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Learning to Be a Learner

From the series From the ChinaSource Archives


Over the years it has been reiterated that to truly serve the people of China and the Chinese church, one must first be a learner. Adopting a “posture of learning” is essential, but how does one actually do that?

We revisit the ChinaSource archives to find one example:

Lessons from the Chinese Church: Listen and Become Wise

Your daughter isn’t wearing enough; let me feel her hands. They’re ice cold. Shame on you!

It’s really not good to exercise early in the morning. The air is bad then.

You shouldn’t throw your children up in the air like that. It’s bad for their brain development.

The above statements represent a small sample of the unsolicited advice I have received during my time in China, often given by complete strangers or casual acquaintances. As a westerner with rather deep individualistic tendencies and a human with even deeper prideful tendencies, my response to such advice has at times ranged from mild discomfort to extreme annoyance.

The biblical way of handling advice and counsel (Proverbs 9:9; 12:15-16; 19:20) lies in stark contrast to my foolish responses and is, I believe, something the Chinese church models fairly well. For many Chinese (both in and outside the Church) giving advice is one of the primary means of showing love to another as it displays a concern for the well-being of that person. In the West we like to give hugs. In China they like to suggest adding another layer of clothing to keep out the cold and stay healthy.

I've asked countless friends and students how their parents express love to them. Do they say "I love you?" Do they give you hugs? The answer is almost always no and often goes something like this: "My parents call regularly to remind me to make sure I'm wearing enough when it's cold or to make sure I'm eating proper meals and taking good care of myself. Parents show love by telling us children how we should take care of ourselves."

A few weeks ago my wife and I were asked to speak with some young Chinese families about our experiences (successes and failures) in parenting. Initially I was a bit apprehensive, particularly because we had never met these families and because I am not a Chinese parent confronting the unique challenges and pressures that Chinese parents face.

I imagined myself in a Wednesday night small group at a church somewhere in suburban America listening to a small group leader say: "Next week a young Chinese couple will be joining us to talk about their parenting experiences. They have some really great stuff to share. Their English is decent, but they do have a bit of an accent and sometimes they use words and phrases incorrectly. But, they have some good things to share and the time should be quite beneficial."

I doubt whether I would have been receptive under such circumstances. I would have questioned whether someone from another country/culture could speak into my own life and circumstances and I would have likely been uncomfortable listening to a complete stranger. And, therefore, I would have probably been unwilling to listen to advice and receive instruction in order to gain future wisdom (Prov. 19:20).

I was amazed by the humble receptivity of my Chinese brothers and sisters as my wife and I spoke about our parenting experiences. They listened with grace and patience as we stumbled to communicate clearly using Chinese. They asked many questions and willingly revealed failures and struggles they have faced in parenting and relating to their spouses. And they appeared determined to apply the counsel received, eager to see Godly fruit in their parenting endeavors.

I walked away humbled, yet encouraged. Humbled by their hunger to receive counsel, especially given the circumstances (i.e. an outsider and a stranger giving counsel in broken speech) and encouraged to imitate such an example.

Proverbs 9:9 says: "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning." May we all seek the face of God to be such people and may we gain encouragement from our Chinese brothers and sisters.

"Lessons from the Chinese Church: Listen and Become Wise" by Mark Totman was first published on May 1, 2014.

Image credit: Levitation by Gauthier DELECROIX - 郭天 via Flickr.

Mark Totman

Mark Totman is an expat with over a decade of experience living in China. He enjoys writing on a wide range of China-related subjects including language, culture and history, particularly as these subjects facilitate greater understanding of the Chinese context and encourage beneficial lives of cross-cultural service. View Full Bio


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