I think it is all too easy for theologians and young Christians of our generation to lambast the missionaries of the past, and rail on cynically about the damage they and their colonialist enterprise inflicted on the non-Western world. A week ago, I had the opportunity to travel with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship to visit some of minority churches in Yunnan province in China. There are a multitude of wonderful experiences from the trip that I hope to continue sharing on this blog, but the first in a long line of many is the experience of traveling with the son of missionaries to China and hearing his story.
This son of missionaries is now in his late seventies, and while he grew up in China, he had not returned since his youth due to the wars and the revolution. In fact, he wasn’t sure he would ever return, but almost fifteen years ago he flew to the town of his birth and met some of the pastors of the church who had carried on in the foreign missionaries absence, and grown the indigenous church in China to what it is today. He had an opportunity to carry a very important message to these church leaders, which was that all those years that he and his family had lived away from China, his father had never stopped praying for his friends there. As he shared this testimony of his father’s faith in God and his love for the Chinese church, these pastors told him, “Your father was our teacher.”
This man, who has now become one of my teachers, whom I admire not only for his father’s testimony, but for his own deep, sincere love of China, now travels throughout Yunnan province encouraging indigenous church leaders as he can. I admire him, because in spite of the many mistakes made by missionaries of the past, he is bold and brave and yet humble enough to continue to lend his life to the service of God, whatever that may be. And he reminds me that I, a minister of the present, still have much to learn from the missionaries of the past.