Dear Praying Friends:
Offering a listening ear, sympathetic heart, and godly counsel provides one of the best opportunities for communicating the truth and love of God to Chinese.
Got troubles? Yes!
Whether at home in Asia or living in the West, ethnic Chinese people are buffeted by a score of heavy blows to their individual psyche and relationships with others. The usual problems of (post-) modern life – loneliness, loss of meaning, absence of true community, family breakdown, financial insecurity – are compounded by other stressors with “Chinese characteristics.”
These include an almost total lack of healthy models of marriage and family living; cutthroat competition at every stage in life, starting even before kindergarten; a complete breakdown of ethical standards and supports; killer hours at work; and, for those living abroad, the shock of confronting a strange culture, with all its unfamiliar ways exacerbated by the language barrier.
In addition, people from China often do not trust each other, so they may more easily turn to a foreigner who won’t spread gossip about their troubles.
Want to help? Make haste – slowly.
Western Christians are almost always more than happy to extend love to Chinese who seek their encouragement and advice.
At this point, however, we face huge obstacles to effective counseling, even if we are trained. Usually, Westerners don’t know Mandarin well, if at all. When people are in trouble, they most naturally want to express themselves in their heart language; pouring out your soul in a foreign tongue may be difficult. Even those who otherwise appear to be almost fluent in English may use words whose meaning might not be as plain as it looks.
For example, when a Chinese says that something is “complex,” he may mean that it involves a variety of people with competing claims on his life, or that what we think is the “right” decision may entail huge losses for him or others.
In addition to language, the wide differences between our culture and the background of Chinese people make it almost impossible for us to understand their values, aspirations, fears, and decision-making processes without some study.
That’s not to say that we can’t show love by listening, long and patiently, nor that we can’t communicate the basic truths of the Bible, including ways it might apply in our culture. We just have to be aware that there is probably much we don’t understand, and try to help them work through their difficulties, rather than offering much specific advice.
To help Westerners understand the Chinese better, Dr. Peter Yu and I wrote China: Ancient Culture, Modern Society, which is now out in paperback. If you have any Chinese friends, I suggest you read this short introduction as an act of love.
After thirty-eight years of living and working among Chinese, Dori and I are beginning to have some preliminary insights into their culture and common challenges. We are thankful that God sends people to us who want to share their troubles and perplexities with us. A few examples:
A father from Asia who is brokenhearted that his daughter is in love with a Caucasian American. His American-born daughter, who wants to marry the man but hates to go against her father’s wishes.
A young husband who is crushed to find that his wife has far less spiritual commitment than he had thought before they got married. In addition, her childhood experiences seem to prevent her from receiving or giving love; the only language she knows is criticism.
A couple who can’t agree on which church to attend, or how to resolve communication differences.
A professor whose Dean treats him unfairly.
Parents whose children have openly rejected their new Christian faith. Children whose parents insist on controlling their lives, even after college.
These situations and many more like them call for God-given insight, love, and long listening.
Please do pray that we will all have the wisdom and grace to share with our Chinese friends the “comfort with which ourselves have been comforted by God.”
For more suggestions on how to minister to Chinese, I suggest Reaching Chinese Worldwide.