Dear Praying Friends:
As I have reflected on effective methods for reaching Chinese with the Gospel, it seems that one theme keeps recurring: The need for patience. Without patience, coupled with perseverance, we are not likely to have a lasting impact on our Chinese friends or upon their society. Let me explain. Patience in preparation. A recent essay in a major China ministry newsletter stressed the need for long-term workers among the Chinese. The writer, who has extensive experience, was not trying to minimize the value of short-term visits to China for the purpose of gaining knowledge and vision for prayer and service. He was, however, calling for Christians to commit themselves to many years of life and ministry among the Chinese, starting with several years of preparation. There is no substitute for learning the Chinese language. Even though many Chinese understand and speak English, those who wish to get to the heart and the basic mental assumptions of these intelligent people will have to humble themselves to acquire a high level of ability in the language, as well as more than a superficial knowledge of their culture. As one expert has said, “We are aiming to communicate complex concepts in a difficult language to a highly-cultured people, and we cannot do this without advanced facility in their language.” At a gathering of Chinese and Western scholars recently, I noted how our Chinese partners, who are fluent in English (both have PhDs from Western schools), eagerly switched to Chinese when they could, particularly when they wanted to express what was on their hearts. If we want to communicate the whole counsel of God in terms that are comprehensible and persuasive, we must plan to spend several years in full-time language study, as well as a lifetime in careful reading and observation of the many dimensions of traditional and modern Chinese culture. Patience in personal relationships. Everyone knows that Chinese society is build upon relationships. In another letter, I have pointed out the importance of these friendships for effective service among the Chinese. Here, I just want to stress the need for patience. Rather than going for quick commitments (aka “decisions for Christ”) to pad statistics for our supporters, we must work hard and long to establish trust through listening, learning from, and loving our Chinese friends. At the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910, an Indian Christian leader issued a fervent plea for Western Christians not to send teachers or missionaries, but friends. Unless we invest in long-term friendships, we can expect only short-term results. Those who take the time to understand a few people well, to walk through life with them, and to demonstrate genuine love in a variety of ways will be rewarded with a kind of loyalty seldom found in the West. This friendship must be unconditional, not based on the expectation that the other will become a believer in Christ. There are several Chinese friends whom we have known for more than twenty-five years and have not yet believed. Do we just move on and forget them? Of course not! The same principle, by the way, should motivate Chinese Christians who want their friends and family members to become Christians. Only God can give new life, and He does so in His own time and His own way (see John 3:5-8). Patience in proclamation. As a corollary, we should be patient in explaining the whole truth of God’s Word, and not just select out a few verses in an effort to gain a speedy conversion. A recent study has shown that Chinese young people are attracted to many aspects of the Gospel, but stumble over the fundamental concept of the existence of God! Over the past several decades, we have discovered that real conversions, commitments that last, usually result from years of hearing the whole sweep of God’s revelation in the Bible, including the Old Testament. That means, of course, patience in answering questions. Honest questions deserve honest, careful answers. Finally, patience in prayer. You probably have family members for whose salvation you have prayed for many years now. The same goes for our Chinese friends. Let us commit to pray for them daily, year after year, perhaps decade after decade, trusting in God to work His will in His way at His time. We value your prayers for us. We are still trying to learn Chinese language and culture! Several of our younger colleagues are at the beginning of this arduous process. Many of my writing projects take five years or more to complete. We need to persevere in relationships and in prayer just like everyone else.
Yours in His patience,