EAST ASIA – Chinese believers could be the next missions sending force, following the Western and Korean Christians who’ve gone before them. They pray, give and go, sacrificing everything to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the nations.
IMB photo by Luke In
Phil Wardell,* a Southern Baptist worker, baptizes a believer from Southeast Asia. Wardell and his family served in this country for many years, and he says it was a blessing to baptize a local believer on their recent return trip.
But sacrifices come with costs. Chinese cross-cultural Christian workers say they struggle with discouragement and loneliness. Those in Southeast Asia welcomed encouragement and counsel from Southern Baptist workers Phil and Ruth Wardell,* who have provided training for believers.
Zhao Chang Pu,* Zhao Hui Fang* and their two daughters moved from China to minister in Southeast Asia. They say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done.
Just like Westerners, Chinese workers experience culture shock and struggle to adapt to a new environment. The Zhaos have shared cultural stresses with the Wardells, who once served in Southeast Asia.
The Wardells now serve in a different area of Asia and have led ministry training for Southeast Asian believers who partner with the Zhaos.
The Zhaos told the Wardells they are adjusting to being away from family. But their parents don’t understand why they took their granddaughters away.
“Why did you choose this silly country?” their parents asked. The Zhaos tried to explain God’s calling on their lives, and they can’t ignore the thousands of people dying daily without Jesus.
“Since the Lord brought us here, I believe God will change the hearts of my parents,” Chang Pu said.
They call home once or twice a month. Chang Pu said they don’t call more often because they don’t want to create a dependency. They are trying to condition themselves to be away. He asked his parents not to visit until they get settled.
“It’s a very painful process,” Chang Pu said. “All the failures I’ve encountered are not equal to three months of suffering.
“I have to depend on the Lord. No one on the mission field can really help you, only God can help you.”
IMB photo by Luke In
A Southeast Asian trainee practices sharing the gospel with a fold-out evangelism card before going out to the street. Believers are trained not only how to use the tract themselves but how to share it with others.
Ruth, who has experienced similar challenges as a Southern Baptist worker, cried as she listened to the Zhaos share candidly.
“We’re not that much different,” Ruth told them. “I assure you that what He calls us to do, He will enable us to do … we learned the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”
The Wardells came 15 years ago in the midst of a coup. Both sets of parents weren’t believers when the couple first came. Now, their parents are believers and are supportive.
The Zhaos left China because they both dreamed the Chinese would be the ones to bring the gospel to other Asian countries. Chinese workers who came before them started four churches using the strategies Southern Baptists taught them, and they have key local partners extending the gospel’s reach.
Chinese Christians are what Southern Baptists in Asia call a “tidal wave” in missions. Sources estimate there are 300 Chinese workers serving internationally and the numbers continue to rise.
The Zhaos say “the vision from the Lord” motivates them on hard days.
“I was saved because someone shared the gospel with me,” Chang Pu said. He wants to share the gospel with others so they can have the eternal hope he has.
“We have a responsibility to push back the gospel,” Phil told the Zhaos and other Chinese and Southeast Asian believers during a morning training session. This responsibility is why many Chinese believers left the comforts of home.
“God has called us to this work,” Phil told them. “We can’t abandon the work when it gets difficult.”
The Wardells’ oldest daughter was sick for the better part of three years. “If you love me, why do you keep me here?” Phil said their oldest daughter asked. “We never felt so hopeless in our life.”
The Zhaos have also had medical issues. A dog recently bit their youngest daughter. And doctors initially weren’t able to diagnose an illness that plagued their oldest daughter.
The Zhaos didn’t make the decision to move without their daughters’ input. They told their older daughter the decision was also hers to make.
They prayed fervently for her to agree. After a while, she did.
“We need to go fast, before she changes her mind,” Chang Pu said while laughing, remembering their relief.
The Zhaos are still adjusting to the local food. Ruth told the Zhaos her daughters grew to love eating crickets, a local snack.
Hui Fang and Ruth learned how to cook from scratch with unfamiliar ingredients. Hui Fang sends her husband to do the shopping because of safety concerns. Their apartment was recently burglarized. A non-profit worker and her daughter were murdered in a robbery gone wrong.
The lack of independence has required much adjustment, Hui Fang said. The Zhaos live in a shared space in a ministry center that houses training, discipleship and church meetings.
Their daughters share one bed. They’ve found schools to educate their children on a shoestring monthly budget of $80 to $100. Their oldest daughter attends a school run by Korean Christians. She doesn’t speak English, Korean or the local language, but she’s learning.
Though it’s been a difficult three months, the Lord is rewarding the Zhaos’ obedience. Chang Pu recently baptized a believer and Hui Fang led a woman to Christ.
One evening the Zhaos attempted to order milk tea and struggled to communicate their order. A Southeast Asian man stepped in and helped them order. He studied Chinese because he works in a Chinese factory. He attends church and goes to a Buddhist temple.
Chang Pu encouraged him to “believe 100 percent in Jesus.” He plans on following up with him.
The Zhaos came to Southeast Asia first to learn methodology of missions. Since there is a nearby ministry center that serves as a base for Chinese cross-cultural workers, the Zhaos get hands-on experience with people who are farther along in the journey.
“We came here to start the journey,” Chang Pu said. They are studying English – something they’ll need when they move to South Asia.
The Zhaos said the call and vision the Lord gave them keeps them going when they want to quit.
“When God calls you, He doesn’t take back your call,” Phil said. “God honors the sacrifices that cost us the most.”