Part one of this two-part blog on the impact of recent social disturbances in Hong Kong on the mission of the church was published on March 16 and can be read here.
Risk of Mission is a Concern
The gloomy outlook of possible future constraint in sending cross-cultural workers abroad is a valid concern if we recall the unfortunate event of a Chinese mission group preaching the gospel in Pakistan in 2017. Among them, two workers, Li Xiheng and Meng Lisi were kidnapped by ISIS. The China government was surprised at their proselytizing activity in conflict with the Muslim culture. Regrettably, the two were executed while the remaining eleven teammates were brought under the protection of the consulate. The China government was unhappy. The country had invested heavily in Pakistan and sent many professionals and workers to explore opportunities in the Belt and Road Initiative. On discovering the missional activity, Pakistan immigration restrained visa and working permit approvals for all Chinese. The mission operation laid a serious obstacle between the two countries for future cooperation. China got so angry with such mission activity that some training centers in the mainland were later cracked down upon.
From this case, we can see that at the diplomatic front, the central government has to deal with potential trouble that may be caused by cross-cultural workers sent from any part of its territories, including the mainland, Hong Kong, and Macau. Hundreds of cross-cultural workers have been sent abroad from Hong Kong. Their unassessed risk exposure is considered a burden in the sight of the central government who then may seek to inhibit the going out of workers from Hong Kong sending agencies.
Furthermore, I have noticed that churches in Hong Kong have refrained from holding short-term mission trips to China. Mission in Hong Kong seems to be heading into the sunset.
Some Proposed Changes
Yet, we should rest assured that God’s invitation for his children to take part in his mission plan has not changed. But in participating in God’s mission, the way of implementation should vary with the dynamics of world development which is also under God’s sovereignty. In view of the world trend of increasing religious restriction, we should adjust our approach to spreading the gospel. I would suggest the following alternatives as a way to stimulate thinking about better alignment with God’s plan for unreached peoples in the current environment.
1. Building Common Ground through a Holistic Approach
The tragedy of the Chinese workers in Pakistan presents a lesson for us to learn. Proselytization through preaching in the street was irritating to the local community where hostility towards evangelism had been aggravated for ages. Simply sharing the gospel could have exacerbated their antagonism.
In view of the need for resolving such contradictions, Gao Yazhen, a missiologist with rich experience in China, has proposed a new paradigm in missiology and practice. God would like us to share his holistic blessing, not just spiritual deliverance. No doubt, evangelism through proclamation is one of the elements of God’s intention. However, in the whole Bible, Christ’s salvation encompasses the restoration of the wellbeing of our body, mind, spirit, family, interpersonal relationships, community, and development. Gao has, therefore, put forward a systematic framework of “blessing actions” to witness our faith. In Christ’s love, we build close relationships with the governing bodies, communities, and institutions in the public domain before sharing the good news with prospective individuals in trust and in private.
I have shared my experience in implementing this paradigm in in this blog. Without digressing into the details at this moment, I would like to point out that mission agencies have to avoid overemphasizing preaching as the sole thrust of their ministry. Rather, servanthood with holistic blessing, to the rich and the poor, is a more appropriate approach for reducing the risk of mission attrition. It is also more adaptive in winning the support of the governing bodies.
2. A Thorough Paradigm Shift through Blessing Motif
From the China government’s perspective, “mission” carries the connotation of infiltration and invasion attributable to the history of colonialism and imperialism from the West. When an organization adopts holistic wellbeing as the underlying motif in its ministry, there will be ample room for exercising creative “blessing activities” to reach out to the community through poverty relief, community service, health care, childcare, homes for the elderly, social enterprise, business, and so on.
“Mission” does not come from the vocabulary in the Bible text. It is rooted in the Latin term “missiones”. We have no obligation to stick to this terminology. The personal designation of a “missionary” would be replaced by the profession through which he brings God’s blessing across, such as a teacher, a carer or a life coach. The entity should not be identified as a “mission agency” but a charity, an NGO or simply a company.
3. Full Support for the Sent and the Repatriated
Forced repatriation of workers is sad but not disappointing. When God closes a door, he has another plan for them. Rather, the whole church should be encouraged to reestablish the wellness of the returnees. Their knowledge, experience, and lessons learned are all precious treasures for the kingdom.
4. Enhancing Capabilities through Complementary Collaboration
On meeting with various pastors coming from different parts of China, I have found that their churches have developed a passion for sending their disciples abroad in response to God’s call for blessing all nations. I believe the aspiration for the endeavor of blessing others is attributed to the government’s persecution. Suffering for Christ often engenders church growth and mission. The Holy Spirit strengthens church members in the endurance. Eventually, a breakthrough in their faith commitment is developed.
In spite of a big heart to serve the unreached, most churches in China do not have sufficient experience and knowledge in commissioning. The congregation is not aware of their important role as supporters in the mission charter. The formation of mission agencies is rare in China. But here in Hong Kong, the resources for sending can help make up for the shortages in the churches in China. We also have repatriated workers to match the need. They have a wealth of cross-cultural exposure and practical theology for mentoring the novices in China in order to bring them up to their full capacity to serve.
A Bright Hope Ahead if We Work Together
In Hong Kong, the churches have sent about 600 cross-cultural workers out of a total of 0.48 million Protestant Christians. Yang Fenggang has estimated the number of Protestants in China to be 116 million in 2020. If we take the same ratio of sending in Hong Kong, churches in China have the potential to send over a hundred thousand workers abroad. This will be a new workforce for kingdom extension if we can integrate the complementary resources between Hong Kong and China. Pray that the Lord will guide us to work together in his will so that our picture of sunset will turn into sunrise.
Image credit: Joel Fulgencio on Unsplash.
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