Garden or Jungle? A Posture of Learning in East Asia

The church in East Asia is like a giant garden. There are lots of things growing (both good and bad!), there is much fertile soil, and it is all a bit crazy! In short, it sounds like a church we read about in the epistles. Weeds and wonders, growth and decay, joy and sorrow, enthusiasm and error. OMF has been working in East Asia for over 150 years now and one of the current questions we ask ourselves is: Do we still need to be there? 

Before diving into that complex question, let’s pause for a moment of praise. God has done and continues to do amazing things in East Asia. Many have turned to the Lord, attend church, evangelize locally and increasingly are looking to take the gospel out globally. How wonderful! God is good. There is an established church in East Asia—after decades and centuries of sowing gospel seeds there is a garden! And the garden is growing and fertile.

Crossing cultures to be counter-cultural 

So what then is still needed? In East Asia, many areas of the church look more like young, tender shoots rather than a large, solid oak tree. It is challenging for Christians to live out their faith in their families, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities. Just like everywhere else, Christians just starting out in faith need discipleship—from fellow Christians who live in and know their context, sharing their way of life and experiences.  

Christians who are willing to serve with their professions and businesses are neededwho are willing to cross cultures yet be counter-cultural, identifying with local Christians who live and work in atheistic, hyper-competitive and materialistic environments. Sometimes God will call foreign Christians to serve in this way; sometimes Christians who share the same passport but are of a different culture will respond to this need.

A posture of learning from East Asia’s Christians 

Another thing that is needed from cross-cultural workers is humility and the willingness to learn. Serving in East Asia today is more like pruning, fertilizing and installing trellises rather than sowing. We are to encourage and journey alongside local Christians who engage in frontline ministry. We respect, support and work with our East Asian brothers and sisters. We should  

partner with and not compete with or replace local Christians or churches.  

An extension of this is mission mentoring. We give thanks for how Christians in East Asia are going out in cross-cultural ministry. They need mentors and coaches willing to journey with them as they step out of their comfort zones; they need support structures as they struggle with crossing cultures and often see very little fruit in the short run. Many of us are blessed to have theological and ministry training our East Asian family could only dream of.  

As members of the global church, we have a role to play in training and supporting East Asians who share our passion to take the gospel to those who have never heard. At the same time, we have a role to play in learning from our East Asian brothers and sisters who are led by the Holy Spirit to innovate, discover and experiment with the seeds that are growing, multiplying in ways many of us dream of. 

With God, all things are possible 

There remain very real challenges, and at times it feels like East Asia is less like a garden and more like an impenetrable jungle that cannot be entered. Still, in the midst of geopolitics, regulations and other things beyond our control, let’s remember that with man this is impossible, but for God all things are possible (Matt 19:26). Let’s carefully watch, pray and follow what He is doing. There are many genuine possibilities and open doors to serve.  

We are thankful to have workers teaching at universities, running businesses, training local pastors, on student visas and more. Even in the height of the pandemic, the Lord opened the door for some to re-enter East Asia. The Lord can do it! 

There are also opportunities for us to reach out to East Asian diaspora in our home countriesEast Asians have been scattered all over the world for various reasonsand this opens up new doors for us to share Jesus 

Growing, learning
and serving together 

For some of us (like me!) gardening is intimidating. We may not know a lot about soilplant varieties, seasons or weeds. And yet the Lord desires fruit. This calls for us to be willing to cross cultures to learn, understand, and better journey with East Asians. This means we struggle and grapple together as to how our faith challenges our respective cultures. That is the beauty of the global Body of Christ. We grow together, learn together, serve together. 

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9. 

While God is the ultimate Gardenerwe have a part to play. Let’s not be intimidated by the challenges of ministry to East Asia and East Asians—let’s see the possibilities. 

Paul Jessop, OMF Australia National Director 

With Jo*, a ministry leader in East Asia 

* Names changed for security purposes 

Picture of Written by Paul Jessop, National Director
Written by Paul Jessop, National Director

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