Saturday, May 24, 2008

China, Missions, and Politics

China is a hot topic these days. Between earthquakes and the upcoming Beijing Olympic, all eyes are on China.

Christianity Today has a couple of good, missions oriented articles in circulation online. Aiding China's Shaken Church is an interesting read focusing on Franklin Graham's approach to evangelistic efforts by Western visitors during the Olympics and Unexpected Dialogue is an article discussing the book A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian written by Luis Palau and Zhao Qizheng.

Graham, son of international evangelist Billy Graham, told the Associated Press that he opposes illegal missionary work at this summer's Beijing Olympics, saying, "I would not support any illegal activity at all." source

Franklin has taken heat from a few organizations for his position, but I applaud this rebel with a cause. His experience working diplomatically with foreign governments in order to help and serve alongside local, foreign churches to make a long term impact comes hard earned. Unlike the hit and run style of evangelism practiced by western tour groups. They gladly obey the law of the land back home, but care little for the laws of host countries. Why should they? They're "doing the work of Jesus." But this quick-fix style of evangelism actually sets the church in-country back. They have to work hard to un-do the damage done by cultural novices looking for self-gratification and bragging rights. I like what Graham said: "The church in China has been growing pretty rapidly without anybody's help. So I don't think a few Christian groups coming into China is going to make a hill of beans worth of difference during the Olympics."source

The Palau article approaches culture, politics, and missions history in China. The Chinese have conflicted opinions about western missions endeavors. Zhao, Palau's co-author and self-proclaimed atheist had this to say: "In history, Christian missionaries made contributions to China's development. They brought Western civilization to China. But the situation changed in the 19th century: The Western powers invaded China, and in this process some missionaries helped those invaders. So the Chinese people changed their attitude towards missionaries."source

Missionaries inserting themselves into local politics and taking sides in regional conflicts does more damage than good. It is true that Christ "invaded" humanity, but He did it in the least threatening way possible. He came as a child. He came as a servant. He brought Good News and changed the course of history with His Invasion as the Prince of Peace. I love the opening line in the CT article: "In preparation for an evangelistic tour of China, Luis Palau befriended Zhao Qizheng, then minister of the State Council Information Office of China."

Palau befriended. That's a great verb, befriend. That's a good start to getting out the Good News. Let's start with befriend. To do that, we need to put some other verbs in play: Listen. Learn. Serve. Love. None of these really fit into the context of the politics of conflict or pushy, hard-sell evangelism.

Read the articles and let me know if you have any thoughts.


mike macon said...

I personally have no problem whatsoever with "illegal" evangelism. At all. Whatsoever.

I think that what Franky Graham is irked about isn't so much "illegal" evangelism, but ineffective "evangelism" that doesn't in fact succeed in sharing the Good News and that damages the witness of the native church.

That's a different subject, though.

As a believer, I have absolutely no compunction whatsoever about breaking the laws of any nation - including my own - which contradict the Law of God.

And when the Bible tells me to "contend earnestly" and to go into "all the world," it doesn't leave me the option of qualifying that with "unless the government in charge says 'boo'."

...but that's just me.

Bryonm said...

having worked in two muslim countries undercover and on communist (cuba), i'm with you. but the key is to work with the church that's there and to learn from them and to "hold their arms up." street witnessing in some countries isn't the same as doing evangelism at some suburban mall. but since that's the only model many of us know, that's the only tool we're willing to use over seas. man, i wish some of that junk were illegal here.

Anonymous said...

i was hoping that you meant working with the local church as opposed to just not working in closed countries at all

Bryonm said...

we need to work in any country we can get into. but we need to think through what we do. in the case of china, we don't need to resort to illegal, tourist-style proselytizing when the local church is getting the job done. in some countries, i.e. muslim countries, there may not even be a local church to work with. the local church is yet to even be established in some places. i know that is not the case where you worked...

i guess i can understand how i might be mis-understood. in the case of china and the olympics, folks will want to in as tourists, distribute tracts, then go home. that's not missionary work. that's tourism.

in the case of working in closed muslim countries, people need to be incarnate, that is, go in to stay and live and learn and serve. if you go in temporarily, you need to work with locals. so i agree with Graham when he opposes illegal evangelism in china done by people who've only paid the price of a plane ticket.

graham does work illegally in some countries. it's th only way to obey God's great commission in some places.

even in our ally country, israel, it's illegal to evangelize. you can be stoned in some jewish neighborhoods. that doesn't mean that the word doesn't go out. but the work should be done by people other than tourists. that's my point.