My first summer in China was before the internet was invented. Okay, it had to have existed somewhere in the world, but it was not part of daily life and I did not know words like email, internet, Facebook, IM, DM, IG, WWW. LOL, or hashtag.
I spent six weeks with other North Americans teaching oral English in the morning (my own class) and listening to lectures on methodology in the afternoon (all participants combined). A highlight was the cultural exchanges in the evenings. We North American’s talked about holidays, budgets, and sports, among other topics. Our Chinese students sang songs and performed local dances. Six evenings we showed movies we brought on VHS tapes. We were so cutting edge.
The Christmas presentation stands out because behind the scenes my team had heated interactions over how much to share about Santa Claus. No surprise, some wanted only the birth of Christ mentioned while others felt because it was a culture lecture Santa should be mentioned.
In the end, we came together as a team, invested tons of effort into the presentation, and reaped the rewards of knowing that regardless of what happened we had rightly handled what had been entrusted to us.
I only have vivid memories of one movie: Hoosiers. According to one review on IMDb, it is “about an intense coach (Gene Hackman) with a questionable reputation who finds himself in a small Indiana town faced with the unenviable task of turning around tiny Hickory High’s 8-man basketball team. Basketball fans will appreciate the movie for its authentic portrayal of small-town high school basketball in the 1950’s. ALL viewers will enjoy this fun film for its triumphs and its classic, feel-good story of David and Goliath.”
I would add to that review, “And if you happen to be an American who loves sports and is watching this movie in China, it will move you to tears as you well up with emotions about your passport country you are unable to articulate.”
Flash forward to today. We missionaries and cross-cultural workers still have discussions about what to share, how to share, and if we should share in a certain setting. Opinions can be strong and varying convictions may lead to team splits.
China, like many parts around the globe, is a very different world today than it was in the early 90s.
The seismic shift in technology leaves me laughing at a young woman who watched a VHS tape projected onto a big screen while sitting on a folding chair she carried from the classroom, carefully choosing a location near a ceiling fan. Lots of summer programs will be happening around China this summer. I can almost guarantee not one tear will be shed over Hoosiers.
And this is as it should be. But some changes are easier to flow with than others. For the first summer in forever, the Chinese government is very serious about cultural lectures not involving the Christmas Story because the goal of these programs is no longer about “cultural exchange.” Currently, Christmas is classified as a “Western Holiday” and as such has no place in China.
Sidestepping the whole “Western” versus “Religious” discussion, this week I have been thinking about how sneaky it can be for us to combine methods with message. Once combined, a change or “attack” or new policy to a method can be confused with the message.
Now, while it is true that some governments, schools, businesses, or leaders are anti-Christian and do not want the hope of Christ shared, they can not stop the power of love through friendship. Yes, they can make it more challenging, I am not trying to minimize the inconvenience or outright discrimination. I am also not talking about persecution.
But the recent changes in China have been a mirror to my own heart, my own thought processes, my own melding of method and message. Having seen the blurring of lines, this week God has asked me to sort through in my own work and ministries, asking myself what is
Method—and needs to be held more loosely.
Message—which also may ebb and flow with knowledge and maturity, but is foundational and not to be changed lightly.
Summers (or winters, depending on the hemisphere) can be times of change in the intensity of ministry activity. If you are in a season of increased activity, you may not have much space for the work sorting can take. For you, spend time noticing and jotting down comments you hear, activities you are involved in, and ways you go about sharing the Good News. Later, spend time reflecting privately and with ours about your work and what methods you use to share a message. Are there methods you are so wed to, they have blurred into the message?
If you have time this week, spend some time with God and those close to doing your own sorting.
Since you came to the field, how have your methods evolved and changed with the times, technology, and political sensitivities?