In 2000, half of the world became city dwellers. In 2012, China’s urban population surpassed its rural counterpart. Economic migration is a global phenomenon. Over the last few decades, hundreds of millions in China have left the countryside for the cities with millions of Christians among them.
Urban movements shape culture and lead innovation in every society. Our mission is city-based, connect- ing people across cultures for transformation. In China, GLS tentmakers are in big cities on the coast and in the interior, called to participate in the urban church movement through teaching, training, counseling, discipleship and outreach.
Educated, well resourced and networked, China’s urban churches have been growing steadily in the last 20 years when the government had a more tolerant stance toward the Christian movement. But beginning February this year, a new and highly restrictive religious policy systematically implemented around the country, is forcing Christians, nationals and expatriates alike, to do things differently.
The Workplace Remains An Open Field
Reflecting on ten years of bi-vocational missions in China, a GLS associate wrote in his recent prayer letter: “Our city has over 30 million people. Many of them are migrants to our city... (determined) to do whatever it takes to be successful. It is the epitome of the rat race. God has put it on our hearts to serve our city through our jobs and workplace excellence. It is our goal to have a reputation where people
would say: ‘I don’t believe what they believe, but I don’t know what our community would do without them.’ That is pouring grace into the city.
“As suffering is typically involved with the birth of something new, pray that the suffering our colleagues, brothers and sisters feel from being overworked and undervalued may lead to a stirring of their heart to seek eternal goals.”
For most urbanites, China’s high stress, dehumanizing work culture is a major source of stress. So, while the government is cracking down on religious freedom, the workplace that our associates share with others remains a wide open field. But it is easy to miss that. The secular/sacred divide in the Christian mindset of many, including missionaries, results in a big blind spot. Can work be mission too?
“How Could I Have Missed That?”
Emma is a high school science teacher. In her first five years of service in China, ministry was outside her workplace. She taught and trained in a house church. Then the Lord gave her a heart for a third-tier city. The only job available there was to teach English, which was not her favorite subject.
In the first three years, she got to teach and disciple in a house church. But when the new religious policy was rolled out, things came to a screeching halt.
English corners on campus were banned. Local teachers and students known to be believers or friends of foreign teachers were summoned for interviews. Students are appointed as informants to report on others. Throughout the country, house churches large and small are being shut down.
As a foreigner, Emma could be a liability to the safety of her house church. She was asked to stay away and stop serving. Suddenly, the usual avenues of ministry for Emma vanished. She felt useless.
Now Emma had just been assigned to teach writing. Writing comes with the heaviest workload, and it is not her area of strength. She was quite discouraged until someone pointed out to her: “Writing assignments can get you to know your students personally, and lead to life-changing conversations.”
That was eye-opening. Immediately, Emma recalled a GLS talk on work. Work is not only for mission—to get her a visa and support her while she does church-based ministry. Work is mission. God’s redemptive mandate and cultural mandate for us go together.
Even as a tentmaker, Emma used to see work and ministry as separate parts of her life. Now circumstances have forced her to see that the two can and should be one. “How could I have missed that?” she thought to herself. “I can bless my students and love them through my job, doing it as unto the Lord! Well- designed assignments can give my students a voice. Their ideas matter. By hearing and understanding them, I get to affirm their worth as individuals, and show that I care, honor and value them in my responses to what they share. In the 20 minutes of in-class writing time, I can be praying for each of my students.” More than just imparting knowledge and skills, Emma will be pouring grace into their lives.
Ministry Knows No Bounds
This is doing things differently. Ministry knows no bounds when one follows the movement of the Spirit, being mindful of God and prayerful with people and situations from Monday through Sunday. Emma’s workplace remains a wide open field.