Ross and Christine Paterson's Blog

Reflections from Our Journey

Month: August 2019

China’s Population: A hidden crisis

In 2019, China's population stands at 1.418 billion, the largest of any country in the world. China ranks number one in the list of nations by population. China’s population is equivalent to 18.41% of the total world population. Most of us would be well aware of those facts. It gives rise to the humorous comment that God must love the Chinese people more than any other because He made more of them than any other!
What is less well known is that China's population growth rate is only 0.59%, ranking China not 1st but 159th in the world. Perhaps our initial reaction might be that slow growth for China is a good statistic. But it is not. According to the New York Times, “Chinese academics recently delivered a stark warning to the country’s leaders: China is facing its most precipitous decline in population in decades, setting the stage for potential demographic, economic and even political crises in the near future. The forecasters said there would be 27 million fewer children aged nine or younger by 2028, a 17 per cent reduction from today, putting a damper on related consumer markets including toys, clothing, milk-based products, education and childcare.”

Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote: “It can be seen that 2018 is a historic turning point in China’s population. China’s population has begun to decline and is rapidly aging. Its economic vitality will keep waning.” That is the first year it has done this since the famines of 1961 and 1962 induced by the Great Leap Forward, Mao’s industrialization campaign. The researchers said inaccurate census estimates had obscured the actual population and fertility rates. The fertility rate required to maintain population levels is 2.1 children per woman, a figure known as “replacement level fertility.” China’s fertility rate has officially fallen to 1.6 children per woman, but even that number is disputed. One source claimed it averaged 1.18 between 2010 and 2018.

All this challenges the vision of China’s leadership that “China will become rich before it gets old.” The experts say it will become “old before it gets rich”, because of the falling birth rate coupled with the fact that the economic growth is already starting to slow down.

"The looming demographic crisis could be the Achilles heel of China’s stunning economic transformation over the last 40 years. A decline in the birth rate and an increase in life expectancy means there will soon be too few workers able to support an enormous and aging population. And so the declining population could create an even greater burden on China’s economy and its labor force. With fewer workers in the future, the government could struggle to pay for a population that is growing older and living longer.” Thus consumer spending might slow and have an impact on the economy in China. Some even say China’s state pension fund might even run dry by 2035.

Pray for wisdom for China’s leaders to know how to face this looming population decrease with its wide economic and social implications.
Pray for the institution of the family in China that has been so much under threat, as it is in many nations around the world today.
Pray for the churches in China that they might understand from the Lord how to serve their nation in the face of this hidden crisis, giving hope and the Gospel to those already impacted by these events in China.

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The Power of The Word of God

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.” Paul, writing in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, makes a very interesting emphasis to his young team member, Timothy - especially since “this is the final chapter of Paul’s final letter.” Paul’s emphasis is on the Bible, the Word of God.

SOME READERS will be aware of the challenge in China today to the Bible. Over the last YEAR it has become more difficult to purchase copies of the Bible (now banned from selling online). Also THERE IS A very serious threat from the Chinese authorities to ‘sinicize’ the Bible, to rewrite the Bible to “adapt to socialist society." The plan proposes “implementing socialist core values by ‘retranslating’ the Old Testament with some Buddhist scripture and Confucian teachings and adding new commentary to the New Testament to make socialist ideals and Chinese culture seem more divine” (The Christian Post). In this context Paul’s challenge concerning the Scriptures to the young Timothy is even more urgent for China.

Therefore it will be good to focus on prayer for China and its church, that they should have the freedom to read and teach the Bible, the word of God. Perhaps we need to be reminded of the power of this word, even in societies that might reject it. As an encouragement to our faith in the power of God’s word, it is worth sharing the following true and powerful story.

The crew of the British naval ship HMS Bounty seized control of the ship. Goaded by the cruelty of their captain, they gave him and his friends a boat and watched them float out to sea. In the spring of 1789 the mutinous sailors settled on Pitcairn Island, a tiny dot in the South Pacific. They burned the ship, took Tahitian wives and recruited Tahitian workers. It had all the makings of a tropical paradise. But they turned it into a living hell, a cesspool of adultery, violence and drunkenness. Within a decade the natives attacked the settlers. Only one survived: Alexander Smith.

Left on a five square kilometre island, surrounded by natives, he did something remarkable. He began to read a Bible crew members had salvaged from the their ship, the Bounty. “When I came to the life of Jesus,” Smith later explained to his British Navy superiors, “my heart began to open like doors swinging apart. Once I was sure that God was a loving and merciful Father to them that repent, it seemed to me I could feel His very presence and I grew more and more sure every day of His guiding Hand.” The Scripture transformed not just Alexander Smith, but the entire island. When the British Navy discovered Pitcairn Island in 1808, its order and decency astonished them. The name Pitcairn became a byword for piety. From immorality to piety. What made the miraculous difference? The Bible!” (Quoted from Word For Today).

Pray for that amazing power of the Bible to be freshly released in the church in China.
Pray for that same power to be released across the nation of China, from North to South and East to West.
Pray for those working on sinicizing the Bible, that they would be changed themselves and overshadowed by both the love and the fear of the living God.

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Crackdown on church

Ian Johnson, writing in Foreign Affairs, defined the direction of Chinese government policy to the church in China in a way that should be helpful to all those who pray for China’s church. He essentially made three points.

Firstly, “the events of the past two years show that for the first time in a century and a half, religion is firmly ensconced in the center of China’s social and political life.” In other words, Christianity (and other religions) are now main stream in China, too large and significant to be totally removed.

Secondly, there are significant crack-downs by the Chinese government. “The day that many of us had feared was upon us: China’s best-known pastor, Wang Yi, and 100 of his followers had been detained. Their church of 500 members was closed – very likely forever…. Such stories have become common. Churches closed, crosses removed, mosques demolished, Muslims sent to internment camps – the list of state-organized measures against religion in China has been growing.”

Thirdly, and most significantly, Johnson argues that the policy is one of co-opting, of seeking to conform the church to the State and its values. “It’s easy to think that religion in China is being crushed by a strong state, diminishing in importance as a new powerful leader takes firm control of the country. This view is tempting but wrong. China is not retreating to the era of high Communism under Mao Zedong.

Today’s China seeks not to marginalize competing groups and belief systems, the way Beijing did during the Mao era, but to co-opt them…

Today’s Chinese state, much like the imperial state, can be a generous benefactor, helping to rebuild temples, train new Buddhist and Taoist clergy, and set up international exchanges with the faithful in other countries. But toward those out of favour – today largely Christians and Muslims – the state can be harsh, setting up re-education camps, demolishing mosques and churches, and persecuting leaders.”

The principle behind this is simple. There is no separation of church and state. “The government guides all aspects of societal life. In principle, it would not allow any social community or religious body – especially not a religious body demanding a high degree of commitment – to be independent from government control.”

And so some form of confrontation between the church that is faithful to Jesus Christ and the Communist State is unavoidable. “(China is) a society focused on ideology, and on principle (it) would not allow a religious faith that could influence the lives of many people... the ‘Sinicization of Christianity’ of recent years is an attempt to ideologize religious faith, and so soften the government’s current worries concerning the Christian faith. But the Christian faith pursues purity of doctrine and purity of the church. And therefore the house church that holds fast to the truth will not be politicized, will not allow doctrine to be remade by ideologies... From the perspective of political administration, this is the root of long-term tension between church and state.”

“The church is nakedly displayed in the public sphere. Therefore, when we face the government, there is really only one posture we can take: the posture of carrying a cross… In the East, we need an ecclesiology defined by theology of the cross, so as to face the tensions between church and state over the next 10, or even 50 years.”

(Source: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2019-01-07/how-state-co-opting-religion-china)

Pray that the Lord would anoint the church in China to know how to face this policy of co-opting. Pray for leaders to be able to define that “ecclesiology defined by theology of the cross”

Pray for the leadership in China, for more moderate voices to prevail.
Continue to pray for leaders and members of faithful churches where there have been closures and arrests.

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Five things I wish I had known

A while ago my husband and I were talking with a friend about the huge task that faces us in setting up an online training school. In the course of about an hour’s conversation, Eric asked a telling question. He said,

“Ross, Christine – looking back over your several decades of experience in international living – and granted the fact that you didn’t receive any cross-cultural training before you went – what would you say now are the top five things you wish you had known before you went to Asia?”

Wow – what a great question!

Below is my own considered answer. For me, this list actually encapsulates the substance of a basic course I have constructed, called Crossing Cultures 101. These issues I am talking about now are some of the topics that are covered in this course. And let me just say here, if you would like to come on board for that course – or if what I say in these few moments resonates with you in any way, please do sign up! It’s totally free to join.

Click here to access the Crossing Cultures 101 course for free: https://courses.fieldpartner.org/p/crossing-cultures-101

OK so let’s drill into this: Five things I wish I had known before I went!

1. The best time to build a strong foundation is at the beginning!

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But when it comes to life, ‘stuff’ often just happens, and sometimes good planning does not! Perhaps we only realise later that a bit more time taken early on, along with a lot more good input received from others, could have helped us build a stronger foundation for our marriages or our ministries. Looking back, Ross and I regret that we didn’t take time out at the time we got married to do some of our adjusting to each other in our own culture first. But we were young and zealous, Ross had already been in Taiwan for six years by then and was fully involved in student ministry, and I had two years of full-time language study facing me before we could start a family… We thought we didn’t have time for that, and besides, it was complicated by other commitments. However cultural adaptation, on top of marriage adjustment, were about to take a huge toll on us. If only we had realised how it was going to be and taken it slower!

2. More than we often realise, we are the products of our own cultures – and that can create unforeseen problems in the new culture.

The first module in my course focuses on this topic at some depth and, if you come with me, we’ll be checking out our assumptions and beliefs about the ‘right’ way to do things. Often, we are completely unaware of how our own socialisation influences the way we do life and the value judgements we make about others who do life differently. This shows up hugely when we arrive in a new culture.

Here are some danger signs to watch out for:

  • A tendency to reject what is ‘different’ from the way it is at home.
  • Wanting to enforce our own ways of doing things as ‘correct’.
  • Above all, we need to watch out for the things we tend to criticise or ridicule in the new culture…

3. The new culture will impact me too in distinct ways – that’s what’s known as Culture Shock.

In Module Two of my course I depict the whole cultural adaptation process as navigating a path between two mountain peaks – one being my own culture, where I belong and feel comfortable and the other being the new culture, which is at yet a mystery. In between these two peaks there is a valley, involving pitfalls and dangers and sheer hard slog. This is Culture Shock.
Not everyone navigates this valley successfully, but yet, the challenge of it can be an adventure that draws you on. In the course we will talk quite a bit about the anatomy of culture shock and what it takes to navigate through it.

And then there is Reverse Culture Shock (or Re-entry Stress) to navigate through as well, when returning home. This too is a ‘real thing’, but often more shocking because it is not anticipated! People assume that going back to their home culture after an assignment in a different culture will be completely straight forward and nothing to worry about. After all – are we not just returning home? Well, yes – but in the same way as you can never step into the same river twice (as the philosopher said!), you will be a different person after all you have been through, and the people and situation you are returning to will also have changed. That can make for some unwelcome surprises, which it is good to be prepared for. There will be a lesson in Module Two that deals with this issue as well.

4. I need support for my endeavour of navigating a new culture. Where and how can I find that? (We will be looking at much of what is involved in this in Module 3)

This brings us full circle to the first issue – how vital it is to build a good foundation and prepare well for our endeavour before we leave. That includes having good closure with those we leave behind and building a strong support base at the sending end. Why? Because we need to stay connected with those who know us well and are sending us out. We need their support and understanding, to involve them on our journey and keep them on side in what we are going through.
Here is one thing we strongly advocate for anyone going into another culture: find a core group of friends and family members who are willing to support you on this venture, be a sounding board for you and provide encouragement when you are struggling. They will be worth their weight in gold!
And look for support in other quarters too:

  • A culture coach maybe – someone who is ahead of you in the crossing culture journey and can give you some valuable tips.
  • Local friends who will explain the inexplicable and help you gradually to understand. If you are open and willing, they will be an invaluable resource.
  • A community of like-minded people who can encourage you.

Hopefully you will find that in the place where you are serving. But what if you don’t? This is where we in FieldPartner hope that we can continue to help, by providing an on-line community: others who may be at a different stage and are probably working in a different culture from you, but who can still encourage you and cheer you on.

5. Your choices impact your children in countless ways!

Of course you may not have kids, but if you do, you need to know they experience this journey very differently from you. Kids have the capability to ‘enter’ a culture and learn a language much more easily than their parents, but they may also feel deeply the loss of their former life. They may blame you for the discomfort and disorientation they are feeling. Embracing a new culture may come more easily to them, but going through that process will also permanently alter their identity. From now on life for them, even more than for you, will never be the same. So in Module 3 on my course, we will also be looking at terms like Third Culture Kid and Global Nomad, helping you (I hope) to think through the implications of your choice to move abroad as it might impact on your kids.

There are some definite upsides to this, but also some very real challenges. We will be looking at what some of those are.
OK so there you have it in a nutshell! Five things I wish I had known before I went. In actual fact, I didn’t know half of this for many years, but that is a story for another time!

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