A New Approach for Areas under Religious Restriction
After serving in China for 12 years in an NGO as a community caretaker, I have found a life journey full of blessing. Before that, I was a logistician. It’s never easy to give up a well-developed career for a new adventure. I moved out of my comfort zone due to a keen desire to be part of an experiment explring a new way of delivering the gospel holistically in China. God’s bountiful grace has enabled our team to progress fruitfully, one step at a time, through reflections in the realms of the pragmatic, the spiritual, and the biblical.
The founder of this ministry was heavily involved in the Lausanne Movement in the 1990s, but she withdrew from that role in order to develop a new paradigm for extending God's blessing to the unreached in China. Because she had a very clear vision for exploring a creative, legitimate, and culturally adaptable means to bring God’s holistic blessings to the unreached, she was willing to play a lower-key role due to the sensitivity of seeking to advance Christianity in a Creative Access Nation (CAN). Our hope is that a theology can be derived so that others will be able to follow and further develop this in other restrictive areas, not only due to a sound and doable methodology, but more importantly, because of a firm biblical and missiological base.
Space does not allow me to share all our findings and hermeneutical thoughts. However, through one example, out of several rewarding programs conducted in southern China, I would like to illustrate howe using an appropriate approach helped us bring holistic blessings to peasants in small villages.
Green Farming as One Example
When we walked into the remote countryside, we found farmers using a lot of chemical pesticides and fertilizers which they relied on to produce profitable crops. However, food safety was being ignored. They knew well of the danger—often vegetables were planted separately for their own consumption using much lower dosages of chemicals. Here was an obvious ethical dilemma.
Understandably, the government’s efforts to monitor food safety focus on large farmlands to ensure effective use of limited resources. However, the widespread use of chemicals on small farms in the hill country were not yet being dealt with.
We started by seeking the Lord’s wisdom to find a solution for reducing the use of chemicals hazardous to health while balancing their economic needs for ensuring a good harvest. Thankfully, we found a professional farmer in another location who has experience using beneficial microorganisms to keep plants growing in good health, thus reducing the need for chemicals.
We, with a local staff member of our NGO, traveled a long way to visit this experienced farmer. The staff member was a young man who was not yet a follower of Christ; the farmer was a church leader. While there, the young man participated in church and cell group activities, including a glorious funeral for an old lady in the church.
This visit was the first time that our young staff member was exposed to a series of discoveries in farming including the wonders of microbes in the microscopic world, human concerns for green and ethical farming, reliance on heavenly provision through faith, unity in Christ’s fellowship, and the hope of an afterlife.
Afterwards, we invited the farmer to our location to share with other villagers, bringing new knowledge about green farming to them. Our NGO also worked with government officials, village leaders, hospitals, and institutes to form collaborations to promote healthy farming. We even assisted the Health Department to conduct holistic health activities in the parks, covering general health education, food hygiene (including eliminating food safety risks such as washing vegetables before cooking), green farming, etc. Since the communities were very interested in these issues, trust was gradually built. They allowed us to bring volunteers to visit the needy in their villages, providing care for their livelihood and emotional well-being.
To increase awareness of our environmentally friendly initiatives at the township level, we held a program to collect food wastes from the households. After fermenting the compost with beneficial microbes, the resulting organic fertilizer was distributed to the farmers, creating an ongoing, regenerating cycle of mutual support between townships and villages.
After a few opportunities to hear the good news in depth, the young staff member working with this program eventually received Christ into his heart. He was then inspired to share his life experience and professional farming knowledge with other farmers. He established a network between clients in the township and farmers in villages so that a shortened supply chain could form a fair-trade model. He even participated in an entrepreneurship competition held by the local TV station. He put forward recycling food wastes into fertilizers as a business plan, not aiming at the championship, but to advocate for environmental concern through the free public channel.
Back to the Bible
The design of this approach models how Jesus led his disciples. Matthew 9:35 reads, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” His ministry entailed four aspects:
- Teaching Truth of the Kingdom
- Serving Others for the Kingdom
- Preaching Good News about the Kingdom
- Training Disciples for the Kingdom
The first two aspects take place in the public domain while three and four happen in the private sphere. Proclaiming the gospel in public is prohibited in China. But we can still spread holistic truth integrated with well-accepted, healthy farming practices which can engender a trust relationship with the communities and the government.
These admirable values inspire many to inquire further into the source of our enlightenment. Then, individually and collaboratively, we are able to enter their private spheres to witness to the source of our peace and hope. At this stage, some local believers are introduced to the private groups to share the way, the truth and the light. Those willing to follow will be developed as future leaders.
In this way, doors are opened in an apparently restrictive area. Our life witness to the full blessings in the Word is more important and louder than mere proclamation in words. Officials may suspect the motivation of an NGO formed by a group of Christians. However, there is an opportunity to break their skepticism through a truthful heart in addressing the real needs of the community with high quality caring service.
There are more elements to share in this new paradigm of service. But I will leave them for further blogs in the near future.
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