One of the growing challenges for the contemporary church in China is the swelling tide of secularism. Several Chinese Christians shared this concern with us in conversations at the Reformation 500 and the Gospel conference in Hong Kong last month. China’s increasing affluence provides society with opportunities, but also ever-morphing ideals. New and shifting norms for marriage, worklife and careers, parenting, and education confront Christians in subtle ways that more visible challenges (e.g. arrests, lack of resources, funding, etc.) have not.
In this blog post, originally posted by Oak Tree Publishing, Wei Chen shares the personal sacrifices she and her family have made in the face of secular values. She describes the troubling expectations of society on her and her family, and how her Christian faith pushed her to say “No!” to following along with the secular norms.
Say "No!" to the Secular Age
Oak Tree Publishing Editor’s Note: We live in a secular age surrounded by all sorts of values. Often times we unconsciously go along with those values. Sister Wei Chen's article is a loud wake-up call. She boldly and categorically calls on us to face all kinds of secular customs that do not conform to God's will and say, "No." She not only sounds a call, but also persists in practicing what she preaches. We all need to have courage and trust in faith, to truly live it out in real life.
This past March was a month of agitation for me, a month in which I had a profound experience of the secular age.
Say "No" to the Work that Everyone Else Thinks is Wonderful
On March 2, I made a decision that almost everyone could not understand: I wanted to resign from my stable career as a teacher. This was an idea long in the making. But, I feared that I would change my mind again, so I forced myself to give my resignation on March 3. The next day I went directly to the principle and handed in my resignation. No one understood because the job of a kindergarten teacher is so enviable. The pay and compensation are good, there is a lot of time off, and you can take care of your own children. It's impossible to understand from their point of view.
But, they don't know how I see the job. Kindergarten should be a paradise of childhood development. But, for various purposes a class quota of 25 students was expanded to 54. Teachers simply have no way to teach at a normal pace. In fact, you also don't need to take teaching seriously because the leadership has said so. Kindergarten has no tests or evaluations. As long as the safety of the children is protected everything else is fine. As a university graduate I could not bear to be reduced to a machine with no educational significance who only watches children. I was reduced to a professional staff who is not allowed to think for herself but only permitted to complete assignments given by the leadership.
I love my career and I respect my career. But, because I was in the system I had to comply with the rules of the game within the system, otherwise I would be regarded as abnormal. But, I value even more my conscience and principles of truth. I say "No" to what others see as wonderful things.
Everyone else only saw the advantages of being a teacher. But, as teachers have we to consider what education is. When you clearly understand the nature of education, and when you are clear that you are not doing the job of a teacher, that is to impart wisdom and knowledge and answer questions, will you still continue down this road of no return? Yes, many people will. The biggest critics of the education system are the teachers, but everyone is still working in the system. Isn't that a delicious irony, how normal this has become in our culture?
I wanted to resign to just say "No" to this system.
Say "No" to What Everyone Sees as Normal for Marriage
After more than five years of marriage, except for vacations, my husband and I were a "weekend couple." From Monday to Friday our child was with me at school. I became a de facto single mom. As husband and wife we lived separate and I was fed up with it. But, everyone around us was doing the same, so why should we be "unconventional?" When you look at work colleagues, 90% of them are in the same position. Other people are doing just fine, so why aren't we?
I am a Christian! Even though there are some brothers and sisters in the church and even some ministry coworkers who live apart from their spouses, I want to model the truth and not them.
Everyone thinks it's very normal in marriage for a husband and wife to live apart. I don't want to accept that at all. The most important point is that my husband and I practically have no emotional feeling towards each other. There isn't that much time together on the weekends, of course. We each hope that "I can relax a bit and that the other person can do some chores.” So, there is always conflict. Also, even though there are many holidays, as soon as school starts up and we go back into work mode it feels like our lives have been severed. We used to be one body and one heart. But, now that we live apart we are one body and two hearts.
The concept of marriage has been blurred. Married life has been disrupted by this era. The one who created marriage told us, "A man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." I want to hold onto this ancient truth. And, to say to this modern style of living married life apart, "No!"
Say “No” to How Everyone Puts Family Expectations over Faith
When my colleagues learned that I wanted to resign, they pressed me asking, "Do your parents know?" It's not easy to sponsor a college student. The job market is very grim right now. The greatest form of repayment to one's elders is to find a stable job. So the question is: If you do this, what will your parents think? After my mom heard that I wanted to resign, she called, sent text messages, sent social media messages, tearfully urging me not to resign. Later, my mom called practically all my relatives asking them to persuade me not to resign.
My mother means well for me. And my relatives said some things that troubled me, but not things I had not already considered. But, they aren't me. My life is my responsibility. Having a stable job is good, but I absolutely don't like this way of life. I am very grateful for the gracious upbringing of my parents. I also understand that my parents often feel very proud because of my job. But, I don't want to carry around this false reputation all my life. I want my own life.
In traditional Chinese culture, parents and children often share in each other's glory and shoulder each other's losses. If you are seen by others as unfilial it will provoke your parents' worry. And don't forget, as the old saying goes, "Not listening to your elders is unfaithful, the times ahead will be painful." [bu ting laoren yan, chikui zai yanqian] Mom and Dad, I'm sorry. I was an obedient daughter for more than 30 years. But, this one time I'm making a decision based on my faith. I'll take the losses. I'll stick with this choice.
Say "No" to What Everyone Sees as Normal for Education
The three "No's" above are not the biggest challenge. For me, the biggest challenge was homeschooling my child after I resigned and not sending him to kindergarten. The past month, whenever I take my child out to play, people will always look at me and ask, "Aren't you going to work?" Why isn't your child in school?" Sometimes I'll give an ambiguous answer, and sometimes I'll say, "I don't send my child to kindergarten. I keep him at home with me." People always find this unimaginable. Sometimes when my child feels lonely my heart will waver. Am I depriving my child of the opportunity to play with his companions? Is teaching my child at home actually doing more harm than good for his development? And then I think about the string of economic issues—I feel a lot of pressure.
In fact, the intent to resign originated in the push to promote Christian education in the church. For three or four years, I have constantly talked about such a ministry with church workers and they are very supportive. But, when I actually resigned no one was willing to go with me. I remember when on March 5 I shared about it with my church colleagues and almost broke down in tears. It really felt like I was completely on my own. Later I prayed to God, "Lord, I completely entrust the work of Christian education into your hands. I ask you Father to end my tears, and as your child, to let me happily engage in this ministry." I'm very grateful because I do not grumble as much against the church. I trust in God's own timing and plan.
I thank God that, even though I'm often far from him, yet he loves me with his eternal love. "Look at the birds of the air . . . Your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" I'm not discouraged and I'm not at all scared. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord God who created heaven and earth. Every time I think about the number of future problems, there is always a tiny voice in my heart that tells me, "Child, grace is enough!"
Everyone knows the evils of the exam-based education [system]. But, there is no comprehensive Christian education system in our country. Is it worth it for someone like me to take a risk to do this kind of ministry? It's absolutely worth it! I would rather be an experimental product of Christian education than an expendable product of the exam-based education system. I wish there will be more Christian parents in this era who will reexamine what kind of education we should provide for our children. I hope Christian education will bloom all over the land of China. I hope more Christian parents will speak out loudly against the exam-based education system that is poisoning our children and say, "No!"
In this secular age, our Christian values are challenged. The assimilation of the Christian way of life means the strength Christians ought to have is destroyed. We cannot change this world, but we cannot be changed by this world.
Lord, give us strength. Let us have the courage to response to the challenges of this age so that we can bravely say to this secular age, "No!"
Original article: 对世俗时代说“不！” (Oak Tree Publishing)
Translated, edited, and adapted with permission.
Image credit: Nanjing Road West by Dave Nicholls, via Flickr.
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