Wednesday, March 6, 2013

4 Reasons I Can't Be A Missionary

So I'm planning to move to China and become a missionary. But before you get too excited about that, I need to share 4 reasons I can't be a missionary:

1. God didn't call me.

So what does "God called me" mean? (If you have an answer, please write me a guest post about it!) I always thought it meant I'm sitting quietly, praying, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I have this thought: "GO TO CHINA!"

And then I'd be like "ahhhhh nooooooooo!" and begrudgingly re-organize my whole life to go to whatever stupid place God is FORCING ME to go to. I mean, of course I'll do it, because I'm obedient to God, but geez. Going to a missions conference is the Christian version of Russian roulette.

No, God didn't "call" me to go to China. Instead, he made me the kind of person who can't not live in China.

2. I don't have a heart for the people.

A "heart for the people"? What does that mean? Does it mean I'm looking with pity on a demographic of people different from me, viewing them as some sad exotic stereotype, whose most important characteristic is that they need white people to come help them?

The truth is, I need Chinese people more than they need me. In the US, Chinese international students met with me week after week to help me learn Chinese. They patiently answered my grammar questions, and listened to my excited realizations of how the two languages are different. We covered pages and pages with Chinese characters and their English translations.

And in China, when I didn't have a clue about anything, and I couldn't speak the language at all, I was totally dependent on my Chinese friends. (On my second trip there, I could speak Mandarin, so I could at least go places by myself, but I was still rather confused and dependent most of the time.) My friends did so much for me- buying me dinner (and refusing to let me pay, ever), explaining how to get a taxi, letting me stay at their apartment, taking me to see interesting places... So much generosity and friendship.

3. I don't think I'm more helpful to Chinese than to Americans.

So, I could stay in the US and get the kind of job that someone with a masters degree in electrical engineering gets. Or I could ask everyone at church for money, go to China, and teach English for a tiny salary. It seems like if I'm going the ask-everyone-for-money route, I better have a pretty good reason for why I need to choose that option instead of the one where I, you know, DON'T need to ask people for money.

And the obvious reason would be that I can do so much more for the kingdom of God if I'm there than if I'm here. China has so few Christians, and so much need, that an American Christian who goes to China is going to be much more effective at making disciples than an American in the US. But I don't believe that.

Yes, it's true that China has an extremely low percentage of Christians. And the culture is atheistic. And sometimes Christians are persecuted. Etc.

But does that mean that the American church needs to go save China? There's some subtle racism there. (And this "white savior" issue in American missions is definitely something that needs to be discussed...) No, God is in China already. Thousands of years before I learned to say "ni hao," God was in China already. I'm not going to bring Jesus to the Chinese people. Jesus is already there.

And on an individual level, is the average Chinese person who needs God so different than the average American who needs God? Obviously they'll have different cultures, different spiritual backgrounds, different personal needs- but to think that the average Chinese person is just sitting there waiting for someone to come and mention Jesus, while the average American would only seriously consider Christianity after a long, respectful discussion and meaningful friendship- that's also kind of racist.

(You could also make the argument that China has more issues with poverty, lack of access to education, etc, so they DO need people to come help, more so than the US does. Yeah, but I'm not going for the purposes of addressing those things...)

I've heard pastors say that all Christians should be missionaries wherever they are. And I actually believe that.

I could stay here. I could go there. Going there means I'd like you to give me money- and no, I can't give you a reason it would help the church more than if I stay in the US.

(Though this point is certainly debatable. Objectively speaking, China does have more need than the US. But I'm not sure how to talk about that without making it sound like Chinese people are just stereotypes, so much simpler than Americans.)

4. I'm going to enjoy it. 

I'm not "taking one for the team" here, guys. It's not like, "well somebody has to go to China, and perfectnumber has volunteered, so let's all support her and be grateful it's not us."

I'm not going to raise money by saying, "God's making me do this dumb thing, the least you all can do is donate, out of pity for how hard my life is going to be."

Dude, I WANT to go to China. I DO NOT WANT to live in the US.

It's my dream.  Like I said last week, China ruined my life, and I absolutely DO NOT WANT the life I always thought I'd have, where I stay in the US, where I don't speak Chinese, where I understand everything.

I can't live in the US.

I'm going to go to China. And I'm going to speak Chinese. And I'm going to be fascinated at what learning a language reveals about the workings of my brain. And I'm going to eat kung pao chicken, and dumplings, and Asian pears, and I'm going to drink yogurt through a straw. And I'm going to make friends.

It's going to be AWESOME.

But how can I ask people for money so I can follow my dream?

How could I NOT want to live here?

So there you have it. The reasons I can't be a missionary, which bear a striking resemblance to the reasons I'm about to become a missionary.


  1. Sounds to me like God did call you to China and that you also are well-prepared for ministry there. :)

  2. Haha yeah. :) But not in the way that I always thought these things were supposed to happen.

  3. We are all missionaries in whatever occupations we choose and whatever neighborhood, city or country we live in. Sounds like you go to China because "it's ruined you and you don't want to live anywhere else!" Love God and love others. Show them Jesus, and talk about him, if necessary.


    Shàngdì bǎoyòu nǐ

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  5. Dude, thanks for being so un-missionary-like about being a missionary! One of the things that makes me upset is hearing the ways in which expats, especially missionaries, have gone into China and lived like they were better than the locals and/or they were responsible for our salvation. If you haven't got the memo, Shang Di and us go way back yo. And you're visitors/guests, so please be respectful. Perfectnumber, thanks for showing me that there are missionaries who go because they just love living and being in China (kinda like Da Shan, but minus the Chinese cross-talk obsession ;) Maybe I'll see you there one day, dude. Planning to head back after I'm done school :) Jia you!