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The Challenges of Localization (4)


From the series The Challenges of Localization

This is the fourth in a five-part series on localization of China ministry. Each essay centers on a different issue that the author has encountered as his organization goes through the process of handing over key leadership to local believers. The challenges are real, and the process is ongoing, meaning that some essays contain as many questions as answers.

Where does the money come from? Who or what makes it financially possible for your organization or project to operate in China? While cultural shifts require a dying to self, and shifts in authority challenge us to greater levels of humility, no aspect of the transition to local leadership is potentially more painful than matters related to money. There are certainly different cultural attitudes towards money that affect this transition: over the years we have encountered difficulties related to financial pressures from extended Chinese families, as well as confusion over how westerners separate business expenses from personal expenses. But the primary challenges related to money that we have experienced during this time of transition are of a different sort.

For the last ten years or so, demographic shifts in the global mission world and particularly within the sending churches have caused many cross-cultural organizations and projects to actively seek localization of their income streams. With less money available from overseas and expenses in China rising, generating local (from within China) financial support has been a priority throughout our community. And while progress has been made, funds from overseas continue to play a large role in the maintenance of our organizations and projects.

Up and coming Chinese leaders share this commitment to local income. They, too, sense the increasing limitations of outside finances, while at the same time recognize the increased financial strength of the local Christian community. In most cases, Chinese staff who have worked in our organization for an extended period of time have come to recognize the value of our procedures related to financial transparency and accountability—though they do tend to find them a bit cumbersome. In our case, as a legally registered entity in China, our international accounting practices have long since been integrated with the Chinese taxation and auditing systems. To the degree that our Chinese coworkers continue to apply for and receive international grants, our new Chinese leaders are unlikely to change our organization’s financial policies any time soon. These aspects of the transition have so far been (surprisingly?) smooth.

The real financial challenge during this process of localization has been related to the issue discussed in part three: authority. What does it mean to put Chinese brothers and sisters in positions of authority over expatriates if those expatriates have their own financial support? A salaried Chinese employee approaches work and compensation from a very different perspective than a support-based expatriate. Simply put, support-based expatriates can literally afford to ignore directions from organizational leaders (expatriate or local) because they are their own bosses.

These issues have become particularly complicated during the transition period. In our case, local income is increasing, but slowly—mostly from profit-generating services and to a lesser degree from Chinese donations. While we are still striving towards independence from outside income sources, should Chinese leaders be given full budgetary discretion over funds raised overseas by expatriates? In the past, expatriates had authority over all Chinese employees via the simple fact that expatriates raised the money that paid Chinese salaries. With Chinese leaders now in positions of greater and greater authority, are there—or should there be—ways in which Chinese leaders can exercise financial authority over expatriates (either directly through salaries or indirectly through budgetary review)? And who sets the standards for what level of expense is and is not appropriate for expatriates and or local workers (travel expenses, hospitality meals, office furniture, laptop computers, airfare versus train fare, etc. . . .)?

We are still in the midst of this. Not surprisingly, there is resentment coming from both expatriate workers and Chinese in leadership. Our current plan is to facilitate frank cross-cultural discussions about money, its uses, and its place in the Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). But at this point it is too early to tell how or if this question will be resolved. May God grant wisdom!

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Swells in the Middle Kingdom

"Swells in the Middle Kingdom" began his life in China as a student back in 1990 and still, to this day, is fascinated by the challenges and blessings of living and working in China.View Full Bio

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