Dear Praying Friends:
East and West
Long ago, Lin Yutang, in My Country and My People, wrote that China is a more “feminine” culture compared to the “masculine” cultures of the West. We may take the Chinese emphasis upon personal relationships as an example of this difference. As we all know, Westerners are relatively more goal oriented, eager to get down to business and conclude deals right away, without much personal interaction, whereas Chinese prefer to get to know each other, establish trust, and then “do business” based on a solid relationship. You might state the contrast this way: rapid, mechanical (even impersonal), short-term, “measurable results” versus slower, warmer, personal, longer-range and lasting fruit.
Two approaches to Christian ministry
The first approach seems, at least at first, more efficient and, applied to Christian ministry, does yield the all-important numbers for supporters back home! That these numbers may not reflect solid conversions and real growth in holiness does not seem to matter; what counts is that they evoke donations now. Do I need to cite biblical passages to demonstrate which of these two reflects God’s usual way of doing things? Or do words like “growth,” “fruit,” “roots,” “foundation,” “perseverance,” and the like convey the message clearly enough? There is a wry saying among veteran China ministry workers: There are three things that come quickly with today’s Chinese, and one that comes slowly. The quick ones are: You can get quickly get Chinese to come to church; admit that Christianity is an excellent religion; and even accept baptism. But true repentance and regeneration come more slowly. The same goes for building solid church leadership and healthy congregations. People don’t become mature believers or capable pastors and teachers overnight. The process takes time, usually years, and requires solid relationships built upon mutual trust.
Enter the foreigner
Now enters the foreigner who wants to make a contribution to the spread of the Gospel among the Chinese around the world. Several thousand are serving in China today in various capacities, and all want to help. Many of them use “one size fits all” methods of sharing what they think is the Gospel, and are happy to report many “decisions for Christ” in a short period of time. How many of them, however, take the time and effort to learn the language and customs of their hosts? Are they aware that they are being watched and that their lives speak more loudly (even) than their lips? More importantly, are they willing to spend years building friendships that will provide soil for mutual understanding, sincere respect, and genuine cooperation in the Lord’s work? Of course, we don’t need to start from nothing, if we are connected in some way with those who have established those essential relationships. We can build on the foundation which others have laid, as long as we do not violate the trust and lose the respect they have won for us. Younger workers can inherit a great deal from those who have gone before, saving them much time, while they invest their efforts in earning the confidence of their Chinese friends by consistent Christ-like conduct.
Dori and I benefited greatly from our membership in OMF for fourteen years (1975-1989), and still do from our continuing friendship with that well-respected organization. We are conscious of the legacy we have received, and aware that we have not measured up to the standards set by our predecessors. Their stellar examples are our cherished goal and model. By God’s grace, since arriving in Taiwan in 1976, we have also been blessed with the friendship of outstanding Chinese Christians and foreign workers. These relationships now serve as the vital context for our own ministry as well as a source of constant joy. Over the past twenty years, we have also developed links with people from mainland China and many foreigners who work with them. Our own work would be impossible without these more recent relationships, which we greatly value. Virtually all that we have been able to do in recent years has grown from these connections (the Chinese word is guanxi, which is often mistranslated and misunderstand by Westerners, who sometimes see it only in pragmatic and instrumental terms). Invitations to preach and teach; publication of books; counseling, advising, mentoring; even effective personal evangelism, usually flow from long-term relationships.
We are most grateful for the vital role that you play in our ministry. Without your faithful prayers, we would accomplish nothing of value. Would you pray that we and all others who seek to serve God among the Chinese would take the time and expend the effort to nurture really loving, faithful, and mutually-beneficial relationships? Yours in the love of our faithful God, Wright