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; and befriending Chinese living overseas can be used by God.Now let us consider the value of non-threatening activity by foreigners living in China.
Why do we say “non-threatening”? Because the Chinese government knows that thousands of Christians go to China for the express purpose of winning converts to Christ. Within their own narrow mental framework, for at least three reasons such people are threats to the social order: First, they come from overseas, especially the West, and particularly America. Communists view them as agents of foreign powers seeking to de-stabilize China and even overthrow the regime. We know that is untrue, but they believe the myths and slander about 19th century missionaries, and tar modern emissaries of Christ with the same brush. Second, they know that faith in God poses a fundamental challenge to Communism’s atheist assumptions. If God exists, then their ideology is basically wrong. Finally, they remember the prominent role which Christians played in the fall of Communist governments in Eastern Europe, and especially Romania, formerly their close ally. All foreigners in China receive close scrutiny; members of Christian organizations are watched even more closely, as are their Chinese friends. Serous consequences may befall those who engage in, or are recipients of, explicit Christian outreach.
On the other hand, foreign Christians living in China report remarkable openings. In today’s climate of globalization and intellectual ferment, new ideas from the outside find a ready welcome, and there is a receptivity to the Gospel rarely seen in Chinese history. If foreign believers can demonstrate integrity in their daily lives; respect the laws of the land; evince a humble desire to learn and to serve; rely on prayer and the Holy Spirit; and build friendships based on mutual respect, patient listening, and genuine love – then they can have a profound impact on the Chinese who get to know them. In my opinion, the best way to demonstrate real concern is to learn Chinese language and culture. Serious study of Chinese language and culture wins respect and deepens our understanding of the people we seek to serve (James 1:19). Regrettably, some organizations use enrollment in a language study course as a mere cover for presence and proselytizing in China. Without really applying themselves, these “students” not only waste a great deal of money, but also confirm suspicions that they have an ulterior purpose. Furthermore, they ignore the advice of James to be “quick to hear” and “slow to speak.” Often, they give answers before they know the question, or shallow responses to questions they think they understand, but do not. They often reap the fruit of equally shallow “conversions,” which sound good in letters home but do not last, and thus leave behind a legacy of nominal Christianity at best, and considerable confusion and even cynicism at worst. But if foreigners truly seek to learn, they can build relationships that allow Chinese to see their transformed lives and ask questions. Over a period of several years, they will prove that they really seek to understand and, to some degree, they will begin to comprehend enough to know how the Gospel speaks to the deepest yearnings of the Chinese people. Hard work, discipline, and prayer will also bring a growing skill in speaking the Gospel in a way that their friends can understand and apply to their lives. There are other reasons for learning the language and culture of China, including China’s rising prominence in the world, but surely Christians have the strongest motivation to spend several years as humble listeners and eager learners.
We produce materials to help non-Chinese understand this rich culture. We also encourage and support young people who are willing to submit themselves to the hard work of language and culture acquisition in Asia. Our associates also engage in serious research, seeking to understand Chinese culture and the ways in which the Gospel can benefit Chinese society. One is studying the role of Protestant Christians in early 20th century China. Another specializes in modern Chinese society and the contemporary church. Still another focuses on the history of Chinese Christianity. My interests include all these, as well as theological developments and needs among Chinese Christians today.
We covet your prayers for our entire team, and would love to hear from you.