Anonymous, Missionary in China
I’ll never forget the first time I came to China to teach in a house-church situation.
I arrived in the evening and was met at the airport by my translator and a driver. We traveled for about 40 minutes to the location where I was dropped off to spend the night with the Chinese couple who owned the apartment. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese and the couple didn’t speak a word of English. I thought to myself, ‘this should be interesting.’ It was. The lady of the house showed me to my room and pointed to the bathroom.
The next morning, it was time for breakfast. Although most of my life I have been a picky eater, I had been in enough different countries to have learned to eat anything by God’s grace and don’t ask questions. Well, my cereal bowl was filled with some of white warm liquid and 10 or 12 what looked to be eyeballs of some sort. Wow, this was going to be a challenge. And of course, I had a pair of chopsticks to use. Come to find out it was warm soy milk and rice balls with peanut and date filling. Still, it wasn’t my preferred breakfast, but I was able to get them all down and keep them down.
The people arrived for class early that morning and I began teaching by 8:00 AM. It was exciting to be with so many people who were excited about learning the Word of God and who risked possible arrest to do so. Just after lunch, when some of the ladies were cleaning up the dishes, they noticed seven policemen gathering outside the apartment below. Then, the door-buzzer rang and a voice on the intercom said he was the gas man and that he needed to get into the apartment to check the gas lines. Everyone knew what was really going on and they had a very orderly plan in place, of which I knew nothing about.
We were all calmly moved from the large living room into two small bedrooms and the doors were closed behind us. There I was, without my interpreter, jammed into a tiny room with about 20+ Chinese people who were all quietly smiling while staring at the foreigner towering over them. It was close. It was weird. We were in the room for about twenty minutes, which seemed more like two hours, and then the lead pastor opened the door and waved for us to come out. We went back to our seats around the living room and the pastor motioned for me to begin teaching again. Stunned, I looked at my notes and just started teaching. At the end of the day, the pastor spoke through the translator and told me that the police knew I was there and that we would have to change the location in order to continue the class.
The husband who owned the apartment woke me early the next day while it was still dark. I quickly got ready. After breakfast, he motioned for me to follow him. I grabbed my stuff and left the apartment. We drove for twenty minutes and then he pulled the car over near an intersection in an older part of town and looked at me, smiled, and motioned for me to get out of the car. It was still dark. A little confused, I stepped out of the car and he drove away. I stood there feeling lost, but within seconds (which seemed much longer), someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and saw a young man with a bright smile on his face. He spoke to me in broken English: “Nice to meet you. Follow me.”
I followed him into a very old building located on the corner of the intersection. We climbed up four flights of steps and came to a large rusty steel door with most of its dark green paint peeled off. He knocked on the door, and an elderly woman came to open it. We walked down a hallway with people sitting on little stools alongside it. At the end of the hallway was a tall wooden table surrounded with small rooms filled with people. It was only about 6:30 AM. My translator was already there when I reached the table. The pastor was also there. He, with a big smile on his face, motioned me to begin teaching. Needless to say, by this time my adrenaline was pumping! Here we were, one day after being threatened by the police not to meet for religious purposes, and we were gathered in a different location to do the same thing. Amazing! I taught the Word all day and into the night for four more days in that location. I had the joy of fellowshipping with some wonderful older Christians, many of who had suffered great affliction under the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960’s and 70’s. Some had been in prison for their faith. What an absolute privilege to which I felt—and still feel today—totally unworthy.
My wife and I have been living in China since 2004, and it has been a long obedience in the same direction that at times has seemed more like a scary ride on a roller-coaster in the dark. You know the final destination, you know where the ride will ultimately end, but the ride itself… well that’s another story! The sense of aloneness, new language, new culture, new people, new food, new schedule, etc…, you get the point! Navigating through these things in a manner that reflects the grace and kindness of God is a grueling challenge. In our weakness, we experience the power of God working through the Word of God—bending, stretching, squeezing, molding, and ultimately strengthening us. It has been a painful process and often continues to be, but we would not trade it for anything!
Following the Lord Jesus to the other side of the planet has been for us a life-changing, spiritually-transforming journey. By His loving kindness we have been delivered through times of dark discouragement and depression, through life-threatening battles with cancers, and through many feelings of failure and weakness. These things, that are common to all, are often intensified by the added stress of living in a foreign culture. But in all these things, we have been more than conquerors through Him who loves us! His grace, His patience, and His loving kindness have all abounded toward us at times when we least expected it and certainly least deserved it.
We enjoy many things about living in China. In the time we have lived in our city, it has grown from 4.5 million to ten million. Nowhere on the planet could you experience such amazing growth and change! People have flocked to our city from the countryside which has brought many different cultures and foods into one place. All of your senses are heightened when you live in such a place. People are very hospitable, and we have learned some deeply important lessons from them which I hope to take back with us when we return to the States.
We especially love the opportunity the Lord has given us to advance the Gospel here. I am always encouraged when I read Revelation 7:9-12:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
There is nothing that can hinder the prophetic Word of God from being fulfilled—it is by nature unstoppable! The gospel will advance to every nation and we, as obedient followers of Jesus, get to be part of that unstoppable plan we call the Great Commission. Isn’t that amazing?!?!
I have never gotten over the fact that Jesus called me to be His follower. It certainly wasn’t because of anything He saw in me. I brought nothing to the table. It was purely an act of His grace—a rescue of a guilty sinner bound for an eternity in hell, separated from the loving kindness and presence of the God of Creation. It abounds freely to all who repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ. It was totally grace for which I am and forever will be grateful to God.
Joel Arnold, Missionary in the Philippines
This concludes our series on "Ask a Missionary." Joel Arnold from the Philippines answers four questions with engaging answers. I hope you find it helpful. If you have more questions that haven't been answered, send them our way!
1. Do you recommend seminary for missionaries?
Absolutely. To make the point I'll highlight two wrong ideas.
First is the notion that advanced education isn't really necessary for pastors or people going into ministry. The ministry is really about heart for people and yearning to reach the lost, isn't it? And after all, there are people who had passionate evangelistic zeal, only to have that cool during their years of education. Plenty of pastors have been effective without graduate education.
The best response here is to recognize that our expectations are rather different for any other kind of "professionals." I don't accept heart or zeal as a substitute for training with my doctor, dentist or airline pilot. I want training—solid, core knowledge. We ought to expect the same thing from people who will deal with people's souls. This is no casual work; it requires much more than casual training.
But a related notion is that missionaries are the people who didn't make it as pastors. They lack the social skills, training or leadership to do ministry here, so we'll send them abroad where the expectations are lower.
I, of course, find this notion completely odious. It's a massive slight on Christian brothers and the needs of lost people abroad—shouldn't we send our best quality of ministers to reach them? But it also ignores a basic reality of cross-cultural ministry. Transcending culture with the Gospel is one of the most challenging types of ministry. How do you confront fallen thinking in a Buddhist, pluralist, secularist or Islamic culture? How do you solve the deep ethical and social conundrums faced by new believers in these contexts, possibly setting precedents for future generations of believers? These are hard questions and they demand our caution.
For these reasons I would strongly urge every missionary candidate to attend seminary. You need the basics of exegesis, systematic theology, practical theology and life shaping that every seminarian seeks. But I would also urge missionaries to seek cross-cultural training. A three-month intensive program should be the minimum. Ideally, it would be excellent to take a one-year Master of Arts type of program.
2. If YOU could ask another missionary a question, what would YOU ask them?
With so many opportunities and open doors for critical ministries, how do I make strategic decisions on what to do? How do I balance my limited time and protecting my family with the reality that there is so much to do?
3. How are you or your team using your unique gifts to reach people with the Gospel and disciple them?
The Lord gave me the privilege of doing advanced seminary training and has given me a love for teaching. Now I minister in a Bible college with three other men that hold doctorate degrees in Bible. We train about ninety students a semester for the ministry and hold regular block classes for pastors across the Philippines.
How does this fulfill a unique need? The last century of American evangelicalism brought an amazing multiplication of educational and training riches. We have far more books than we can read, multiple excellent commentaries on every book of the Bible, endless free online courses and resources, and men with earned PhDs that hardly use them. In short, we have a surplus.
When you leave the US, particularly for the majority (developing) world, everything changes. Exchange surplus for famine. In place of the casualness that comes from having more than we can possibly use, you find a deep hunger for truth. People are ready and willing to make great personal sacrifices in order to learn, then immediate apply these lessons in their ministries. I view my role as transferring a small part of the surplus to places where it will be deeply valued.
Believers in North America should hardly accept defeat. But missiologists are nearly univocal in affirming that the growth of the church is coming from the Global South—the majority and developing world, particularly in Africa and South East Asia. These men and women can teach us many lessons about sacrifice, diligence, and ministry that is genuinely driven by a passion for truth. But if there's something we can help them with, it's solid grounding in exegesis and theology. Our generation has a unique opportunity to contribute to a great work of God that is dawning in our day.
4. If you were to meet a young person who said they wanted to be a missionary, what advice would you give them?
Learn to be flexible. I wouldn't say lower your expectations in life, but I would say learn to broaden them. Eliminate things that you feel like you "have to have" and learn to enjoy lots of ways to live. Take a trip to the developing world and learn to accept people as they are, finding real joy in the differences and learning from them. Read and get training in cross-cultural interaction.
Forrest McPhail, missionary in Cambodia
We continue our series from last week - this time, Forrest McPhail, a missionary from Cambodia, will answer some more questions that students submitted.
1. Name a time when God saved your life. What was your closest near-death experience?
There were two similar occasions when God spared my life through miraculous means while I was driving my moped long-distance to village Bibles studies. In both cases, I was driving down the highway in Cambodia heading for home.
The first time, I was in my lane driving normally, fast because of the highway. Ahead of me, a city bus came barreling towards me, passing a vehicle in his lane, which would certainly shove me off the road. Steep drops into rice fields were on both sides and there was no time to stop and jump off. Right as the bus and would have hit me, I swerved off the highway onto a built-up patch of dirt that just happened to be at that exact spot, just enough to keep me from crashing below.
Another time, I was passing a parked semi-truck in my lane, as I began to pass, again going highway speed, a pickup truck suddenly came flying up a steep dirt road from the left, swinging on to the road coming towards me to pin me against the parked semi. I closed my eyes, holding on. I opened them to find I was passed the two trucks. There was no room for such a deliverance. It had to be God.
2. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I have eaten dog, frogs, rat, egret, water buffalo, fire ants and eggs, python, miniature deer, wild boar, jungle turtle, etc. But the worst was when a Cambodian farmer challenged me to eat his dish: jungle stir fry. It contained chopped up cow intestine and jungle weeds. He dared me to eat it and then stood there to watch. I ate it, praying all the way—and had seconds!
3. What would you or your family most appreciate in a care package?
Back when we first went in 2000, there were lots of things a person might send from the USA that would be special. Since then, Cambodian has rapidly developed and tourist has exploded, resulting in many import stores with American goods. At one point we received a care package that contained a bunch of Little Debbies. Believe it or not, it made us quite emotional!
Beyond food items, some favorites we have received in the past have included things that people have made reminding us of their prayers: personalized coffee mugs with signatures of those praying; kitchen cloth items with names of people praying; prayer lists taken from our prayer letters that had been prayed through and signed by those in a church that prayed through that list, etc.
4. If you could change one thing about how you got to the mission field or what you’ve done on the mission field, what would it be?
God has been thoroughly gracious in all things. We have been given strength and provision for every step of the way, in all circumstances. We are most blessed and grateful to God for our privilege to serve Him in Cambodia.
Our first six years on the field were largely taken up with the passion of our hearts: language and culture acquisition, evangelism, and church planting. The Lord slowed me down by allowing me to be afflicted with post-viral syndrome/fibromyalgia which greatly challenged my ability to minister. In the ten years since, we have been in a continual state of prayer regarding how best to serve Christ and be useful in the advance of the church on this pioneer field. I have often struggled with lack of physical and mental energy to do the types of ministry that we went to Cambodia to do. My passion was for aggressive evangelism and disciple making, especially in the villages where Christ was not named.
God provided many opportunities for that type of ministry, but on a much different scale than we desired. He did, however, give us opportunity to participate in and encourage church planting in Cambodia in ways that we could not have foreseen.
The lesson learned? It took far too long to accept the limitations that God had given and plan ministry accordingly. I had almost idolized a kind or style of ministry that I was no longer able to perform. I had to find contentment in my Captain’s plan and seek opportunities to serve Him faithfully within it.
We do not know how the Lord will work through us His individual servants, or how He will guide us over time to do the work for which He has called us. The key is to humble ourselves, go, fulfill our ministries, and allow ourselves to be led by our Lord one step at a time. We are, each one of us, but one very small part in the greater work that Jesus is doing through His people to build His church. He is in control of each small part. He will make no mistakes.
5. What methods are you using to make opportunities to meet unbelievers and develop relationships with them?
Missionaries have widely differing means of meeting unbelievers and developing relationships depending upon the culture they serve in, their own personal gifts and talents, and the political situation. For us, we have enjoyed a very open and friendly Cambodian culture, religious freedom, and relative ease maintaining visas. What this means for us is that we have enjoyed greater latitude when it comes to public witness and evangelism.
We have: sold Christian books in a city market, rented a market stall; held children’s and youth activities; put our children in the public school; done street preaching; went door-to-door with tracts that we have written in order to introduce ourselves; had Christmas parties; had short-term English activities; accepted the many invitations to weddings (they love inviting foreigners!); attended local funerals (as all neighbors would); sought opportunities for talking to men over noodles or coffee; held evangelistic meetings at a modest local coffee and noodle shop; took advantage of all conversations in the community and visited with neighbors regularly.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.