Dear Praying Friends:

Our last trip to Asia confirmed our conviction that friendship must stand at the center of effective ministry among Chinese.

A Rich Tradition

Like many peoples, the Chinese have a long and rich tradition of friendship. The second line of the Analects of Confucius says: “To have a friend visit from afar—is that not a delight?”

Throughout the centuries, Chinese people have valued deep, lasting friendships with one or two, or at most a few, loyal and like-minded peers. In profound contrast to the Americans’ breezy use of the word “friend,” taken to extremes by today’s social networking media, they emphasize relationships that last a long time and manifest trust, frankness, and commitment.

This concept of friendship was almost shattered during the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and comes under constant pressure in a society where all children are taught that they must be Number One, but it has not died.

Friendship and Mission

In an important article in the April, 2011, issue of The International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Dr. Dana Robert traces the transition from a focus by missionaries upon friendship in the early 20th century to the current call for partnership. The former are individual and personal, the latter are corporate and institutional.

Without denying the role of institutional partnerships, she reminds us of the primary role of friendships in effective cross-cultural ministry.

At the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, Indian church leader V.S. Azariah cried out, “You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We also ask for love. Give us FRIENDS!”

In the 1920s, China’s C.Y. Cheng wrote, “He who comes to us with the spirit of a friend through and through will ultimately win our hearts… We believe it is this friendship, which is another word for Christian love, will solve many of our mission problems, and will lead the work to a more successful issue.”

What Is Friendship?

Dr. Robert points out that cross-cultural friendship requires several essential ingredients: “Long-term commitment to particular persons and places, major efforts to understand and to respect another culture or religion, and living with and putting themselves in the service of others.”

Naturally, all that implies—even demands—taking the time, energy, and expense to learn the language of the ones we want to befriend.

Hard Questions

Dr. Robert asks penetrating questions: “In an age characterized by short-term service, what is the deeper meaning of friendship? ... Do today’s young going into mission service commit themselves to specific persons from other cultures? Do they learn the languages or develop mutual reciprocity with the ‘other’? ... Does anyone have time to make friends today, or is cross-cultural service a kind of global networking that looks good on a resume?”

A Priceless Gift

Friendship with Chinese has been a priceless gift from God to us. We are aware of our many failures, but deeply grateful to God for giving us faithful Chinese friends.

On this last trip to Asia, Dori stayed for several days with the parents of a student at UVA whom we have known for eight years; they have stayed in our home, too.

In Taipei, I was hosted by a family we have known since 1982; our children played together as toddlers. When I taught a course for a seminary in Taichung, one of the students was a Christian man I met in 1976, just after we arrived in Taiwan for the first time. The course itself was arranged by a former student at China Evangelical Seminary in 1987.

While in Taichung, I spoke with Dori’s first Chinese friend, “Beautiful Jade,” whose name some of you will remember from that same period of time. I was taken out to dinner by “Johnny,” my first non-Christian Chinese friend.

The church where I preached in Kaohsiung is pastored by a couple who were in our small group at China Evangelical Seminary in 1986. Back in 1980, I introduced two people to each other, little knowing that they would fall in love and get married. When in Taipei, I often share an evening with them in deep fellowship.

The Challenge for Us

As grateful as we are for these relationships, we are painfully conscious that we have not kept up with other friends as we should have, including many in the U.S., both Chinese and American. Perhaps you are one of them!

Please ask God to give us wisdom and grace to call, write, and see people whom He has brought into our lives over the years.

Remember also the other members of our team, all of whom enjoy close friendships with Chinese and non-Chinese alike.

Yours in the love of our forever Friend,