On November 26, the mainland site Christian Times published a long interview with a house church pastor in Shenzhen who has been leading short-term mission trips to Burma and other neighboring countries for several years. The title of the piece is “Shenzhen Pastor Talks about the Joy and Pain of Cross-Cultural Missions, Calling on the Church to Have the Courage to Pay the Price."
In the interview, Pastor Jimmy shares about his passion for missions, the experiences and lessons he’s learned by taking short-term mission trips, the significance of missions, and his hopes for the Chinese church in the area of missions. We have translated the article in full, but will publish it in two parts due to the length.
Shenzhen Pastor Talks about the Joy and Pain of Cross-Cultural Missions, Calling on the Church to Have the Courage to Pay the Price
He was a believer for 19 years and had reluctantly left his hometown. After turning to God, he went from pursuing the fame and fortune of this world to living a simple life, indifferent to earthly rewards. After careful consideration, Pastor Jimmy eventually settled in Shenzhen to concentrate on church-planting and pastoring.
Perhaps many pastors who plant urban churches have had a similar experience. After the church has been planted and is starting to grow, they then feel content with the comfortable environment and do not wish to venture out of it to spread the gospel. Many pastors particularly shrink back at the thought of cross-cultural ministry because the price to pay is too difficult to imagine. But Jesus’ command in the Great Commission is to “Go.”
”Go!” This is the command that the Lord gave his disciples. However, many pastors today are not willing to go. Why not? Many are simply unwilling to pay the price. If a pastor is unwilling to pay the price, then that church is only able to look after its own needs. What will the result be of "going" or "not going?"
Through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Jimmy has been led to go on several short-term cross-cultural missions trips. Here he shares with the Christian Times about the joy and pain of this ministry. He talks openly about the challenges, and about witnessing the miraculous grace of God. He states that, "Evangelism is truly marvelous. Through evangelism I have enhanced my spiritual life and strengthened my faith in God."
The Passion and Burden of God's Mission
For decades the Chinese church has sung the hymn, "China's Missions" ("宣教的中国"); however as of yet it has still not become a great missionary influence in the world. Of course there are many reasons for this, but one of the major reasons is that the Chinese church is fragmented; each one goes its own separate way. It is very difficult to form a unified missions force.
But God never stops working. He continues to stir in the hearts of some Chinese pastors a burden for missions. Pastor Jimmy is one of them, and at the urging and guidance of the Holy Spirit, he and several church co-workers have begun short-term mission trips.
Starting Short-Term Mission Trips
Pastor Jimmy shared with the Christian Times that the process of short-term missions is actually the process of discipleship. Last year they began their work in Guiyang and in the areas of Laiza, Kachin, and Wa ,states in Myanmar. Whereas the Kachin people believe in Jesus and each refugee camp has a church, in Wa there are many Muslims, Buddhists, and those who believe in folk superstitions. Wa is a rather spiritually dark and chaotic place.
Not until you enter the refugee camps in Kachin State do you realize that there are so many Christians living in difficult circumstances. They have been living in a state of conflict for years on end, and have been persecuted and marginalized. For decades, they cried until their tears ran dry. During times of war, they often prayed through the night, asking God to save them from war and misery. However, the suffering did not end. They felt that God had forgotten them. But when they see the Chinese Christians who come to help and comfort them they know that God has heard their prayers and not abandoned them. Even in suffering, they are comforted and filled with thanksgiving. They regain the confidence and strength to keep living, which is a true testimony to the truth that "suffering produces perseverance."
Pastor Jimmy becomes very serious when he talks about the living conditions in the refugee camps of Laiza. Because there is almost no protection for the refugees, the injured and sick have no way to be treated. The short-term mission teams help them by bringing medical teams and also by sending rice and medicine. In addition, Pastor Jimmy's team brought more than 50 orphans living in the camps to orphanages in Laiza and found Chinese sponsors to support their educational and living expenses. When they go to serve bearing the love of God, "God's grace is always sufficient," Pastor Jimmy confessed with thanksgiving.
God's Blessings and Miraculous Wonders Accompany the Short-term Missions
Pastor Jimmy shared about his own journey to missions.
My personal road to missions began when God called us to Burma to minister to the Christian refugees and orphans. I changed from being concerned with my surroundings, my wallet, my own personal flaws, to just focusing on the power of God. My personal spiritual life experienced a breakthrough and I saw that God is an abundant God. Just follow after the affairs of God's heart and he will be take care of everything, including financial provisions.
Through the experience of several short-term mission trips, Pastor Jimmy has experienced the truth of God. Believers have experienced many miracles every time they have gone out. They have prayed for healing of the sick (even for sick pigs) and God has answered their prayers. This has been a great witness to the glory of God. Many people have believed and turned to the Lord. With the vivid scenes still fresh in his mind, Pastor Jimmy recounted with full gratitude and joy a number of these acts of God.
At the same time, Pastor Jimmy admits there are difficulties.
I used to think that the number of people in my own church was very small. The brothers and sisters don’t earn very much and there is not much tithing. Sometimes we cannot even make ends meet. We are not like those big churches that have many members and are financially strong. I feel there is also a great amount of pressure on families. I thought that going out on mission trips was impossible since we had so many problems within our own church to deal with.
Last year, however, God broke through his self-handicapping. Pastor Jimmy used this metaphor to describe what happened: “It's like God popped the top off my bottle, allowing me to see the riches that God can supply rather than looking at my own deficiencies and inadequacies.”
The path from last year to this year's mission trip was a very profound spiritual experience for him, deepening his own understanding of God. It greatly strengthened his faith; and not only his own faith, but the faith of the brothers and sisters who went with him. They all experienced great renewal and growth. In all, he has taken four teams on short-term mission trips. The number of people and their backgrounds vary each time, but together they have all experienced God’s provision and seen him perform miracles in a foreign land. Brother Xiao Bin, a full-time preacher in Pastor Jimmy's church, testified to his own experience and growth during the short-term mission trip.
A person involved in short-term missions expands his/her field of vision and learns a lot. Of course, it goes without saying that there are all kinds of challenges. These include the wear and tear of travel, the harsh environment, flights, and terrifying kayaking. The living conditions are harsh, and there are many snakes. But, when you see those simple, eager inhabitants you just want to love and care for them, and especially want to give them the gospel. Then you feel very comforted. Those who have not heard the gospel are willing to listen; even Buddhists are very open and friendly. As long as you are willing to share the gospel, they are willing to listen. Once we actually led more than 20 people to make a decision for the Lord and introduced them to a local church to be a part of.
Personally, I have experienced a lot of grace and growth. My own life has been transformed with respect to the gospel, my personal faith, and the courage to improve. When you go on short-term missions you feel there is nothing to fear and that with courage you can go do it.
Short-term mission trips allow people to express and practice more of their spiritual gifts; the Holy Spirit's work is very strong. It transforms how one prays, shares the gospel, minsters, teaches, and leads worship. It is a way to deepen your experience of God’s presence. If a Christian is not willing to go out, he will limit the growth he can experience in life.
When doing short-term missions, it is very important to connect with the local church and to build relationships in order to make preparations for long-term missions. Although doing short-term missions has its challenges, there is a lot of grace and many breakthroughs. Overall, I have been blessed and helped by short-term mission trips.
The Significance of Cross-Cultural Missions
With regard to an understanding and awareness of cross-cultural missions, Pastor Jimmy shared his thoughts.
Looking at the situation of Chinese missions, our church is not moving too fast. Twenty years ago, a lot of Henan churches sent missionaries. But, doing cross-cultural missions is relatively difficult. There are many unfamiliar aspects, such as different languages and customs. Going from one culture to another and learning a new language is a huge challenge.
Our church is like a microcosm of the church in China: we have moved from not knowing what missions is to slowly understanding what missions is; from only being concerned about our own needs to slowly caring for the needs of distant souls; from paying attention to the needs of our church families to learning how to pay attention to the needs of other spiritual family members; from caring for the needs of our own culture to paying attention to the needs of another culture.
Pastor Jimmy explained, "Just as the apostles took the gospel from Jerusalem to the Gentiles, breaking the geographic, cultural, and ethnic barriers, so will the gospel be brought to the nations. The command that Jesus gave in the Great Commission was to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.'" Pastor Jimmy points out that “go” is a verb and that there is a price to be paid in “going.” Each person must take up his own cross. Pastor Jimmy recalled an experience when he went to serve in Myanmar.
We were driving in the mountains in Myanmar on our way to minister to refugees in Laiza when we neared a very sharp bend in the road. Our car swung back and forth around the bend, with very steep cliffs on our left and right. As we neared our destination, my stomach was churning badly. After I got out of the car I didn't want to talk. After you go to such a dangerous and remote place, you don’t want to go back a second time. But the Holy Spirit continues to stir my heart, to call me, so I am wiling to obey. I continue to go and have now gone four times.
Every time God has given me new lessons and challenges, from frightening flights and even terrifying travel by kayak. Under normal circumstances, a kayak can only seat one person, but we put three people in one. One time, we wanted to cross to the other side of a river in the mountains, but there were flash floods. The river was wide and flowing very swiftly. For someone like me who cannot swim, it was really frightening and dangerous. I felt like an ant that was about to be swallowed up by the powerful current.
Pastor Jimmy trembled with fear as he recalled this experience.
Although it is thrilling and challenging, Pastor Jimmy emphasized, “doing missions is being obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus. We are not only to care for the needs of our families and churches and cities. When we feel insufficient to even handle those, God shows us the spiritual needs of distant cities.”
God's will and calling are without regret. Although there are many urban churches in Shenzhen, God chose to give this church a burden for missions. This church believes that God has a beautiful plan.
Pastor Jimmy shared with thanksgiving that, “God did a lot of wonderful work through each of our short-term missions trips. He knows full-well that we do not deserve it and that we cannot do it, yet God has been very gracious to us so that we can experience his truth.”
Through multiple cross-cultural mission trip experiences, Pastor Jimmy came to the conclusion that “missions is very exciting, even though the costs can be high. A change in diet can cause health problems and the local environment and conditions can change suddenly. But, missions is very rewarding and it is a price worth paying for every church and every Christian.”
Although God gave Pastor Jimmy the burden and passion for missions, not all pastors and preachers share his burden. Some preachers remark, “Shenzhen has more than 10 million people who have not yet been saved, how can I go so far away?” There are also preachers who say, “That place is too far, too dangerous, and too remote.”
Pastor Jimmy has a simple response: “If we do not go, who will go? God said, ‘Whom shall I send?’ We should all be like the prophet Isaiah who replied, ‘Lord, here I am, send me.’ When God said, ‘Whom shall I send?’ Isaiah replied, ‘Lord, here I am, send me.’ We should all respond like that.”
Original Article: 【专访】深圳牧者谈跨文化宣教苦与乐 呼吁“教会敢于付代价” (Christian Times) Translated and posted with permission.
Image credit: Burmese paddy field (Myanmar) by Josep Castell, on Flickr
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