Going When Circumstances Say Stay: Deciding to Become a Missionary

This post is the first in a three-part series. Check back on Wednesday and Friday for the rest of the series.

For over a year, my wife and I stood at one of the most significant forks in the road of our family’s life; we were trying to discern the voice of the Lord. Should we leave our home, my career of over ten years, and our family and friends in order to live and serve in China? We prayed for the Lord to shout the answer, but what came back felt more like a whisper in a noisy room. We heard most of the words, but not all, and had to discern the whole message from its parts. At times my wife and I agreed on what we heard; at times we did not. One thing we both knew, though, was that neither of us ever expected to be wrestling with a decision like this.

By grace, my wife and I committed our lives to Christ as adults in 2001. I was in the middle of earning my Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and my wife was beginning a successful career in consulting. We had been attending a wonderful church and took advantage of any opportunity we could find to serve – Sunday school, new believers’ classes, small groups, event planning teams, and global outreach. It was through our involvement in global outreach that we had been exposed to Christ’s movement around the world, and particularly in China.

From our first China vision trip in 2003 until 2012, we briefly toyed with the idea of moving to China, but had instead grown increasingly convinced that God was calling us to be faithful senders and mobilizers in our hometown. Contributing to our apparent confidence about our roles as senders were several significant circumstances. We felt God had shown us favor in effectively leading small groups, discipling individuals, and directing significant global initiatives at our home church. The Lord had blessed us with three wonderful children who were succeeding in school, in sports, and in many deep friendships. I had developed a strong reputation in my career and was earning a substantial salary that enabled us to donate generously and to serve liberally in our church and community.

Most significantly, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend had recently moved to our city from another state and shortly thereafter gave birth to the cutest and sweetest nephew. Their proximity allowed us to build and enjoy a depth of relationship with them that we had never dreamed about. We had prayed for years that we would have opportunity to live near them. This, finally, was an answer to those persistent, heart-felt prayers. Surely, the Lord would not bring them near to us only to have us move away from them.

In spite of the success we were experiencing in our hometown, at the end of 2012, while on a ministry trip in China, I began to sense a strong urging that we needed to consider moving to China and serve as missionaries. Along with some of our ministry partners, I had identified several limitations in the approach our church and her partners had in serving China. Namely, we could be better at engaging local believers so that our work was not so dependent on foreigners. Also, the work of our church and partners was not clearly leading to the building of local churches, a core value of ours and of our home church. I began feeling a tremendous burden to address these limitations, even though it directly confronted the confidence we had been sensing in our role as stateside senders.

After sharing with my wife, we experienced tremendous confusion. Why wouldn’t God have called us ten years earlier, before we had kids, before my sister-in-law moved into our community, and before I established my career? The inertia of the life we had built seemed too substantial to make such a drastic shift. Why isn’t God calling some of our other ministry partners who seemed to be more qualified and for whom the life change would not be so jarring?

We initially could not resolve all the questions because my wife felt that all the data suggested that we should stay the course and remain in the U.S. as faithful senders and disciplers. I agreed with her in many ways, but felt torn because I could not shake the deep burden that I was feeling. As we wrestled with these questions, 2013 proved to be the most stressful year we had ever endured together. Unlike most missionary couples we knew, our calling was not clear and we had tremendous difficulty coming to a shared decision together. After many tears, sleepless nights, long conversations, hours of searching the scriptures, and heart-wrenching prayers, we committed in unity to moving to China.

However, even after making the decision to go, circumstances continued to emerge that tempted us to stay. While we recognized that some of our successes in connecting with ministry partners, engaging with business partners, raising financial support, and preparing ourselves for the expat lifestyle could only come about by Providence, there were also things that regularly caused us to revisit our decision. We were being given ministry opportunities in our church that years earlier would have been an answer to prayers. We were being asked to mentor potential missionary candidates. A position became open to lead global outreach at our church, and were I not leaving for China, I would have been a highly probable candidate. I had been given responsibility over one of the most significant projects at work and we were seeing tremendous success. My sister-in-law was not only in the same city as us, but was considering moving into a house down the street from us. The decision never became easy.

This blog post is the first in a three-part series describing my recent experience of moving to China. In the next post, I will share some of the considerations and practical lessons we experienced that allowed us to finally make a decision.


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Chunsun (meaning “spring bamboo”) is a collective pseudonym for writers ministering in sensitive situations to Chinese people. The author of this post lives in China and serves in supporting and strengthening the Chinese house church.

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Further Reading

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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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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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Stories from Shenyang

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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Stories from Qingdao

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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Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

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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Stories from Chongqing

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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Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

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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Stories from Changchun

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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Stories from Chengdu

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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