Serving in East Asia: 10 tips from over Ten years of service

From sharing meals to delving into a biblical theology of suffering, Lydia* shares her top ten tips for those exploring mission in East Asia.  


1.
Go with a humble spirit and a teachable heart  

Go with a servant mindset. Sometimes we go just wanting conversions, wanting to teach, wanting to correct others—but spiritual growth doesn’t come in such a way.  

We have a lot to learn from local Christians and need to listen. When I worked with a house church, I learned so much about what young adults were thinking. Having good friendships with more senior local Christians was also really helpful 

Be teachable among your own colleagues and co-workers, willing to listen and respond to suggestions and feedback. There is beauty in your team working together, despite all your differences.  


2.
Transition well, but not too long—and always come back to God’s Word 

One thing that helped me when I first landed in East Asia was having a good mentor from home, as well as my Homeside Ministry Team (HMT) coordinator. Such close friendships help during your transition—but don’t give yourself too long a transition.  

Mourn your loss, but don’t keep mourning—keep working and reflecting on God’s Word. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9) is a verse I frequently meditate on. 


3.
Go with a scaffolding mindset and aim to leave 

Hudson Taylor once said, “Missionaries are the scaffolding, not the edifice.”  

How do we work with others in such a way that if we have to go, others can take on the ministry? How are we mentoring and teaching others? How are we asking, “What can I impart that will bless the local community?” 

I once planned to run a discipleship campand there was a short-term team coming to help.  

Initially, nobody was interested. So we ran a “pre-camp” event and in the end, 25 students signed up, with 5-10 adults in addition to the students. We did devotions, workshops, English lessons, fun games, and we modelled how to do Bible studies on topics such as relationships and boundaries.  

What really encouraged me was the spiritual impact of that camp. On the last day, each person shared something about their experience they were repentant, challenged, in tears, impacted by their deepened understanding of what it means to be a Christian.  

Being scaffolders, one of the local leaders and I selected five people from the house church to lead this ministry—today, the ministry remains vibrant, and to this day this house church sends short-term teams to do children’s ministry and do outreach projects in other places!  


4. Bring
 

“Jesus culture” into your ministry 

How do you bring Jesus’ culture into your ministry? Take care of your personal walk with GodRead books and reflect thoughtfully on what you read, such as Jesus Driven Ministry by Ajith Fernando, Spiritual Healthy Emotionally by Peter Scazerro and Knowing God by Edmund Chan. 

Have prayer partners where you are serving.  

When I was in East Asia, I would meet with 2-3 people once a week to eat and pray together. We kept going even if others could not come. Accountability and honesty are very important. I’ve also found that the more prayerful I am, the more I learn from God—and when I’m less prayerful, I may have lots of ideas, but nothing comes of them! 


5.
Be patient with your colleagues—they come from their own cultures too 

All of us have our own mind and can be very gung-ho about things. Sometimes we feel it’s easier to work by ourselves—especially in teams of various cultures where the stress can be great. If you’re an ideas person, give people time to process your ideas. Extend kindness, grace and generosity.  

Sometimes we have past hurtsand any baggage we have not been dealt with will be 100 times worse overseas! As Christians, we all go through ongoing refining fire to become more like Jesus. Be honest and be willing to have an accountability partner to journey with you 


6.
Start where you are—with making friends 

Make friends from East Asia and try to understand culture and mindset. Learn the language onlinehaving even a little language helps you to interact with people even while you’re in your sending contextOver the long-term, you’ll be better able to settle in a new environment quickly.  


7. Gain a biblical foundation
, particularly on the theology of suffering

A good biblical foundation for missionaries almost goes without saying, but a good understanding of the theology of suffering is especially important. This will help you know how to journey with people, especially in areas where the rural poor or minority peoples live. 

Learn how to disciple East Asians. Upon accepting Jesusthey might be the only Christian in their context, family, college or workplace. Sometimes, they may accept out of convenience or politeness at first. Learn how to journey with people for long-haul discipleship.


8.
Build your resilience and flexibility—and don’t hold your profession too tightly 

We all have rose-colored glasses about things that are new—including mission—and the reality is often different. How do we prepare for situations where expectations don’t meet reality? I think it’s very much about our soul.  

I’ve seen colleagues leave East Asia after one term. They aimed to stay but as their expectations were not met in the first few yearsthey left.  

Sometimes we may want to do a particular project in a particular place, but by the time we get there, that option may not be open 

In East Asia, things keep changing and flexibility is important.  

Hold things loosely and allow God to lead. Ask Him to direct you and seek wise counsel—don’t depend on your own understanding. God knows the big picture and when and where He asks you to go, He will enable.  


9. Take joy in the unexpected
and see God work 

Every term of service for me was in a different location. Eventually I said, “God, I am tired of moving.” One term, after a year of language study, I received a government scholarship to do a masters in teaching language. I got to attend a convention, made a lot of direct connections, shared a lot of meals with studentsand we became good friends despite our age differences. 

This scholarship gave me the opportunity to reach out to university students and do ministry with young adults and a house church. The church had a vision to see their children grow up, serve as young adults and continue the ministry of sharing the gospel. I was so encouraged by a couple of amazing local Christians at this church. They would invite 20-30 of their friends over and I just had to “run the program.” Even though I was only there three years or so, we saw 10-15 people baptized!  


10.  
Surrender to God 

We know about surrendering to God in theory, but how does this come alive in our context 

During my first year, it was very hard for me to be based in Hong Kong. Honestly, I was a reluctant missionary. I wasn’t planning to go long-term, just 6-12 months.  

In hindsight, it was such a privilege. I learned so much. I got to work in all sorts of roles, visited most places where OMF serves as well as most of our colleagues—which gave me understanding and joy about how God was working. In surrendering, I saw that God doesn’t waste anything 

 

*Bonus Tip! Have meals with people 

In a region of delicious cuisines, meals are God-given opportunities to love and serve others. Not just with people you’re reaching out to, but your colleagues—and not just your team, but people from different departments! Go out for lunch and befriend people. We love because He first loved us, and it is by our love that others will know we are Christ’s disciples (1 John 4:19; John 13:35).  

Lydia*  

with Trix Wilkins, Content Writer & Editor 

*Name changed for security purposes 

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