With the largest population in the world, China has long attracted Christians with a concern for the lost. 169 years ago Hudson Taylor said, “…if I had a thousand lives, China should have them. No! Not China, but Christ.” In that time thousands have spent their lives to see Christ and Him crucified proclaimed in China. Even though the church here has grown, the need remains immense. Untold millions still untold. As doors have opened up in the past 40 years, thousands more have been drawn to minister in the middle kingdom.
However, the history of missions in China is one of open doors that slam shut. The 21st century hasn’t changed that reality, We aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Foreigners can be quickly shown the exit. On top of that, there is a risk of inciting additional persecution. How then can a foreigner have an effective witness in this closed country?
How is that question ordinarily answered?
First, English teaching is the by far the most common solution. By taking a position in a school, American christians can have a legal status here and direct access to potential friends who speak our language. The downside is that while teaching English 15+ hours per week, very few foreign Christians learn Chinese well enough to maintain friendships or teach the Bible.
Secondly, most organizations limit the amount of fellowship their members can have with local believers. The thought is that foreign involvement in local churches is dangerous and counterproductive. As Christians, we naturally desire time with other Christians. Since spending that time with local believers in church is avoided, huge chunks of time are swallowed up fellowshipping with other foreigners.
Lastly, fear of persecution infects every action. To avoid “unnecessary” risk, missionaries cautiously pass up great opportunities for ministry. Instead complex layers get added to the simple process of sharing the gospel. Some groups even ban sharing the gospel during periods of perceived danger. The end result is that harvest field is whittled down to a few stalks.
It is no exaggeration to say that the common sense path ends with almost everyone here “entangled in something besides making disciples.”
But why is this the common sense path? This path is only common sense because of stubborn assumptions about ministry in China. These assumptions obscure amazing open doors and urgent gospel needs.
1: English teaching is the only way live and minister in China.
2: Security restrictions make it impossible for foreigners to preach the gospel in China.
3: Learning Chinese well enough to teach the Bible is poor use of time and energy.
4: Attending a Chinese church is harmful. Its better to pass on contacts.
5: Modeling righteousness and teaching Christian culture is evangelism.
6: Conforming to government restrictions will decrease risk and open doors.
7: Persecution is proof that something has gone wrong.
Two things require clarification before I go on.
- It’d be hard to find any one missionary who perfectly fits this stereotype, but each of these ideas do greatly influence ministry strategy in China. We’ve written about each of these misconceptions in greater detail in other places and we invite you to engage with us there.
- Every Christian who has left their home to invest their energy for the glory of God in China is our friend and partner. We’ve been helped, inspired, and challenged by friends that who hold to the ideas outlined above. Our disagreement is not accompanied by any disrespect.
As a team, Project China is offering a humble proposal. There is another way. The impossible path is possible. Each of us has come (or is on their way) to China outside of the common sense path. None of us have taught English for a visa. We go to church with local believers, and share the gospel openly.
Our conviction, and what we are asking you to consider, is that it is possible to play a vital role in missions in China. Come and spend your time teaching the Bible in Chinese in a local church. Plant a church. Train, mentor, develop the next generation of leaders. Make your aim to significantly decrease the number of those who haven’t heard of God’s saving grace. If you are looking for a place to start, check out our current internship opportunities.