Chinese Church VoicesIndigenous Missions

China’s Churches Reaching China’s Ethnic Minorities

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How involved is the church in China in cross-cultural missions? Do Chinese churches send missionaries abroad? In this article from Mission China Today, Ming Xian, a missions worker who has been involved long term in motivating, training, sending, and serving ethnic minorities in China shares about the current missions efforts among Chinese churches. This is part one of a two-part article.

Contemporary Missions to Ethnic Minorities in China

In recent years, when I encounter staff from various mission organizations abroad, I am often asked, “What is the Chinese church’s cross-cultural missions effort like?” This is a difficult question to answer. My answer is: in the '80s and '90s, the Chinese church’s mission was primarily focused on carrying out local gospel ministry within the same culture, or mission work in neighboring towns, cities, and regions; upon entering the 21st century, similar- or cross-cultural missions in regions of ethnic minorities became the new focus and emphasis for investment.

A Brief History of Ethnic Minority Missions

In 1980s, the Miao people in Yunnan’s Yuzhong region, the Lisu people in the Nujiang River Basin, and others began gathering again. In the mid-'80s, short-term Bible trainings began, primarily with Lisu people, in Liuku and Fugong of the Nujiang region, and Chengjiang and Suichuan of Dehong region. In the late '80s, Yunnan Theological Seminary was established, and began recruiting minority students from all over the province. But minority churches in Xinjiang, Tibet, Guizhou-Guangxi, and Gansu-Qinghai provinces and regions had not yet been established.

In the early 1990s, as the nations’ economic reforms continued to deepen, the Han church’s planting and theological training ministries were in full swing. As the market economy continued to develop, many Christians from the Zhejiang region—especially from Wenzhou—began entering the western minority regions for business. They could be seen in areas such as Yunnan, Gansu, Tibet, Xinjiang. Because of business relations, they came into more and more contact with ethnic minority groups, and so they took the initiative to begin serving ethnic groups.

Since the early '90s, I have worked with other ministry staff to write and edit prayer booklets for ethnic minorities, thus serving ethnic minorities through prayer ministry. In the mid-'90s, we began entering ethnic minority regions to evangelize and serve. But it was very difficult finding co-workers to work together with to serve ethnic minorities. The focus of the Chinese church during this time was on local gospel work, and mission work had not been officially promoted. But Western missionaries were able to enter Xinjiang Uighur regions by starting farms; they were also entering ethnic minority regions such as Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai, Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan, and even Tibet and Xinjiang as overseas students, through teaching English, and by doing pre-evangelistic work through foreign charities. Today, the “first fruits” they bore among ethnic minorities have become blessings and gifts to their own people, and have been greatly used by God.

In the late '90s, Bible schools targeting ethnic minorities were set up one after another in Dali and Baoshan of Yunnan. Small scale discipleship training among ethnic minorities in Tibet, Qinghai, and Xinjiang had also begun. In 1997, I began to be fully involved in ethnic minority missions work, mainly serving in the areas of Hunan, Inner Mongolia, Yunnan, Xinjiang, Tibet, etc. Later on, the work expanded to provinces such as Gansu, Qinghai, Guangxi, Guizhou, and Sichuan. I was mainly involved in ministries such as surveying and networking, evangelizing, discipleship training, theological training, and assisting ethnic minorities with the establishment of local sending organizations.

Entering the 21st century, as the song “Missionary China” [宣教的中国] spread among Chinese churches, the vision of a “missionary China” took shape , and rooted itself deep in the vast, daily maturing Chinese church. Especially as we entered 2005, I observed God’s hidden “seven thousand” sprout up like bamboo shoots after spring rains.

Churches in most towns and cities in eastern China, such as Henan, Anhui, Shandong, Shanxi, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Beijing, Shanghai, and the three northeastern provinces, had a common affirmation of missions among ethnic minorities of China, and began to be officially involved in sending missionaries. Moreover, many groups focusing on ethnic minorities began to appear. Under the continual encouragement of the “Bringing the Gospel Back to Jerusalem” movement, Han churches in eastern Xinjiang even began sending workers into Uighur regions in southern Xinjiang for mission work.

Since 2007, Bible and theological training for ethnic minorities developed quickly, and missionary classes were being started in Beijing, Hunan, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Qinghai, Guangdong, Yunnan, and other provinces. Formal missionary schools were also being established. These schools laid a foundation for the Chinese church’s formal missions educational system, and provided it with referential models of strategically training missionaries. 

 Models of Cross-cultural Ethnic Minority Missions

Sending missionaries has been the focus of the Chinese church’s cross-cultural ethnic minority missions. Though the models may differ, when sending missionaries, “sending in faith” should from start to finish be characteristic of the Chinese church.

1. The Focus on Sending Missionaries

Being able to send missionaries into the mission field is the hallmark of maturity of a church or a missionary organization. That workers are willing to become involved in and committed to long term missions, to being trained, being sent, and ultimately walking into the harvest field of missions, should be the focus of missions involvement.

From what we currently know, the mission teams and sending organizations of Chinese churches in various regions are mainly sending missionaries to regions of southwestern ethnic minorities, western Qinghai-Tibetan regions, and Muslim regions along the Silk Road.

 2. The Models for Sending Missionaries

The contemporary Chinese church mainly sends missionaries through the following models:

  • a church sending directly,
  • a couple of churches sending jointly,
  • churches sending through a sending organization,
  • multiple sending organizations sending jointly, as well as strategically and financially supporting workers sent by local ethnic minorities.

Each model for sending missionaries has its own pros and cons. Currently, in terms of Chinese churches sending missionaries for cross-cultural ethnic minority missions within the country, it is mostly churches, local sending organizations, or teams being sent independently. Each works on their own, and things are very difficult. There are not many cases of partnership or joint sending. Therefore, we need to learn humbly, work together, pooling our resources and complementing one another’s strengths and weaknesses.

I think that in terms of cross-cultural, long- or short-distance ethnic minority missions, feasible strategies include: churches sending jointly, financially or strategically supporting ethnic missionaries, or churches sending through sending organizations.

For Chinese churches sending missionaries, it is necessary for the four parts—church, sending organization, theological seminary, and missionary, and even the fifth part of churches on the field—to work together, each doing its own part, and forming a systematic partnership, to accomplish God’s great work of missions. They must also be adaptable depending on the location, the times, the people, and the culture, as well as follow the Spirit’s leading with sensitivity, and be flexible, so that missionary sending models can truly be practical, reasonable, and effective.

 3. The Characteristics of Sending in Faith

Sending in faith is not foreign to the Chinese church, but our understanding of it has been relatively narrow. The model of faith missions has long been in existence, and should be the sending model, pleasing to God, that the global church and the Chinese church hold firm to and apply in the past, the present, as well as the future.

For example, in the history of Chinese church missions, the Northwestern Spiritual Team Local Faith Missions [西北灵工团本土信心差会], established by Pastor Zhang Guquan, Pastor Zhao Shiguang, Pastor Ji Zhiwen, Doctor Song Shangjie, and countless other missionary forerunners, all ran this missionary path by faith. They are examples and models of faith missions.

A model of faith missions should have the following three characteristics:

First is financial. Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission insisted on not owing, not borrowing, and not fund-raising. Their life of faith—completely depending on God’s provision—has always been insisted on by the Chinese church’s involvement in missions. We must always believe that God’s work will be done according to God’s will. He will see to it that the great mission be established by his own hand.

Second is in terms of advancing ministry. Many people in Chinese churches narrowly interpret faith missions to mean praying for missionaries after buying them a “one-way ticket,” and entrusting them to the Lord. In reality, advancing mission work, such as holding evangelistic meetings on the frontiers, leading people to Christ, establishing churches, discipleship training, and etc., all require faith, and are advanced by dependence on God.

Third is in terms of missions strategies. There are various missions strategies, but any strategy must fit the local conditions. Faith missions is a type of mission strategy, but it is also the summation and foundation of all other strategies. Faith is necessary to planning and formulating any strategy. And the source of faith must be the God of missions, founded on the Bible.

In short, the model of faith missions includes factors such as finances, ministry work, and strategies. Chinese churches must appreciate, learn, and apply the model of faith missions in all aspects.

 This article will be continued next week.

Original Article: 当代中国少数民族宣教by 今日宣教, Mission China Today.

Image credit: Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

ChinaSource Team

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