British or American social and cultural context, not Asian, my intercultural studies background left me feeling ill at ease. Although for the most part studying the curriculum was transformative for people, once in a while small group participants would make statements such as, “These principles only work in Western culture,” “It’s too hard to live this out in Chinese culture,“ or “We need examples that bridge Chinese culture.” These comments supported my thinking that in addition to what we already had, we needed a relational reconciliation curriculum rooted in Scripture to address specific cultural and contextual barriers to proactively responding to everyday conflicts in Chinese homes, churches, teams, and workplaces.
With an eye to contributing to a project like this, I discussed doctoral research ideas with several local pastors, asking them if they could introduce me to potential interviewees who had experienced significant conflict but had also reconciled. Most conflict-related research in Chinese contexts to date had explored how people manage conflict, not how genuine reconciliation happens, so I was particularly interested in reconciliation success stories. These pastors responded, “If you want to hear stories of people who are in the middle of unresolved conflict, I can introduce you to many research participants, but stories of reconciliation? Those are far more rare.” I became deeply motivated to find reconciliation success stories in order to understand and share what has helped or hindered Chinese Christians’ movement from being in conflict with someone to a restored relationship. God connected me to 31 people to interview.
As I interviewed people, they shared their conflict stories, how they viewed face issues (saving, giving, and losing face), the hindering impact of face on reconciliation, and how God enabled them to set aside face to apologize and forgive. They shared relationship breakthroughs as well as the challenges they faced when trying to address conflict issues with those older or in a higher position. As I heard story after story of what God made possible in their relationships because of their reliance on God and obedience to him, I felt compelled to share their testimonies with a broader audience. They have demonstrated that conflict resolution and relational restoration in face-saving cultures is possible!
While my initial research was presented in my dissertation, in this blog series I will introduce topics that my yet-to-be published book, Changing Normal: A New Approach to Conflict, Face Issues, and Restoring Relationships, fleshes out in everyday language. The posts will cover key topics related to biblical relationship restoration but situated in Chinese cultural contexts.
- The concept of conflict in Chinese culture,
- Conceptualizing reconciliation in Chinese culture: surface-level versus heart-level reconciliation,
- Barriers to apologizing,
- The impact of face on conflict and conflict resolution,
- Views on making and acknowledging mistakes,
- How a church split was averted,
- Action versus verbal apologies,
- The benefits of giving face,
- The challenges of responding to an apology,
- The impact one’s status has on apologizing and forgiving,
- Listening first then explaining,
- Love in action, and
- Forgiveness stories.
I look forward to engaging with you throughout this series.
Having spent much of the time between 1997 and 2020 committed to working overseas in China, Jolene Kinser now lives in southern California. Jolene works as a global Chinese peacemaking ministry developer and educator and as a peacemaking specialist under the South Pacific District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Jolene …View Full Bio
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