Early in my adult life I decided I would not live life with regrets. I believe we walk through mistakes, trials, and consequence to our benefit as an avenue of spiritual growth. It’s not worth living in the “what if” zone, or even the “wish I had,” because God is intentional in each of our decisions even if it is the act of redeeming them.
This list of “I wish I had” statements deal with areas that may have brought more depth to my service in China, but weren’t possible for me due to lack of maturity, raising children overseas, or because it was not the work God had for me.
It's a list of possibilities for you to consider as you prepare for living in China.
I wish I had . . .
Remained devoted to language study.
Not everyone is allowed space to study language in their time in China. It is a lifelong pursuit and the phrase, "use it or lose it” definitely applies. After spending three intense years studying, sadly, the height of my ability ended there. Stopping language study to begin schooling children and “doing ministry” quickly drew me from the habit of learning new vocabulary and exercising my language. I wish I had remained devoted to gaining and retaining new words to lessen stress from language incapability over the course of service in China.
Burnout is real. We served countless workers who were shriveling away due to this debilitating disease. Jesus took rest and solitude seriously in his ministry, why don’t we? The growth of China’s church or evangelism of the lost is not dependent on us. We can rest. It is biblical and necessary. Whether out of guilt for using supporters' money or neglecting your ministry responsibilities, don’t make the mistake of neglecting your well-being. I wish we would have stepped away from the burnout cycle and modeled healthy spiritual life to those we serve.
Danced in the park.
Life in China is lived outside. Parks are a bustling place of life, song, and dance. As an introvert and overly self-aware person already standing out as a foreigner trying to avoid attention at all cost, I missed out on community. One genuine "I wish I had” moment would have been to put my fear aside and jump into a true cultural, communal activity by joining the dancers in the park.
Engaged more with the Chinese church by listening.
As western cross-cultural workers our natural inclination is to assume we are going to another people and culture to teach them the ways of proper church. A true sign of a learner and servant is listening. A quick observation we had from listening was the Chinese church doesn’t need our guidance or direction—it needs our partnership. I wish I had humility to walk alongside, challenge one another, and admit we both need to grow in wisdom and understanding of what church is.
Showed more grace in the midst of culture stress.
Our first visitors in China were world travelers. They’d visited more countries and people groups than we had, but the moment they landed in China they were incapacitated. Language, culture, food, and western logic failed them. Without our help stress and anxiety levels rose. Living in China puts our stress level at an unnatural high because our natural operating system is taxed in every day settings. When we add job stress, broken water pipes, the guanxi (relationship) system, visa concerns, education options, and team dynamics, suddenly the already half-filled glass of capacity begins overflowing. Being overstressed means someone will be in the wake of released frustration. This sometimes meant my family got the brunt of it. I wish I had been more aware of my stress levels and taken care to be kind or step away for rest.
Helped my kids have more local friends.
When our children were preschool-aged friends were easy. As children began primary education, we waved goodbye one-by-one, likely to not see them again due to school hours and homework demands. We decided to homeschool our children because in many cities options or finances are limiting. Between these two changes, our children became more isolated as I assume many Chinese children also begin to feel. I wish I had been more proactive knowing this would happen. I would have made more efforts to keep those old friendships intact and find creative ways to form new ones.
Prayer is often the first thing to fall by the wayside in the midst of busyness. It is an underestimated spiritual discipline that very well may have counteracted my culture stress, insecurity, and worry over not “doing” enough. I wish I had communed with God more intimately, to know and be in his will and enjoy his presence.
Been more secure in my identity as a child of God.
Toward the end of our time in China culture stress, burnout, and exhaustion were getting the better of me. Including being pointed out and called out of laowai (foreigner). What used to amuse me now angered me. I’d been living in China for seven years why did I still not belong? Like boiling in a pressure cooker I felt like exploding inside. In reality it came down to my not being grounded in my true identity. I needed to realize my place was not China nor America, but rather the Kingdom. It didn’t matter what I was called or how I was viewed. I wish I had been proud of being an alien, wanderer, and pilgrim.
For those who have served or are serving in China, what would you add to this list? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth Forshee studied journalism and public relations at Baylor University in Waco, TX and has been serving in various aspects of ministry to China for over 13 years. Her love for China’s culture and people started on her first short-term trip in 2001. Later Beth and her family served in …View Full Bio
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