In our brief survey of ways to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to China’s millions, we have seen how prayer; the Internet and radio; literature; witness by overseas Chinese, especially from Taiwan; befriending Chinese living overseas; and non-threatening activity by foreigners living in China can be used by God.Now let us consider the value of short-term visits to Greater China (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong).
Despite their immense popularity over the past two decades, short-term trips to China have been sharply criticized as both ineffective and too expensive. By “short-term” I mean anything less than two years. I realize most people would consider a year or more as “long-term” service, but this is not the case, for you can’t learn the language, acquire cultural sensitivity, and build deep relationships in that little time. Because of those limitations, “short-term” ministry in China faces tremendous challenges. How can you understand the real needs of someone if you don’t know their language? Without a profound knowledge of culture – customs, values, thought patterns, world view – how can you share the Gospel in a way that penetrates the mind and the heart and leads to lasting transformation? In China, as in many similar “high-context” societies, relationships are crucial. With five decades of mutual mistrust and suspicion behind them, Chinese will not quickly entrust themselves to a stranger. (There are exceptions, of course.) Furthermore, in order to help a person apprehend God’s truth and apply it to the burning issues of life, you usually need to earn the right to be heard over many years of faithful friendship and loving listening. That’s all the more case in China. Alas, most people who go to China for a week or two, and even those who serve longer, just don’t have the opportunity to hear before they speak. As a consequence, many so-called “conversions” turn out to be shallow, or even insincere. Chinese tend to be courteous folk, who will tell you what you want to hear in order to give you face. Add the current widespread eagerness for something to fill the aching voids of life in China, and you have fertile soil for quick “decisions for Christ” that look good in letters back home but don’t necessarily reflect a work of the Holy Spirit. Then there’s the expense. Travel, lodging, tuition for language study which is meant only as a “cover”– all these cost a great deal. You could support a long-term worker with facility in Chinese for a year on the amount spent on one two-week trip by a few people.
On the other hand, short-term visits, even only for a few days, have been used by God to make a lasting influence upon people in China and Taiwan. Under the right conditions, even those without the language can contribute to the growth of the church among the Chinese in Asia. Some suggestions: Meet a real need: There are many requests for medical work, practical assistance in orphanages, and teaching, including English, business, and other subjects. Serving in these ways demonstrates God’s love and opens doors for lasting friendships. Work with a team: As the Chinese see us relating to each other in a Christian way, they get a taste of social relationships based on love. (John 13:34-35) Serve the local believers: Go with an organization that has close ties to Chinese Christians. In this way, you can help to strengthen existing relationships and be assured that you are playing a truly supportive role. Serve with experienced groups: Some organizations have been in China and Taiwan for many years, and know how to make the most of short-termers. Aim low: In other words, have realistic expectations. Do not expect to convert anyone in a few days or a few weeks. Even though that occasionally happens, it’s usually the result of years of seed-sowing by someone else. Do expect to listen, to learn, to pray, to evince the character of Christ. Seek to understand and to help others back home know more about Chinese culture and current conditions. Use literature: OMF International and Ambassadors for Christ have marvelous materials in Chinese that you can share discreetly with interested people. Prepare well: Learn as much as you can before you go. See our Web site for resources that will enhance your knowledge, as well as information about organizations. Follow up: With prayer, communication, and sharing the vision with others back home. Support others: Prayer and gifts can enable others to participate in vision trips, even if you can’t go.
Please Pray for Us
Dori will help with a group of Chinese teaching music at an orphanage for children of HIV/AIDS sufferers in China, and then join me for ten days in Taiwan. She leaves July 12 and returns August 11. On July 13, I depart for Macau, where I shall attend the Chinese Congress on World Evangelization, which meets every five years. After that, I’ll go to Taiwan to teach two intensive courses for China Evangelical Seminary in Taipei. I leave July 13 and return August 31. Both of us shall be building on existing relationships with both foreign and Chinese believers. We hope to strengthen their hands, as well as to learn more that will enable us to pray with greater passion and precision. (Ephesians 6:18-22). Yours in the grace of the One whose “short-term” trip to earth established an eternal relationship.