The Missionary Calling: Lessons from a Short-Term Missions Experience in China
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My program was called the Tongliao, China Global Project 1998, one of several summer missions programs organized by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational student movement. It was officially a lingua-cultural exchange partnership with the Inner Mongolia Teachers' College of the Nationalities, in Tongliao, China. Each American delegate was to be partnered with a Chinese student, from the English department, with the purposes of building friendships, learning about each other's cultures, and giving the Chinese students a rare opportunity to practice their oral English with native speakers. For our part, we also hoped to model Christian community and faithfully witness to the work of God in our lives. The program was mediated through one of the college's English teachers, Narelle, a foreigner who, like many, uses her teaching position as a legal contact point for her missionary calling. She put the officials of the Teachers' College in contact with our team's directors, Ken and Carla Bieber. Ken had previously spent a year in China, teaching English as a Christian witness in Bautou (where he first made Narelle's acquaintance) and Carla works as an Area Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I had two major purposes for being in China. The first was to deliver a message from God to the Chinese people; the message of God's gracious forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ. I was a short-term missionary. My second purpose was to be a student, learning from six weeks of experience what it was like to live as a missionary in a foreign land. While I had some opportunities for the former, the latter was more personally impacting. The six weeks I spent in China proved to be pivotal in my own understanding of the work of Christian missions. Many of my former associations with mission life were dismantled and reshaped, especially my glamorization of the field. Before, I had visions of adventure, travel, excitement and power as hoards of converts would come falling at my feet. But instead, I learned the labor, boredom, homesickness, culture shock and frustration that comprise real mission work. These lessons are invaluable for me as I consider the seriousness of committing to participation in the field of Christian missions. I have begun to understand why the foreign missionary must not be self-appointed: successful missions must be empowered by the Spirit of God. More than a career, it is a calling.