Editor’s note: China Partnership recently spoke with Hong Laoshi (a pseudonym), a Chinese American biblical counselor living in a large Chinese city with her family. She hopes to transform Chinese culture and communities through the gospel of Christ.
Hong Laoshi provides biblical counseling to both Christians and non-Christians, primarily serving women and children. She also trains Chinese churches and Christians in how to connect theology—what they claim to believe about God—with the daily life struggles they face. She is active in her local church, and enjoys having personal relationships and deep conversations with women in her community.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
China Partnership: Why is counseling and training a need in China?
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Hong Laoshi: Counseling isn’t just a need in China. It is an integral part of the kingdom ministry of Christ and the process of sanctification for Christians everywhere. Through counseling, we help connect the gospel with life. We especially help people to rely on God, and to wrestle and reconcile theology and faith: what they believe about God and how it relates to their struggles and daily life.
Anyone that has been part of a church picks up some level of theology or has their favorite go-to verses from the Bible. Some may even have an in-depth understanding of biblical truth, but most of us still strive to live out our Christian identity by seeking to legalistically obey God’s rules and regulations. This is especially true in Chinese culture. Although we seek to listen to and obey every word of God’s truth, the gospel is not simply “listen and obey.” The way to seek sanctification is not legalism, but by cultivating a lifelong relationship with God. This comes through repentance, reliance, and rejoicing in our Lord Jesus Christ.
God loves us so much. He comes to us, he redeems us, he blesses us, transforms us, protects us, and carries out his loving care. Our response to him is not seeking to accomplish a list of dos and don’ts, but completely giving ourselves to him in repentance, reliance and rejoicing. This is why we obey God.
We do not obey God legalistically as if we can secure our ticket to heaven or to avoid punishment. That’s not what the gospel is. Even though they can recite the theology, I see many Chinese living like this: “If I don’t do this, God will not like me and may even curse and punish me. If I do that, I will get a blessing from God.” I call this the gap between faith and life: they understand the theology in their minds, but they live legalistically and thus with a heavy burden.
Chinese culture emphasizes good works. Believers have a tendency to focus on works but ignore grace, and so undermine the importance of our relationship with God. Counseling is helping them to ponder how their theology is connected with God. We seek to help them properly gaze at and maintain their relationship with God. It is like giving them a fresh pair of eyeglasses with biblical lenses to navigate responses to our circumstances. How can we understand our struggles—our situation—in a more biblical way? How can we use what God has given to us to address marriage, parenting, depression?
These and other life questions show how counseling is such a big need in China.
CP: Tell me more about specific struggles or common issues you are seeing in China.
Hong Laoshi: Women struggle with employment and stress from work. They are overwhelmed with how to balance their family lives with their work. We live in a megacity, and work is a big stress. A lot of people work long hours, but still have to attend to their families. Yesterday I was talking with a sister who was struggling with wanting to be successful in her career. In order to do that, she has to sacrifice her time with her family. She works twelve to thirteen hours everyday, and when she gets home she usually doesn’t see her kid, who is four or five. They never have good family time together. Not only does she not see her kid, but also her husband, so her marriage is struggling as well. That is one of the big issues we see.
Single women also struggle: how can I be faithful to God and yet still find a mate? Getting married is a big issue. We are just past Chinese New Year, and every Chinese New Year there is a lot of pressure on singles, who do not know how to face their family members who give them pressure about getting married. A lot of women struggle with singleness: they want to be faithful to God, but what if they can’t find a good husband to marry?
People that come through counseling have various degrees of mental health issues they are struggling with: ADHD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, even eating disorders. We have people struggling with sexuality issues such as homosexuality or bisexuality. Those are taboo issues in Chinese culture. In Christian culture, people don’t know how to address those issues using a biblical lens.
We encounter people who have had experiences with or are in the midst of trauma. Specifically, I am thinking about abusive relationships: women may have previously been in an abusive relationship with their spouse, or as a child, or they are now in an abusive relationship. People don’t talk about abuse in this culture. You do see people seek help when there is physical abuse, because it is more apparent. Even with that, sometimes the church or culture addresses the issue by saying: “Don’t talk about it, don’t hit anymore.” There is no real help. They may urge the victims to “just forgive your abuser, because Christ loves you.”
Abuse is about power and control. Besides physical abuse, abusers use different forms of abuse to seek absolute control over the other person: verbal abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, etc. People do not talk about these, but they come through counseling to seek help because they are depressed, anxious, or have family conflict. When you explore further, you discover they are in an abusive or controlling relationship. I am not only talking about members of the church, but even church leaders are in those kind of abusive relationships, too.
This year we want to specifically address those issues to help people get more understanding of what abuse and domestic violence is in family relationships. Some people don’t even recognize that, when their spouse controls what they see, who they talk to, or how much money they spend down to one dollar, this is also considered abuse. Some of the counselees come in and are very depressed, and have never considered that their marriage is controlling and abusive. They feel lifted because they were taught that this was their problem, that they were depressed because of sin, and did not understand that they are in an oppressive relationship. The struggle is not merely they are in oppressive relationships, but the secondary trauma is that they do not receive appropriate help and support from their church families or society when they are courageous enough to vocalize their struggles.
It is helpful for them to have the language of trauma and abuse. It is a blessing for us to be able to walk with a lot of sisters to see how God is working in their relationships, and how God is using that bad situation to grow them in Christ and to have a much more intimate relationship with God.
CP: You help churches in the area build up their counseling ministries. Is counseling a common thing for Chinese Christians? How is that looked upon in Chinese culture?
Hong Laoshi: It depends on how you define the word counseling. Many believers do seek advice or support from church leaders when they encounter problems. But usually, they wouldn’t frame this as counseling. In a broader sense, when we use God’s word to encourage, confront, challenge, and remind people, that is actually a way of counseling. In this sense, they have been doing counseling all along.
We help churches and church leaders understand what type of wisdom they are using to address people’s struggles. They struggle between using wisdom of the world and biblical principles. There are a lot of gaps between theology and living out their lives, and pastors and church leaders have no idea what to do when a person is depressed. In the past ten to fifteen years, a lot of information has gone into China. People know how to search it out on the Internet, but this can be both a blessing and a problem. If they look for solutions from places that are not in line with biblical principles, they will bring in a lot of unhelpful ways of doing things. We train them. I say again and again: “You believe this; how can you live it out?” That is the connection they are missing.
The word “emotions” might not be in the Bible, but actually, the Bible is full of emotions. We try to help people understand that emotions are not a bad thing. If you are sad, it is not bad. How can we bring it back to God? That is something they are learning.
With something like abuse, it seems there is a division: life issues are life issues; theology is theology. They have no idea how the two connect. Our function, in counseling, training, and even in personal life, is to connect life and theology. We want to help people understand that their marriage problems, hormonal issues, depression, and anxiety are not occurring in a vacuum. We can use biblical principles to look at these things, see how to tackle them, and use God’s lens to live out a sanctified life. We are trying to help connect the problems people face with their theology.