Zeal Without Knowledge

Dear Praying Friends:God’s people invest millions of dollars in ministry to Chinese. Eager to share the love of Christ, thousands of Americans and others go Greater China each year in a variety of capacities. They are supported by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of organizations of all sorts. Sadly, much of this massive investment of manpower and money rests on a shallow foundation, because very little research underlies these huge undertakings. Would NASA launch an expensive space probe without spending years in research and development? Would anyone build a house without a blueprint? And would you hire a builder who lacked basic construction skills? And yet we are sending people, and funding projects, with only the barest understanding of Chinese language, culture, and society, not to mention an awareness of what methods have worked – or failed – in the past. Why is that? Perhaps because Evangelical Protestants, and Americans in particular, delight in activity. Pragmatists to the core, and obsessed with quick results, we seldom take sufficient time to plow the field before sowing the seed. In fact, we may not even know the type of soil we intend to cultivate. Maybe it’s not suitable for the crops we’d like to see.

A House Built on Sand…

The result? Misunderstanding, miscommunication, and multiple unnecessary mistakes. We thank God for the many American believers living godly lives in Greater China. Time after time, we hear of the long-lasting impact made upon Chinese by the love they see. Many have welcomed the life-transforming Message as a result. Still, we wonder how much more effective our service would be if we had been better prepared. Not only that, we shudder to think of the sheer waste and the needless damage done by well-meaning, but ignorant, efforts. To give just one example: Some of the field leaders of one of the largest agencies sending people to China recently changed their fundamental approach to ministry. Why? They had learned that their methods did not work with Chinese as they had with Americans. After reading a brief introduction to contemporary Chinese culture, one person who had served with them said, “I now realize that all I did over there was a waste.” If his superiors had taken the time to do a bit of research – either by assigning someone to that task or asking people with experience in ministry to Chinese – they would have saved millions of dollars and tens of thousands of man-hours. Sadly this example could be matched by many others.

Look Before You Leap

Moses was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt. Jesus waited thirty years before beginning his ministry, and his words reveal a profound and minute grasp of the economic, social, religious, and political conditions of his audience. Everyone admits that much of Paul’s power in preaching flowed from his intimate knowledge of both Jewish and Greek thought and culture. For more than fifty years, almost all of the leading China scholars (“Sinologues,” they called them) were Christian missionaries. Even today, the ranks of serious students of Chinese language, history, culture, and contemporary society do include a few outstanding Christian scholars.

No “Sex Appeal”

But they are rare, for the reasons mentioned above, but also because the Christian public does not find their work “sexy” enough. As one researcher told me, “Hardly any individual, church, or foundation wants to support someone who merely reads, listens, thinks, and writes. They say, ‘We want to see practical results – and soon!’” Perhaps they have forgotten passages in Proverbs like the one that says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (18:13). Indeed, when I applied for a visa for a Chinese-born researcher last spring, the immigration office wanted to know what such a position in other organizations entailed. To our shock, we found only one American-based China ministry that cared enough about research to hire anyone for that work. (There are two overseas-based agencies that fund researchers.)

Costly Commitment

Convinced of the value – nay, the urgent necessity – of solid study, China Institute is committed to this unglamorous task. The C.I. Board of Directors have expressed this commitment by: - Insisting that my highest priorities are reading, listening, thinking, and writing. - Engaging my daughter Sarah to serve as a part-time research and editorial assistant while in seminary. - Making it possible for donations to be given to other China researchers through C.I. (At present there are two such Associates: One is working on a Ph.D. in Chinese history, and the other is a senior China scholar.) We hope to be assisting others in the future. - Committing China Institute to a serious effort to mobilize Christians for more thoughtful, informed, and effective ministry among Chinese. We intend to continue to work with other Evangelical organizations in this crucial endeavor. - Allocating funds for me to travel to Asia for first-hand observation of Chinese society today. I am planning to leave on September 28 for a six-week visit to China and Taiwan. Though I hope to visit publishers and translators, promote my books, and give a lecture in Taiwan, my main goal is to learn. We thank God for your prayers and encouragement. Feel free to write, call, or visit our Web site for more information. Yours in the service of our Wise Master, Wright