Fearful Thoughts About Coming to China

Before coming to China, we heard a lot about what life should be like in China. We were in Churches that never heard of a missionary to China to churches that supported several missionaries to China. We met people who had friends or family living in China and people who had just read stories on the internet about China. We also met people who had served and lived in China themselves. Everyone’s experience relating to China and how they viewed the current situation varied, therefore we received encouraging and yet not so encouraging news about our plans to move to this country.

One of the encouraging times was when a previous missionaries to China took me out to dinner and shared his story with me. He shared of his struggles and how God brought them through. He shared of the victories of how He was used of God to lead several to Christ. He then offered a helping hand through prayer with understanding of what we were about to enter in the months ahead. They were really a blessing to me. But not everyone was like that!

A lot of the time when people spoke to us about China it would cause fear to come knocking on the door. It was a battle I had to learn to deal with over the next several months (I am thankful for a pastor and mentor who helped me keep the right focus).

I first met opposition when I called pastors to book meetings. Some pastor’s would tell me crazy stories they heard about China. They seemed to”know” about China and unwilling to learn about China. Here are some of the oppositions:

  • A pastor told me I couldn’t do what I was claiming, he even called to ask friends, he wasn’t comfortable having us in because of it.
  • A pastor told me that I can’t…(be a church planter in China).
  • A pastor told me they can’t support a missionary to China because it is against the government and you have to lie to get into the country.
  • A pastor told me that I was too open on the internet and there was no way the government would let me into the country once I got to the border.

But it wasn’t just from pastor’s over the phone. It came from many other people, people we met in person, over email, on Facebook, or random phone calls. They would tell us:

  • Don’t be open on the internet, use Facebook, or anything like that.
  • Make sure your name doesn’t show up in google, especially with anything religious or about China.
  • Don’t use Skype in China because they screen your calls and know what you’re saying.
  • Don’t download anything on Chinese servers because they all include spyware.
  • Your telephones are tapped in China so you have to be careful what you say.
  • Speak in code words, don’t openly talk about the ministry.
  • People follow you around and will constantly be watching you.
  • Be careful what you write in emails because they are scanned by the government.

When people are constantly telling you things like this, it begins to cause fear to set in. When your life is going to be under complete surveillance, it causes you to act and think differently. Especially when the next thing happens…

Fearful Thoughts Continued…

When people are constantly telling you things like this, it begins to cause fear to set in. When your life is going to be under complete surveillance, it cause your to act different. Especially when the next thing happens:

A guy calls my sending church and spoke with my pastor about me. He claimed that he worked in Washington DC for the government. He knew through some special intelligence that the Chinese Government was downloading information from google and they would have all my information because of my website. This would prevent me from going to China etc. Of course, he wouldn’t give all of his details, since the information he was sharing, he wasn’t suppose to be sharing. Weird!

Another story I remember from deputation went like this: I was at a church and a man started to share some top-secret information with me. He was nervously looking around the room to make sure no one else could hear him as he whispered to me about a ministry that was in China. He wasn’t suppose to tell anyone but thought the information might help me.  He was obviously very nervous about the information and how top-secret it was. The fear factor was taking over and he wasn’t going to or even apart of the ministry in China.

There are so many other stories and things that have happened. But we are in China now, learning the language, and seeing God do great things. The stories haven’t stopped (though almost all of what we were told can be easily debunked). People are still saying many of the same things and even more so. People are still talking to us in code over the phone, email and in person. Some act as if you should take extreme caution in who you witness to and invite to church. But for us things have been different. We have been able to work with a team who wants to see God do great things and who are boldly living out the Gospel. We have been less fearful since coming to China, but we still have to keep a handle on fear and not let it creep into our lives. I read this quote the other day on twitter which said:

“Boldness isn’t about being comfortable with what’s outside of me, but being propelled by the grace and power of the One who lives inside me.” via @PaulTripp

Hearing all these stories and everything people told us didn’t cause us to be comfortable but very uncomfortable. But we can keep going forward because of being propelled by the grace and power of Jesus who lives inside us!

The same day I read this quote from the World Evangelism Quote of the Day by Hudson Taylor:

“China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women. The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, [and] souls first and foremost in everything and at every time–even life itself must be secondary.

At the end of the day, we are missionaries serving in communist China. We didn’t sign up for an easy job. Persecution is something that we might have to face one day, but we aren’t going to live in fear to avoid it… “We’re missionaries, it’s an occupational hazard.”

Stories & Rumors of Stories

Through out our short time here in China, we realize that a lot of what happens is interpreted and seen through the lens of “our purpose for being here.” We hear many stories of things taking place and we live many of the stories. But what do you do when things like this happen:

  • Police want to meet up with you or your friends for unknown reasons.
  • Your name and church was supposedly turned over to the cops by someone mad at you or acquaintances.
  • Hear stories of persecution in your country taking place in other parts of the country.
  • Others spread fear to you and your wife.
  • People reject your invitation to church.
  • You offer a police officer a Bible and he rejects it.
  • Stories of “suspicion” start to fly around.
  • Cops seem to be on the street more, you see them more often around your place.
  • There is a reported “crackdown” for house churches in the internet news.
  • A police officer looks through your Pastor training resources.

What should you do? Stop? Move Locations? “Take a Break”? Leave the Country?

Well everyone man will have his own answer depending on the severity of the situation, but for the most part many should just keep on doing what you have always done. We have learned this from our team and time here. We didn’t try any crazy stunts because we though our time is short, nor did we run into hiding and drop everything. Stories and rumor of stories are going to be a constant way of life for us, so our reaction to them needs to be fairly consistent. We can’t run at every hint of persecution nor can we stand on the street corner with a bullhorn preaching our (supposedly) last words. We have to trust the Lord and not stop. The stories and things that have happened, for the most part, just pass on by and there is no effect on our end. The preaching of the gospel should never stop when persecution starts but should be proclaimed in spite of the end result.

Questions to Ask

I always like to know the details of a story. I want to know more than just someone’s perception or interpretation of what happened. Everyone looks at things through their own lenses so things can easily be looked at different. I think this is especially true when hearing stories of persecution. I thought of some questions to ask missionaries and ask ourselves when stories arise.

Questions to ask those involved:

  • What was the main reason for your problems or persecution?
  • Did you or your family feel in danger?
  • Where you forced to do anything?
  • Did you make anyone mad that could have reported you?
  • What were the consequences?
  • What was your ministry like? How will this change your ministry?
  • What kind of place where you meeting in? (if involved with Church Planting)
  • On a scale of 1-10 how bold/open where you being?
  • If you are not allowed to return, are you satisfied with what you accomplished?
  • Where the believers in any danger?
  • Did the police act unkind and hateful?
  • Was there any warning signs?
  • Were you involved in anything political?
  • Does this seem to be a widespread thing or do you think it was an isolated case?
  • Was there a raid, crackdown, or interruption of any of the services?
  • Did the internet, email, or a website have anything to do with it that you know of?
  • Do you feel you were under surveillance? Phone tapped? Spies in the services?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is it an isolated case of persecution? Why or Why not?
  • Is the persecution caused because of the Gospel or political involvement? Why?
  • After evaluating what happened in the story, does the problems seem to be with the ministry or was it something else? Visa? Job? Money? Bad Relations?

I think the first set of questions can help understand the story and what really happened, where as, the second list of questions can help you make a conclusion about the story. I have found that after asking many of these questions, I get a better understanding of what “really” happened and see the situation less dangerous than original presented.

This post was originally posted as a 4 part series on www.chinaramblings.com and was reposted here by the original author.

  • Posted November 3, 2014 4:43 pm
    by Eric Elrod

    Mark, in those instances where you are told all the horrifying stories of your country, how do you respond back to the people who are telling you those things that you have found out not to be accurate after being in the country for a few years now? Do many people just refuse to believe what you tell them? Do people want to believe that it’s really bad there?

    • Mark
      Posted November 6, 2014 8:10 am
      by Mark

      Eric, you want to answer back in a respectful manner because most people are just repeating things that they heard and are just ignorant on the subject. Very few people you talk to know of a first-hand account of persecution in the country of interest.

      On deputation it was harder because everyone just sees you as a young punk (which I was/am) and thinks that you are misguided or just naive about the real situation. I would just state what I believed to be true (and had friends “in country” doing the work as proof to what I was saying).

      Now, I am here, so it is a lot harder for people to doubt me, so they will just say that my city has more freedom than other parts of the country or that God seems to bless us differently etc. (Excuses are easy to come by…or maybe they are true.)

      Some people might want to think it is bad because they like the whole 007 thing, but I think the thoughts of many people get hijacked by fear.

      Finally, I will say, the fears and stories might be true, but are you willing to be bold in-spite of them? That is where the rubber meets the road…

  • Trent Cornwell
    Posted November 3, 2014 11:33 pm
    by Trent Cornwell

    Wonderful! Could you share with us what are some things God did in you life during your time of training that help prepare you? What are some doctrines of passages you really studied? What are some experiences you had before going to China that helped prepare you?

    • Mark
      Posted November 6, 2014 9:36 am
      by Mark

      Trent, I think two things stick out that helped me:

      (1) Being at a missionary training school where theses issues were really dealt with was a huge help. We studied the passages of persecution and went through acts and learned from their example. We were taught the reality of what could happen and encouraged to be obedient to the commission no matter the cost.

      (2) I taught a course on persecution (Genesis-Revelation) before coming to China and that help me get a grasp on my understanding of several Biblical principles, although, I still needed help in the practical applications.

      Three more bonus thoughts that might not be completely related to the questions, but hopefully helpful:

      (3) Having a mentor who constantly pushes me to be obedient and think on the right things. Having a mentor you can look to, who knows you inside and out and is willing to be that constant voice in hard times.

      (4) It is hard to be brave when it is just you, but when you have others cheering you on it encourages you to move forward. Surround yourself with those who are positive Bible thinkers and prayers.

      (5) Serving with a church and mission board that cares to see the gospel flourish more in a country than its missionaries or own organization. They don’t promote fear by requiring us to use code etc.

  • Posted November 5, 2014 12:42 am
    by Kanon Bloom

    Do you purposely talk about how many of the myths that people know about China are simply not true when you present in churches? Or is this only something that you talk about if people question you?


    • Mark
      Posted November 6, 2014 8:24 am
      by Mark

      Kanon, I didn’t have it in my presentation (on deputation) to talk about the myths for a few reason: (1) I believed many of them early on, a bold approach to ministry is something I had to learn (2) I rather talk about what God is doing, not what others say He can’t do (3) I could only speak on the behalf of others doing the work since I wasn’t there yet. I would often talk about the boldness of our col-laborers since they were on the field at the time.

      Often during question and answer times, the “myths” would come up and I would be asked about many of them. I tried to have a good, solid, intelligent and biblical answer for the many questions, explaining the myth and then my thoughts on it. I think it help many churches/people. Some people would be upset and say what I was saying wasn’t true because they had a friend in China so… (the are emotionally involved, so its hard to reason).

      Since then, I have tried to write about it to open up the conversation for more dialogue.

      Now, in churches, I just talk about all that God has done and people don’t need to ask about the myths 🙂

  • Posted November 5, 2014 9:16 am
    by Shawn Bateman

    I read this today in my devotions Neh. 6:9 “For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.”
    I know that Christians have good intentions but their attitude of fear has caused this very thing to happen in many places. Great article Mark, keep the work going

    • Mark
      Posted November 6, 2014 8:34 am
      by Mark

      It’s true, fear spreads. The easiest way is by word-of-mouth. Then we can become useless.

      Sayings > Fearful Thinking > Paralyzed Ministry

      Sayings > Bible Thinking > Bold Ministry

      We all will hear the same things, but what we choose to think on will make the difference.

      Thanks Shawn!

  • Posted November 5, 2014 1:21 pm
    by Glen South

    Thanks for the article. My question is very similar to Trent’s. How can a student, like myself, prepare themselves for bold gospel ministry?

    • Mark
      Posted November 6, 2014 8:50 am
      by Mark

      Glen, I think there are several things you can do to prepare, here are a few I can think of:

      (1) Define what you must do in your ministry no matter the cost.
      (2) Have a Biblical foundation of fear, boldness, persecution and suffering.
      (3) Start praying for God to give you wisdom.
      (4) Talk to all the missionaries in the country you can, but don’t accept everything they say. Take notes, learn and wisely go forward.
      (5) Define the price you are willing to pay. (Take up your cross)
      (6) Die to yourself and your stuff daily. Don’t sacrifice your ministry for your stuff or… (list it out).
      (7) Surround yourself with others who have a bold gospel ministry and it will rub off on you.

      I think thinking through many of these problems a head of time will help you when you are faced with them. Always get wise counsel, especially from those who are doing what you want to be doing and those who will help encourage you to go forward. Constantly cast off the fearful thoughts and replace them with Biblical ones.

      You are in a battle, but you have everything you need to overcome.

  • Posted November 5, 2014 11:03 pm
    by Ben Thomas

    How do you, or perhaps more appropriately where, would you draw the line between boldness and recklessness?

    • Mark
      Posted November 6, 2014 9:09 am
      by Mark

      Ben, that question is asked often and most people answer it with “if it caused persecution, then it was reckless.” People’s thoughts often lead them to think, “if he was just more careful and wise then he wouldn’t of been persecuted.” They think those who aren’t being persecuted is because they aren’t reckless and much more careful… which may be true, but they are often times more disobedient to the great commission as well.

      Being a church-planter in China is reckless. Preaching the gospel in a communist country is reckless.

      To answer your question, I think the line is drawn where you willingness to to serve Jesus and your obedience to his commands intersect. Am I willing to follow Jesus and what does he command of me? What will it take to fulfill both of those? What does that look like in “country”? Can I be obedient to the command there, and if I am, am I willing to suffer for it if that happens?

      Foundationally, I think that answers the question.

      Practically, not so much, so my question to you is, what does “boldness” mean and what does “recklessness” mean?

      Once you define your terms, and building on the above foundation, then you can easily ask questions about the practical applications.

      • Posted November 6, 2014 1:09 pm
        by Ben Thomas

        My definition of reckless (at least in this context) would be, an almost flagrant disregard of any caution. To the extreme of proclaiming the gospel loudly in the streets. And boldness would be, taking a risk and doing what needs to be done. I guess a better question would be, at what point are you boldly adhering to the Great Commision and at what point are you just being stupid?

        • Mark
          Posted November 6, 2014 8:44 pm
          by Mark

          Now with a working definition you can easily ask yourself when dealing with a certain “practical application” of your ministry the following questions…

          Is ____________ a flagrant disregard of any caution. (stupid)

          Is ____________ taking a risk and doing what needs to be done. (boldly adhering)

          …and work through the pros and cons of each side.

          • Posted November 6, 2014 9:55 pm
            by Ben Thomas

            thanks for the answers, Mark, I’d say I get it, but, I’d need to put it in practice first.

    • Mark
      Posted November 6, 2014 8:48 pm
      by Mark

      I wrote a blog post on my blog called “Hate Mail” and at the end I explained what this process looks like for us:


      Here is a part of the post:

      “As I mentioned above, the “fundamentals” are settled. The “preferences” will change when we see a problem arise. If we are doing something that doesn’t have to be done (non-fundamental) and it causes us problems, then we will change it up. We don’t desire to cling to “it has to be done this way” traditions.

      In conclusion, if you see our team doing something that you are wondering about, it is probably for one of the five reasons:

      (1) We don’t think it is a threat.
      (2) It is a threat but a fundamental.
      (3) It is a threat, not a fundamental, but the effectiveness is worth the risk.
      (4) It is not a fundamental, but we don’t know if it is a threat or not, so we are testing the line and willing to take the risk.
      (5) It is not a fundamental, but it is a threat and we are not wanting to take the risk.

      Below are a five examples of how the above reasons are practically applied:

      (1) The internet, we don’t think it is a threat.
      (2) Church services are a threat but a fundamental.
      (3) Introducing myself as a pastor to strangers is a threat, not a fundamental, but the effectiveness is worth the risk.
      (4) A church sign is not a fundamental, but we don’t know if it is a threat or not, so we are testing the line and willing to take the risk.
      (5) Street preaching with a bullhorn is not a fundamental, but it is a threat and we are not wanting to take the risk.

  • Posted November 7, 2014 4:25 pm
    by Tim Kelly

    Thank you for sharing this post it was very encouraging

  • Posted November 7, 2014 8:39 pm
    by Nancy Kelly

    Great article. It reminds me that you have to have faith in the Lord while you are on the mission field.

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