Beyond Babel: Learning Mandarin Part V

In May of 2015, my dream finally came true. After years of countless hours of listening to podcasts, conversing with shopkeepers, and leading small group Bible studies; one of the pastors finally asked me to preach at a college and career Bible fellowship, which was one of the ministries of the local, national church.

I was given a couple of weeks notice and set out to prepare myself well. It was to be, after all, my first time to preach in Chinese. I chose for my text Luke 9, in which Peter affirms Jesus as the Christ and Jesus defines the terms of following Him. I was given forty five minutes to preach, which was to be followed by small group discussion.

This Bible study, different from the one mentioned in my previous post, ran over fifty on an average Saturday evening and was steadily growing. By 2015, Anny Grace and I had been attending for over a year  and had gotten to know everyone in the group. We had prayed together, studied the Word together, and laughed together. As I became a more and more integral part of the church, the Lord finally blessed me with the opportunity to achieve my goal of the last five years.

That night I preached with virtually no hiccup in my language ability! Afterward, friends approached me to thank me for the message. I was successful! But, my success was not due to anything inherent in me. Rather, it was due to the work that the Lord had accomplished in me and used to push me to learn Mandarin to honor Him.

Walking home with Anny Grace that night, I remember her sharing with me in my excitement for reaching this milestone in my life in Longyan.

I was on top of the world and excited to see what the Lord had in store for me next. One thing that I discovered in a matter of days was that having attained my dream of preaching in Chinese, it was high time I set my sights higher.

Unfortunately, I had already heard from the pastors in the area that they would not let me preach in any Sunday morning worship services for fear of my drawing unwanted attention to them and their congregations from the local government.

Struggling with what to do next, I was reminded of a small group of missionaries whose blogs I had stumbled upon online just a year previous. They were boldly proclaiming their faith. They were planting churches. They were training men for the ministry.

I wanted to be a part.

Beyond Babel: Learning Mandarin Part IV

I froze. Why would he ask me first, of all people? I mean, my Chinese was getting conversational, but I was nowhere near confident enough to be put on the spot like this in the middle of a Bible study.

I fidgeted in my chair as my mouth began to dry. “I didn’t know I’d have to discuss this today,” I managed to get out in Mandarin thinking my face was certainly turning red in embarrassment.

“Oh, ok,” responded the pastor with a hint of confusion. “Jiang YunTian, what do you think?”

I was relieved that the spotlight had shifted from me, but also left wondering why the pastor would ask me an open ended question like that on my first visit to this Bible study. He had spoken to me at church before and knew my level of Chinese was still quite lacking. Why would he think my Mandarin could handle the question? Didn’t he realize that I was just hoping to come in and listen to their discussion to practice listening for Bible terms? Did he not have the forethought to know how embarrassed I would feel being put on the spot like that in front of my believing friends?

I wished I could answer the question. I yearned to be able to have free discussion with Chinese believers about the Bible. But after the blow to my pride I had just experienced, it seemed like me putting myself out there and coming to a small group Bible study was a bad idea.

Myriad are the instances like this that I could use to tell about my struggle to learn Mandarin. Stories from in church and out of church. With friends and with strangers. Whether in the supermarket or at the bank, I was constantly either making embarrassing mistakes or being left to give blank stares that communicated I didn’t understand.

But, through it all, the Lord taught me much about myself and about Him. He taught me what it means to humble yourself to become like someone else. I was often faced with minor humiliation, as in the story above, as a result of wanting to adapt to Chinese life. But, that is nothing compared to what Christ endured becoming a man and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

As one can see, my first forays into national churches in China weren’t easy. There was much to struggle through, both in regards to language and culture. But the Lord was continuing to bless and getting my Mandarin skills ready to preach.

To China and Back (And Back to China Again)

Some of you know that I have already spent five years living in China. Below is the story of how the Lord got me there and how (and why) He brought me back to the U.S. to eventually send me back again.

Since I took my first short-term trip to China in 2007, I felt the Lord leading me to serve Him as a missionary in China. The opportunity finally came in the Fall of 2010 when the Lord opened the door for me to teach English in China. I always wanted to preach and pastor in China, but the only direction other missionaries were giving me at the time was to go to China as an English teacher. I reasoned that I could go as an English teacher for the first few years until I could speak the language and then figure out how to get into full-time ministry from there. I arrived in Longyan, Fujian, China in December 2010 and began teaching English in that city. Unfortunately, I did not go to church that first year because the national pastors at the local church were unsure of letting a foreigner attend. After my first year, I asked the pastors again and they agreed to letting me come to church. I had already begun studying the language, but church attendance really helped my Mandarin progress. I learned Chinese hymns and was under the preaching and teaching of national pastors. After about three years in the country, I met Anny Grace, who started attending church with me. Shortly after she was saved, we began to discuss engagement and marriage. At the same time, a national pastor began allowing me to occasionally lead a college and career small group as well as gave me a couple of opportunities to preach in a Bible study setting. In April of 2015, Anny Grace and I got married. By May of that year I was already trying to find ways to more involve myself in ministry in China. The national pastors were still unwilling to let me preach in main church services due to me being a foreigner and my job as an English teacher was restricting my time and took away from other ministry opportunities. Through much prayer, I decided to reach out to the Project China team. I had discovered and been reading their blogs for about a year and really admired all that they were accomplishing for the Lord in another region of China. After reaching out to the team online, one of the missionaries called me and told me about the Our Generation Training Center, a training center for missionaries located in Alpharetta, Georgia, out of Vision Baptist Church. Realizing that this would be the ideal opportunity for us to get the training we needed to do full-time ministry in China, we secured American residency for Anny Grace and arrived in the United States in December of 2015. Here I have been able to receive invaluable training on how to do cross-cultural missions and church planting full-time. Anny Grace and I are now on deputation to raise the support we need to go back to the field in China. We look forward to getting back and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost souls of that great country.