In my previous post, I wrote about the impact that Caedmon’s post about returning to teach in China had made on me. While rejoicing that he, and now many others, had made it back, it saddened me to think of some I have been in contact with in the past few years, who will not be able to return, for many different reasons. For them the hope of returning to China has become permanently blocked, which has been both painful and challenging. Each has processed the situation uniquely, and in a sense, this has created a fresh template for how China ministry can continue in the new reality facing us. Covid restrictions may have been lifted, but the tightened measures against the church and foreign believers have not.
I think of a couple who, after ten years of training and support raising, had finally arrived in China in late 2019. They had left the country for an agency conference during Chinese New Year in 2020 when the pandemic struck, and China’s borders were closed. Unable to return even to collect their belongings, they landed abruptly back in their sending country and lived in limbo for more than two years. They felt unable to decide whether they had to give up their dreams of working with the minority group God had laid on their hearts, or whether to keep hanging on. In the end, with their children’s needs also pressing on them, they decided to move to the wife’s native land and go into their organization’s member care department. They felt they could put all they had gone through to good use in helping others—maybe helping prepare another family to go in their place!
Another couple had been deported just before the pandemic struck. They were called in for questioning and given two weeks to leave all they had invested in for over five years. Their kids had been in local schools, and the whole family went through an extended time of shock, grief, and loss, when they found themselves so unexpectedly back home. For this family, the strong desire to continue to reach out to the Chinese eventually led them from the US to Africa, which has been called China’s “second continent.” To their surprise, they are currently not engaged in outreach to the Chinese diaspora, which is what brought them there, but rather they are putting their skills to work in the slums with local people. In a heartbeat, they would go back in China, or work with the local Chinese community, and are prepared to shift tracks if those doors should open. The road to date has involved a good deal of inner processing of grief, which must be a common story for those who have been through what they have.
Another couple had been involved for years in English teaching while also running a secret training school for house church believers. The husband had been called in for questioning in the months before covid, and they had already decided to leave China in the summer of 2020 for the sake of their older children’s education. However, that timescale became drastically altered when covid struck, and they felt instead that they should leave immediately, six months ahead of schedule. Returning to their native South Africa, they too went through a very tough adjustment and re-entry period. They yearned for opportunities to continue to serve China and the Chinese. Using very careful means they have continued to engage with the group back in China. By faith, they also started a training course to prepare others to go into China to teach and had the joy just recently of sending their first couple in.
Finally, they are finding opportunities in Chinese diaspora ministry. Teaming up with a Chinese pastor, they are jointly reaching out to Chinese shop and business owners in their area. It is slow work because times are hard, working hours are long, and even outreach methods between the two brothers are quite different. However, doors are starting to open up in other areas across South Africa and beyond. There is a strong sense that this is a fruitful way to channel their heart for the Chinese and indeed a strategic way to proceed with China ministry, given how hard it is to work inside China.
This situation has happened before. When Mao Zedong proclaimed the foundation of the PRC in 1949, it was not long before most Westerners, including all missionaries, were forced to leave China. They ended up in Taiwan and other nations in Southeast Asia where Chinese speakers could be found. And the same thing is happening now. Let’s pray that the Belt and Road Initiative and the wide diaspora of Chinese throughout the world, including the West, will be an expansion of opportunity to reach them, since the restrictions in China have become so limiting. Our God is the God of the open door, hallelujah!
Christine Paterson, together with her husband Ross, has served in the Chinese world over many decades. Ross first went to Asia in 1969. Over the years they have been involved in campus ministry, literature, and radio work, placing of professionals across China, humanitarian projects in minority areas, and recently in …View Full Bio
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