We received a package in the mail one day from a former teammate in China. A thankful journal with a note encouraging us to write daily what we were thankful for. We have not quite finished the year of thanks, though it reminds us that we have much to be grateful for and God is worthy of praise through thanks-giving!
From my time in China I am thankful to God for:
Learning how to live in community
As transient people, cross-cultural workers rarely know where to call home or even where to unzip their luggage. Landing in China placed us among other expats, who like us loved God, loved China and wanted to see the furtherance of the Kingdom. We learned language together, ate together, processed culture and stress together, prayed together, shared all aspects of life together. A picture of the Acts church enlivened. I am thankful for this beautiful community of brothers and sisters.
Gaining great respect for the Chinese church
Our first apartment overlooked a multitude of buildings with an ever-present smokestack at the horizon point. Our first Christmas, I remember looking out to the street covered by the gray, smog-filled sky while washing dishes. Those passing by seemed oblivious to this joyous holiday—steeped in the darkness of the gloomy skies. That was my perspective of the church in China.
Within five years we noticed an awakening in our city. Seeds that were sown in darkness were sprouting. Church leaders were bolder, groups of believers were reaching out socially among the disenfranchised, families were choosing to raise their children with Christian values. What had I done? Nothing. I watched in awe and respect, humbled by God’s power. Today I remain thankful for seeing an emergence in our city among the church and how it continues to be a force of change in China.
I don’t mean persecution or mistreatment, but losing comfort; the Western equivalent to suffering. We westerners languish in comfort, seeking it at all cost. Though comforts are more accessible in China today, you don’t always have heat when you want it, can’t always find safe food, the air you breath is harmful trapping you indoors for days, medical care is not a given and for some families documentation, education, and housing must be bought at a high price. China realigned my perspective. I am thankful God taught me comforts are not necessary for a joy-filled life.
Empathizing with expats, refuges, and immigrants
If you want to have an inkling of what racial injustice or cultural isolation might feel like then live in a country where you become the minority. China’s past isolation and resistance to western culture still rests in the recesses of every Chinese person. I’ve had children cry out in terror upon seeing me. We were watched quietly for two years in our complex before one neighbor dared to introduced herself. Held at arms length out of fear until we were sussed out. Now stateside, we see a similar fear of the unknown when Americans discuss the refugee migration, rise of racial tensions, and growing religious persecution. God’s Word says to care for the alien and stranger in our midst. This one surprised me the most, but I am thankful for living as an alien so that I can empathize and better love the foreigner in our land.
New missional perspective
Globalization aided by technology has reshaped the dynamics and scope of life, yet ministry seems to hold the same methods and perspective as generations past. We are not saviors to the heathen. In fact, these types of cross-cultural workers are perhaps no longer relevant. Like social media, the body of Christ is wide-spread, diverse, and influential. The church exists in China and partnership is the way forward. This means we need to grapple with these questions: “What is the role of Western cross-cultural workers in China today and is it still needed? How are we working alongside China’s church in their development?” Christian culture should mean settting aside our geographical borders to be one family, serving one another with the gifts we’ve been given to the edification of one another with respect and humility. I am thankful to join my Chinese brothers and sisters in God’s mission whether I am standing on the streets of China or sitting behind a desk in Michigan.
Realizing God doesn’t need doers
Achievements such as lives saved, churches planted, starting a business as mission, Christians trained and sent, are all results of Christian mission in spreadsheets. Despite those results, most cross-cultural workers we know who’ve left service in China or other countries struggle with the same question: “What did I really do for God in all those years?”
Pondering this question leaves an empty pit in our stomachs because it’s the wrong question. The better question is, “Was I faithfully devoted to God’s will and leading while I lived in China? Did I remain in him and he in me?” From the Israelites, David, the prophets, the disciples, and from us, God wants one thing: connected devotion. From this abiding in Christ flows all the other achievements that he himself will accomplish. I am thankful I learned to “be” in him.
Learning to wait
Waiting is an activity we try to avoid at all cost. In avoiding it we miss out on rich blessings. It took five years until we could go to China. It took two years to adopt our daughter. We waited in lines filled with frantic people at airports, train stations, bus stops, grocery stores, hospitals . . . We try to avoid waiting, but waiting finds us.
Learning to wait draws us into understanding God’s long-suffering over a wayward people—especially those we minster to. Taking time to wait forces us to reflect, wrestle, and grow in the fruit of the Spirit while appreciating God’s love for his creation while he waits for their salvation. I am thankful that when we enjoy seasons of waiting we see true Kingdom activity in the midst of seemingly “wasted time.”
Serving alongside Chinese brothers and sisters
The adoption of our daughter birthed out of local believers being called to serve children with HIV who were unwanted by orphanages. We were invited into this ministry, a ministry devoted to children who are often treated as lepers by society, and we grew the most. Our brothers and sisters stepped out against fear in order to love the orphan, educate the community about the spread of HIV in schools, families, and communities, and to treat those with the virus. I am thankful to have served alongside one of the many church-led movements reaching out where society fails.
An increased culinary palette
This might sound frivolous, but while eating Chinese food with chopsticks among other families during school lunch we received many stares and statements like, “Wow, I can’t believe your kids will eat food like that!” They can barely get their children to eat anything beyond mac and cheese (which my husband is quick to defend as a delicious meal). This simple act of eating reveals that my children are being raised to appreciate other cultures through food which might at first seem strange.
Food is a precious part of community as it is rooted in and is a direct expression of culture. I am thankful my children will be able to travel the world and enter into cultures through the enjoyment of food. Sharing a meal opens endless doors for relationship, healing, and salvation just as it did when Jesus sat with many around their tables.
How about you? What are you thankful for that God taught you during your time in China or ministry? How can you give thanks for ways you’ve grown? Share your list with us 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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