In this article in our series, "When the China Dream Comes to a Halt," we hear from a number of leaders of organizations, from personnel managers to on-the-ground team leaders, who oversee workers in China.
Just about any organization that places people in China has a crisis plan, a contingency plan. Often there is a general crisis plan as well as plans tailored for different regions, and even plans to help individuals as they navigate a crisis situation.
One personnel manager overseeing workers in China noted that they did have a detailed, written crisis plan that was signed by everyone involved. Then someone had to leave and the plan was reviewed, revised, and signed again. As one after another had to leave that city, the crisis plan was revised repeatedly to deal with the rapidly changing situation. Finally the plan became a simple email basically saying that if X happens you will go with Y or Z. She said:
We simply stopped changing the whole document—too many left and often very quickly. Following the stated procedure didn’t work. We had to adjust and be flexible. The fact that, due to security concerns, communication itself was complicated didn’t help the matter.
With compromised computers and uncertainty as to which forms of communication were still OK to use, organizations struggled to be in regular contact with their workers and acknowledged that some of their people felt left out and lonely when they needed their organization’s presence and support.
Communication has been one of the biggest challenges for leaders in sending organizations, as well as for the leaders on the ground in China. Making decisions is never easy in a stressful situation. Being further stressed by uncertainties about communication, or a lack of communication, does not help, noted one leader. And yet creative ways to communicate can be found. It’s always been important to read between the lines and notice things that are not mentioned as well as those that are. It was even more important now to ensure that people felt as safe as possible. “We used emoji’s when we were chatting to indicate how the situation was and if the person was OK” shared one personnel manager.
Another leader observed:
As a team-leader on the ground, it was not easy to make quick decisions when I didn’t feel that I had a secure way to describe the full situation for my leader. I was stressed and under a lot of pressure and knew that the decision I would make would impact others, including families with children.
Another said, “We are trying to learn from other organizations and exchange information and experiences with each other.”
One leader in charge of personnel for a sending organization shared:
I think we are relatively well-prepared to provide care for people who have to leave, although we are learning all the time and may struggle if a large number of people are expelled at the same time. Post-departure care usually involves field and home leadership, as well as both internal and external professional counselors (professional counseling centers).
In the case of a deportation, there are usually two phases: initial care and ongoing care. The initial care would include an organizational/operational debrief to allow the people to share their story in detail without comments or judgements being made. This is usually led by the field, as they understand the China context out of which the people have come.
The ongoing care includes meeting with counselors (whether internal, external, or both) and figuring out what next steps are needed. In many cases, this is organized and coordinated by the home side as the person would probably have returned to their home country. When children are involved, we may also arrange sessions with a children’s counsellor. If the people leave the organization, we try to arrange for them go to a field conference to provide good closure.
Again, we need to recognize that people are having to leave China for a variety of reasons. It could be deportation or it could be because no visa renewals are being processed. In some situations decisions are made to remove individuals, or a whole group, if the situation is too difficult or if others on the team have been interrogated.
The most traumatic cases we have had, are those where our personnel have been detained, in some cases for several days. They have been under enormous pressure and this trauma, in combination with leaving their heart behind is very serious and professional help is necessary.
A person who has debriefed some workers who left China recently said that an emerging theme is fear or worry about the extended reach of the Chinese government. People have left, but they are not sure that they are free and clear of the source of their anxiety and hurt.
Those who have not had to leave are also impacted when others around them depart unexpectedly.
None of our people have had to leave, but they have been affected by having teammates and neighbors on the ground leaving. Their community and fellowship are gone, leaving them sad, shaken, and confused. “Can we stay? Will we be next?” We have member care set up to help them and when they are out of China we have professional help lined up
We have those who are on home assignment and need to make a decision about their future. Is it wise to move back now? To take kids out of school in their home country where they finally are starting to get settled? Should we wait and see or go in faith are questions we are trying to help our people with as they are wrestling with reality.
We have a couple of cases where our people are ready to go for home assignment in the beginning of the summer. They are wondering if they should pack as if they will be able to return after six months or a year. Or should they pack up and leave as if they are not coming back—very hard to know.
And then there is concern for local coworkers who are also impacted.
The most difficult care situation for international agencies is not actually when people are forced to leave. It is when you have PRC national members or partners detained and they cannot leave China. What is our responsibility and ability to provide care in such situations?
Finally there is the need for recovery once those who have had to leave are back in their home countries.
There is not really a set time-line, as each crisis needs to be responded to on a case-by-case basis. However, I would expect those who are deported to receive at least a three-month “compassionate leave of absence.” The church back home also has a key role in caring for people as they return home.
More on how home churches can help in our next post.
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.