"We are probably the most secured and settled amongst our class,” the young Chinese couple told me in a Middle Eastern city. “The others might not be doing as good.” They were referring to the other four couples, who were also sent out by the house church in China as missionaries to ‘Bring the Gospel Back to Jerusalem’. All of them were originally trained by Asian Outreach.
This young couple had spent six years settling down. They were developing a local business to serve as a mid-way house to receive and help settle future missionaries from China.
“Our advantage was God has been blessing our business. Thus we can afford to return to China from time to time. Our parents can also come to help us in our times of need.” They have given birth to two fine, energetic sons. “The link with home is very important.”
Their classmates didn’t have the means. They often feel cut off, and under-supported. “We know of another China missionary in a neighboring country. She felt so isolated. She told us
that she had contemplated suicide!” our young friends said.
Financial support, or the insufficiency of it, definitely is a major issue of the house churches in China as they launch cross-cultural missions. A woman pastor told me: “Our church workers receive RMB1200 a month (USD180). Just the rental for one missionary couple is three or four times that! We don’t have the funding nor the structure to sustain foreign missions.”
The pastor also pointed out: “We are a brand new, white-collar church. In four years, we exceeded the 100 mark. Our missionaries in the Middle East are telling us thus far they had only been able to share the Gospel with two or three neighbors.” And no converts yet! Churches in China are thus disappointed and disillusioned.
On the other hand, their missionaries are also disillusioned. Even this most blessed couple said, “Missions in our home church is like ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Sometimes we don’t
even feel we were actually sent out by the church. We are disowned.”
The two often joke that they are known in their home city as rebels. For anyone with potential in ministry are supposed to stay inside the Church. That is still the predominant concept of serving God among the China believers.
Another couple, launched into a relatively more open society in Central Asia, felt a bit better because they were absorbed into an international team. “That was after an initial period of utter loneliness and sense of failure. We didn’t have anyone to turn to.”
Now that they are a part of a team, they feel a sense of belonging and mutual support. “We learn together, laugh together, cry together and pray together.”
Language acquisition is another big hurdle. Of the couples we stay in contact with, only one is going through a systematic language program. “We are tent-makers here. Our workload
is heavily demanding on our time and energy. Besides, we still need to work on our English before we can start learning a third language.”
What do China missionaries themselves consider as their greatest set-back? “Being sucked into a China bubble.” There are Chinese everywhere. To the young missionaries, the overseas
Chinese represents familiarity, convenience, care and moral support. It is therefore very easy for them to gravitate towards the Chinese communities, and become part and parcel
of a local China Town.
I shared these findings with the leadership of China’s house church movement. They were not surprised. “We’ve had our own reality check. Tell you the truth, we were very ill-prepared
to launch, or sustain, an effective foreign missions program.”
“We recognize what we are now doing is repeating the first phase of missions of the Early Church as recorded in Acts 8. It was forced, reactive, scattering and messy… just like our
country in the last two decades of open market policy: we progressed in chaos.”
The leaders in return beg for partnership: “What we need is people like you to join us by holding our hands and lead us into an Acts 13 phase.”
Well, their missionary journey is long and tough for real. But it surely is a challenge to the rest of us.
About Dr. David Wang:
Dr. David Wang is President Emeritus Asian Outreach Internationa and a specialist on church and missions in China, and author of over 20 books including Still Red.
From Asian Report, issue 302, November and December 2010, Copyright 2010. Reprinted with the permission of Asian Outreach. All rights reserved.