Conference Voices: A Tale of Two Rivers

Editor’s note: The China Partnership recently held its annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. This year’s topic was “The Church in a Global-Local World” and we were greatly blessed and challenged by many excellent speakers. We are excited to make their ideas available through our blog to those unable to attend in person. Check back throughout the coming weeks for more posts from our conference speakers on topics including the house church in China, the China Partnership’s ministry strategies, the meaning of global-local missions, and what ministering to the international world present in America might look like for you and your church.

When translated into English, the name of the Chinese province in which I live is “Four Rivers.” My thoughts here are about two rivers in China, two metaphorical rivers.

The first river is a river of change. In the 5th century BC, a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus said, "You can never step into the same river twice." China feels a lot like what Heraclitus was talking about. Socially, politically, economically, and environmentally, things feel like they are constantly in flux. And of course, the church feels this same way.

The second river is the river of language and culture. Historically, this river has been notoriously difficult for Westerners to navigate. Presbyterian missionary William Milne once said, "Learning the Chinese language requires bodies of iron (铁身体), lungs of brass (黄铜的肺), heads of oak (橡木头的头), hands of spring steel (钢铁的手), eyes of eagles (老鹰的眼睛), hearts of apostles (使徒的心), memories of angels (天使的记忆力), and the lives of Methuselah (和瑪土撒拉的岁数)."

Now imagine that these two rivers each have two banks. On the one side of the river is America and on the other is China. We need bridges to connect these two sides.

There are many Christians, including individuals, churches, and missions agencies, that want to get involved or have been involved in reaching out to China. The natural result of such a burden to reach China with the gospel is a plan, a strategy. But often these plans and strategies have huge flaws. Sometimes they are working from misinformation or lack of information and this leads to the implementation of plans that fail to really address the needs of the church in China.

What we do depends on the voices we listen to. I've been involved in ministry to China for nearly thirty years and the overwhelming majority of strategies and plans to reach China have little or no input from the voices of the Chinese indigenous church leaders. Both Western and Eastern missions agencies strategize, plan, fund, and implement without Chinese church leaders having any real ownership of what is going on. The result is that true partnership and facilitation does not happen.

The China Partnership has been structured with this problem in mind and we intentionally address these issues by connecting Chinese house churches with churches on the other side of the river. This is the bridge model strategy - people on the ground, in the city, helping navigate connections between both sides and making sure the voice of the Chinese house church is heard and understood by the church in the United States.

This kind of thinking has helped give birth, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to a church planting network that started in 2012 with roughly twenty different churches. Now, at the end of 2014, this network includes over five hundred churches in over one hundred and fifty different Chinese cities, including China’s largest urban centers. Even though it is an urban strategy, this network reaches beyond the city into China's smaller areas and is touching thousands of lives.

It is foolish to try to navigate these two rivers without people on the ground and in the field who not only know the cultures, languages, and changing currents involved, but also have a certain depth of relationship with the voices of the Chinese church. If we truly desire to make the gospel known and have it take root in the lives of individuals and churches, we must have access to those voices.