China Trip: Part 2
by Phil Martin
This is the second installment of a three part series that gives a full review of our survey trip in China.
During the second half of March we traveled through 6 cities in China. In all we boarded 6 flights and 5 trains, hailed dozens of taxis, crammed into several subways, walked nearly 100 miles, and hopped onto 1 bus. After processing our time for the past few weeks, takeaways fell into three categories. The trip was clarifying, motivating, and sobering. This post looks at the ways the trip motivated us to continue working hard to raise support and prepare to go.
After the hearing the exciting news of our pregnancy, our support raising has shifted down a gear. It was hard to feel the urgency to finish strong when we knew we were going to be here for a few more months. This trip reinvigorated our desire to go and see Christ exalted in China. Here are some of the most encouraging things.
Participating in a Chinese Church
In the middle of our trip we spent a few days with teammates of ours in Dalian. Sunday we attended kid’s club, two worship services (including a church wide meal), and an English corner. It was a long day but one of the most encouraging. Seeing others that are doing what we plan to do gave us extra confidence that our goals are realistic and worthwhile. As we discussed our time afterward, we realized that nothing they are doing is something we haven’t been trained to do! I certainly can’t do it as well as they did, but it did give us confidence.
A second aspect that was encouraging was the singing. I’ve tried to remember how many different Chinese speaking churches I’ve been to. 14 is the number I’ve come up with. Of those 14 they fall into two categories. A) The congregation is enthusiastically singing but the songs are theologically questionable or superficial. B) The songs are great, but no one seems to be excited to sing. This was the best of both worlds. Over the course of the morning we sang around 10 songs, all of which were about the cross, the gospel, Christ etc. The whole time, the congregation was singing with passion. Hearing Chinese Christians sing about the cross with enthusiasm made me want to move to China right away!
Conversations with Missionaries and Pastors
There are at least 6 different methodologies for how foreigners should be involved in the Chinese church. We spoke with representatives of 5 of them. They included a Chinese government church pastor, American English teachers, Full time missionaries involved in college ministry, Medical and other mercy ministry workers, and Chinese and American led unregistered churches. These span the spectrum from “foreigners should stay home”, to “we can only support/evangelize”, and lastly “foreigners can/should actively plant churches.” Our methodology falls into the last category. The conversations were very informative and ultimately served to confirm our plans. Perhaps the most striking moment was when the government church insisted on giving us Chinese bibles!
The biggest thing we learned from those conversations was the consistent refrain that there remains much work to do in China. This came up when we discussed the statistics on Christians in China. Nobody we talked to believed the most optimistic reports of 100 million+ Christians in China. One Chinese pastor told us that the church is getting older faster than the general population. Another missionary said the reported numbers in his city seem to be close to double what they experience. In Changchun, there are somewhere between 85,000 and 135,000 self-identified protestants. Meaning there are well over 4 million unbelievers, many of them with no access to a biblical witness.
Conversations with Non-Christians
The first time I traveled to China, the thing that struck me was how open people were to having spiritual conversations. They didn’t agree with me, and it certainly wasn’t because everyone was honestly considering converting. But the general openness was such a different atmosphere than what I was used to. That was again apparent, not only from my experience but also other missionary friends that were visiting China for the first time. There are few things that are as motivating as a discussion over the meaning of a text of scripture with an honest skeptic! We can’t wait to get back and have more of those conversations.