Our Cross-Cultural Marriage, Part 2: The Story

Ryan and Abigail live and work in the Boston metro area. Ryan immigrated to the United States from China in 1999 and currently serves as a pastoral intern and staff member at Christ the King Presbyterian Church. Abigail grew up in Champaign, Illinois, and currently works and studies at Tufts University. They met while working in Washington, D.C., a city they love dearly. Catch up on the first part of the series here and make sure to check back over the weekend for the rest!

Abigail and I met in 2009 while we were both serving in the infant’s nursery of our church in Washington, D.C. At that time, we didn’t become fast friends because we lived in two different parts of the city and had different groups of friends. It took us three years to warm up to each other, but very early on we did notice one strange interest that we shared.

Many people assume we must have shared an interest in Chinese culture, but this was not the case. Our church was located in Chinatown in Washington, D.C., but the only interaction Abigail had with the Chinese culture up to that point was an occasional dinner at a Chinese restaurant. She did not learn Mandarin in college, never set foot in China, and did not grow up around Chinese immigrant communities. I sometimes joke with my friends that we got married because Abigail was genuinely, really, simply just in love with me.

The one interest that we both shared, oddly enough, was our common admiration for America’s second president and first lady, John and Abigail Adams. I have been a big fan of John and Abigail Adams since 10th grade, which often made me a laughing-stock among my high school and college friends. Despite the jeers, I was convinced that I must have liked them for a purpose. So when I met this girl named Abigail, she certainly caught my attention. When I eventually ended up marrying this Abigail, I felt vindicated. 

We did not start dating immediately; we didn’t even start dating until three years after we met. By then both of us were committed members of our church and volunteered at the same after-school ministry in Southeast D.C. While our pasts were very different, we were certainly converging in many areas. But most importantly, as we continued to grow in our relationship, we realized we were going in the same direction. Because we had been members of the same church for many years, we shared a similar vision for our lives, for family, and for ministry. We may have different cultural backgrounds, but both of our lives have been transformed and re-shaped by the gospel, and this shared commitment to the gospel made it possible for our relationship to grow. 

Recognizing our primary commitment to the gospel – rather than our own cultures – has had many major missional implications. First, we designed our wedding ceremony to reflect the presence of God in our relationship, and we wanted our non-Christian family members and friends to witness this as we began our marriage. Because we did not want my relatives (some came all the way from China) to have the impression that our wedding was simply an American ceremony, we included Chinese translation for every word spoken at the ceremony so that all of my relatives could follow the liturgy and prayers. We wanted our families to know that God transcends both American and Chinese cultures.   

Second, we wanted our marriage to represent two different cultures brought together by the gospel, rather than one culture assimilating into another. In Chinese culture, it is very common to expect the bride to be fully assimilated into the groom’s family. If you visit China today, you will notice that many Chinese couples and their kids are living with the paternal grandparents because that is the cultural norm. On the other hand, as a Chinese immigrant marrying an Anglo woman, most people assumed that I was fully assimilating into the American culture. But assimilation has never been a major concern for us because we believe the Word of God challenges both our cultures, and we should not fully embrace one or the other.

A topic that often comes up in our conversation is how different aspects of our backgrounds teach us about God. We also point out to each other how the Bible speaks against certain things that we have always taken for granted as Chinese or American.  Most importantly, we recognize that American evangelicalism has its own deep cultural baggage and desperately needs critique and wisdom from Christians around the world. Through sharing our Christian experiences, we learn that if we blindly propagate what we American Evangelicals have taken for granted, it may be detrimental to both our friends and to ourselves.

Lastly, our story should reflect God’s transformation in our lives. Many people on both sides of the Pacific have asked us how we ended up marrying each other. We like to point out that it is because we saw God’s work in each other’s lives and because other brothers and sisters from our church affirmed God’s work in our lives. Because we had faith that God would continue to sanctify us, we had confidence that our cross-cultural marriage would thrive. 

The first time my parents met Abigail, my mom said to her, “Ryan is very Chinese, do you think you can handle that? Think about it.” The first time I visited Abigail’s parents, her dad asked me point-blankly, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” The night before our engagement, my parents had a long chat with Abigail – speaking in Chinese while I translated for them – to make sure she knew what to expect when she married into our family. These were all very intimidating experiences! We could move beyond these experiences not because our cultural differences are unimportant, but because we believe there is something much more important. Some days our differences cause us to argue, but more often we are grateful for the opportunity to learn about God through the other person’s eyes. Our Heavenly Father is sanctifying us through these differences, and we hope that our marriage can be a testament to God’s glory and faithfulness to us.


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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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