Editor’s note: This was written by a Chinese diaspora missionary who served for nearly two decades with her family in China. Through her years in ministry, she served alongside Chinese in several different cities, discipling and living with them in both triumph and challenges. She writes of some of the major challenges and realities her Chinese friends face as they seek to follow Christ. It is our hope that, as we understand the realities of the situation in which Chinese women live, we can better pray for and support the Chinese church.
Please note that, for security reasons, all names of Chinese throughout this piece have been changed.
Sa Zhongzi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American serving the church in China, assisting with the support and strengthening of the house church.
Breaking Out of Old Traditions
Dora and her husband, Dan are not your typical Chinese couple. We met when they began a ministry to families in the largest city in China.
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As China opened up in the 80s and received more Western influence, its people began to experience a sexual revolution. Men and women had sex outside of marriage and it became common for married men to have “girlfriends.” At the same time, factories multiplied and workers fled to the cities, in search of work to lift them out of the poverty of the countryside, as their children were left to be raised by their grandparents.
Dora and Dan saw the rampant sexual immorality and a generation of children who were essentially orphans, and left their jobs and began a ministry of evangelism and discipleship to families. When God blessed them with two children, they raised them on their own, even after many offers from their family to help. Their reason was simple. They wanted their children to be raised in an environment with God as the center and love, discipline, and grace influencing family interactions, and not in a Confucian environment which heavily relied on shame as a way to guilt children into good behavior. Plus, they wanted to be the ones to raise their kids, not another family member.
This didn’t come without a cost. Usually, the grandparents’ help in child rearing comes free of charge. This would allow both parents to work and improve their economic status. Another cost of their decision, in a society which values harmony and filial piety, was strained relationships with their parents. It is expected that grown men and women will still respect (i.e. obey) their elders, even if it means going against their personal wishes and convictions.
Even with their sacrifices, Dora and Dan would not have it any other way. They believe that their ultimate accountability is to God, and they have forged a path that is completely counter-cultural.
I visited Dora’s Bible study a few times over Zoom with women she was discipling. Many of them struggled with the same issues surrounding parenting. It is expected that women will continue to work after they have children. When they don’t return to work, they often feel lonely and isolated. This group was helpful in providing community for these women during a time when they needed the emotional and relational support unavailable in other places.
One woman in the group was especially torn over the decision of whether to return to work. I could tell that the financial burdens were heavy, but she wanted to be there for her child. There are no easy answers.
If Christian parents are beginning to worry about the effect of their non-Christian caregivers on their young children, the dilemma of educating their children in a system that is both atheist and Marxist has been one that has troubled believers for years.
Decades ago, there was no alternative. They sent their children to local schools and taught them about God at home.
Now, there is a growing movement of Chinese homeschoolers who have begun to network and figure out how to educate their children with others who are fed up with the public school system. There are also churches which have built schools where kids do not need to be indoctrinated with Communist propaganda.
The problem they must face is what to do once their children have completed high school, since these private schools and homeschools are not recognized by the government. Some have found ways to send their children abroad for post-secondary education. There are still many unknowns, but they feel that whatever challenges they might face are better than the state-run schools.
My friend, Naomi, is the principal of their church school. She has been approached dozens of times by the police asking her to shut their doors. Once, they were even raided and detained at the police station. A few weeks later they re-opened in a different location, much like how house churches respond to persecution.
“God gave me this vision. He will provide for us and give us wisdom for how to respond to the authorities,” Naomi remarked after they had moved. I know that the stress on her is great. However, she is determined to push against the status quo, in search for a better way for her children and others like them.
Remaining faithful and thriving
On the outside China seems like any other modern country. The shiny high-speed bullet trains have opened up travel between large cities. Each major metropolitan center has well-developed subway and bus systems. Every person has a smartphone, even senior citizens, and they use them to text their friends and family, for on-line shopping, and for paying any merchant—even the vendor pushing their cart, selling roasted sweet potatoes. But underneath the veneer of modernity and high-tech gadgets, the government still wields incredible control over individuals’ lives.
In this big brother type of surveillance state it is risky to be a Christian. It is well known that in recent years, persecution against any group that is deemed a threat to the government has been systematically targeted and been subject to a major crackdown—Buddhists, Uyghurs, and Christians. This fact is felt acutely by the locals.
The difference between us in the West and them is this persecution is normal and they have always found ways to remain faithful and thrive.