Today, I just want to write some honest thoughts about living in China for seven years. I try to always write honestly and openly, but today I will be a little more transparent.
I am riding a speed train currently traveling 303 km/h (about 188 mph) through Northeast China on my way to the US Embassy. I need to get some paperwork notarized for our upcoming visas. I am typing my thoughts down on my MacBook Air that I bought several years ago. I don’t use a pencil or journal like missionaries of the past. Everything is typed. It helps me think. My phone is plugged in and charging on the train. I have 4G cell service even though all I can see out the window is rolling hills and greenery. China has modernized at an incredibly fast rate and is still growing. It is incredible how China is growing. Today, missionaries can get almost anything they want (especially through the internet importing services) if they have the money to afford it. Most missionary biographies you read about China are completely irrelevant and don’t represent the lives the we missionaries today live in China. This, of course, can be seen as a blessing and a curse.
Today, seven years ago, I took my beautiful wife and our two-year-old daughter and left on an amazing journey for China. When we were on deputation, we set a date by faith to leave for the field and, praise the Lord, we were able to leave for the field on that date. But it didn’t come without hardships. Less than two months before we left for the field, we lost our second child, our son was stillborn. This meant we landed on the field still grieving. We knew our son had a condition that was “incompatible with life” as the doctor put it and we had a long period to prepare ourselves for the inevitable, the Lord even gave us a special peace when it all happened. (There is an incredible story here.) But I didn’t realize how much my wife was still grieving. I didn’t realize how much culture shock, spiritual warfare (that hits you once you land on the field) and the process of grieving would attack my precious wife. The city we moved to had extremely cold and long winters with short days and little sunlight. An environment that doesn’t help a grieving heart and has its own physical and emotional challenges. (A combination of these factors, mixed with the task of learning Chinese made our first couple years on the field hard and probably not the most pleasant to host.) Looking back at it now, I think I failed at leading and protecting her like I should have and being the spiritual comfort and leader that she needed. It was a dark period for her but I didn’t give it much attention. To this, I apologize, my wife.
Out of past seven years, I have spent about 2,368 days in China and 189 days in the USA. That is a lot of days. I use to think about what my life would look like at this point. Here is a quick summary of what it does look like: Language—I have learned to speak Chinese well and have preached more in Chinese than I have in English. I am currently preaching and teaching in Chinese multiple times a week. I am slowly learning characters and am probably about 60% of where I need to be with reading them. I cannot write characters from memory besides the common things I use, such as my name. Family—Thankfully, I am still married to the wonderful lady that I married ten years ago this month. She has been such a trooper. We have been through so much together. Each year brings us closer and makes me more thankful for her. We have been in the war together when everything seemed like the sky was falling—we came through the other side together. This doesn’t mean our relationship has been easy—it has been hard work, but hard work that is worth it and aims to bring God glory in it. I have three beautiful daughters all with unique personalities. All of them constantly brings a smile to our faces as we watch them grow up and get to know them better. We are also expecting twins…so our family is still growing. Also, adoption still isn’t out of the picture. Ministry—after language school we pioneered our ministry in a new city. Getting things going and improving in the language took longer than I expected. But we have now planted one church and have started training two men who have surrendered to full-time ministry. We plan to pour our lives into these two men (and other men the Lord gives us) and see more work done here in China.
The title of this post is “overwhelmed” because I am overwhelmed at the goodness of God in my life and what He has allowed me to do and allowed me to become even though I am not worthy at all. Anyone who knows us knows that everything that has been accomplished has been because of God’s grace. I have grown so much in the past years and I am in love more with Jesus today than I was seven years ago. My identity is solely found in Him and not in being a missionary or in the opinions of others. To this, I am forever thankful.
Another purpose this post is called “overwhelmed” is because of two reasons (1) I live in a mega city doing intercity missions; (2) the thousands of houses and villages I am passing on the train right now. I am overwhelmed by the work here. People often misunderstand China as having no churches or they understand it as having an incredible revival. I haven’t seen either. China does have a TON of churches. Most cities I know about have some churches, some gospel witness, most universities I have heard of have Christian foreign teachers, etc. (not to say the type of these, but at least Christian in name). We have lots of unbelievers visit our church and we also have a lot of Christians visit our church. China is a weird place when it comes to religion. We have had teammates kicked out for church planting but just a couple of weeks ago I walked in a restaurant and every waiter had a shirt on that says, “Jesus loves you” in Chinese.
Let me explain (1) I live in a mega city doing intercity missions—our city has six million people in it. How many churches is enough? Can we plant that many? Could I spend my whole life within just this small radius? You never really feel a sense of accomplishment because you can’t really “canvas” areas with gospel literature. Although we have tried that in certain areas. Everything is always changing and the people are always rotating. You never have the small town feel of every time you go out it is the same people and you are building a relationship with them. People come and go–the turnover rate is high. We are intercity, we are illegal, we don’t have traditional church buildings, we cannot compete (with the government churches like you could compete against in a free society, thus they become the standard)…we are the black-sheep—living in a margin of society that isn’t fully accepted and if too abrasive and open could get you into serious trouble or expulsion from the country.
Let me explain (2) the thousands of houses and villages I am passing on the train right now—when will they get the gospel? Do they have the gospel? Do I go? Do I pass up a few hundred thousand people to go reach a village with just a few families living there? What about that one single house I saw on the side of the mountain and looked like someone was actively living there? How do I advance the gospel forward to all people? It is one thing when you see a picture or read a blog post, but what about when you are living among them? And just like the city seems like an endless sea of people, the villages continue to appear out the windows.
I have arrived at my station….overwhelmed.