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Vision for Tomorrow: Opportunities in China’s New Era

Reflections on China, Part 2: Hope for the Present and the Future

From the series Reflections on China in 2024

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series. Be sure to read part one to understand the history and context of the current ministry landscape.

In part one of this series, I explained that China has undergone significant change in the recent decade, which has impacted the experience of expatriate Christians living in China.  What’s more, it has resulted in the exit of about 80% of the expatriate Christians who were living in China in the early 2000s. How can one view this situation with hope?

I don’t pretend to speak for persons currently living in China, or for Chinese citizens themselves. But I do care about China, the church of Jesus Christ in China, and the expatriate workers called to serve and work in China. And these remarks are meant to serve as a symbol of hope.

During the 20 years I served in China, I observed expatriates using a variety of approaches to cope with cross-cultural challenges. Many people were unable to get over the negatives about China and life in China. Others found the negatives to be tolerable by creating a life within an expatriate community within which to find support and meaning. Least commonly observed were those who understood China, accepted China on its own terms, and strove to live, serve, and minister in China with a positive attitude. These individuals lasted the longest and served the most productively. This attitude undergirds the approach in this post, where I will explain how a reconfigured view of the three challenges described in part one—politics, economics, and ministry—represent opportunities for the present.


As stated in part one, every aspect of society in China is now saturated with politics. Disillusionment with heavy-handed party rule is undeniable. And the use of surveillance technology to follow people has added scrutiny to everyone’s lives. But among those feeling a sense of disillusionment are managers in government offices and in professional settings. They too want to do meaningful work and make a difference. They too are worried about their children, and the future. Are there among this group some “good people” (Matthew 10:41) who are interested in taking risks, and doing good, with whom expatriates can partner? Perhaps they can connect you with people from the business community, who often feel less constrained.  This has been an approach to work in China for decades and is still an opportunity today.  But it requires strong relationship-building skills, carrying through on what one offers, and being flexible to pursue the opportunities that emerge.


In part one of this series, it was explained that domestic concerns about China’s economy exist, but might China’s concern about their economy be a ministry opportunity?

In general, the business community is one of the most open communities in a society. Expatriates with legitimate businesses registered in China, allowing for qualified persons to receive work permits and visas to live long-term in China, have a tremendous opportunity. However, as we know from the past, this requires that one carry through on welcomed opportunities by delivering high quality work. This includes starting businesses, hiring young people, facilitating trips abroad for Chinese businesspersons, and establishing ministries that provide support and fellowship for disillusioned young adults. The increased openness in China to foreign businesspersons and travelers in the last year has been evidence of this desire.

It is essential that expatriates hoping to work productively and meaningfully in China find areas of common concern and interest. What are China’s high priorities in 2024?  Answering this question requires expatriate workers who have the language and cultural skills to discern what China wants, and the relational skills to develop collaborations that are a win-win in those areas.  Here are some examples of possible opportunities for collaboration:

  • China has made significant progress on its climate agreements. Opportunities include all things related to a low carbon society—alternative forms of energy, health benefits of low carbon society, and education about alternative forms of energy.
  • Destigmatizing mental health conditions, and providing empathetic care for persons seeking help, are deeply needed in China.
  • Disenchanted, unemployed youth need opportunities to connect and build solidarity, so they have the support and the confidence to seek employment in a tight job market.
  • As a collectivistic society, China values family relationships, but the forces of modernity have pulled at the threads holding the fabric of the family together.
  • China is eager to develop business among the Belt and Road Initiative countries, such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. As crazy as it sounds, respecting China and their priorities is an essential starting point, and this might be one of them.


In part one it was proposed that while ministry in China is challenging, it has been so ever since the reopening of China in 1980. Ministry now, as it was then, requires creativity and adaptability to the China context. One term used was “fishbowl ministry.” Fishbowl ministry means that in a collective society like China, everything one does is on public display, with little personal space. While this can be bothersome at times, on another level, it means that one’s Christian life and witness is always on display. One doesn’t need to manufacture ministry; one’s life is ministry. Fishbowl ministry reflects God’s call upon the Babylonian exiles, when he said in Ezekiel 36:23, “I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”

This is why groups who have used a cloak and dagger approach to ministry in China have been disinvited. They were eventually found out. From a perspective internal to China, those disingenuous approaches impeded the establishment of a kingdom-focused, locally appropriate, indigenous Chinese church.

But the most important reason I am optimistic about ministry opportunities in China is because of the strength of China’s own church and the skills and maturity of the expatriates who have gone the distance in China and are still there. It takes a special person to serve Christ in China as an expatriate presently, but those who are there know what to do.  Relying on good language skills and working in strong teams, they have the resources necessary to help their teams remain spiritually and mentally strong and contribute to the church of Jesus Christ and to Chinese society at large in deeply meaningful ways. They are well positioned to serve and to pray for the people of China and for the church in China. By God’s grace, I am optimistic that they will find new and timely ministry opportunities in China, that the Chinese church is mature and ready to guide such opportunities, and that the space within China for this to happen will expand again.

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Mark A. Strand

Mark A. Strand

  Mark A. Strand, PhD, professor in public health at North Dakota State University, lived in China with his wife and three children for nearly twenty years. While in China he was involved in medical research and development with a non-profit organization in collaboration with the Chinese government.View Full Bio

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