We’ve asked ourselves this question many times over the last 10 months or so. A good corollary to this question would be “Why China?”.
In answering the questions “Why?” and “Why China?” for myself, I try to avoid vague, tortured justifications or glib answers. I advocate a practical, functional Christianity that compassionately confronts instead of fearfully avoids. To be afraid of critical questions is to circumvent the radical openness to reality into which Jesus invites us.
There are many reasons why not to quit our good jobs, leave our dear friends and family, move out of our nice Fairmount row home. In an age of anxiety it could seem almost arrogant to give up so much of what gives a person a sense of security.
Sure, Jo and I have travelled a good bit and do enjoy it (most of the time, just don’t ask us to negotiate an overwieght bag at the check-in counter). But that’s not what this is about. Indeed, the very deep parts of my heart that want to live a quiet life in Lancaster County seem ironically to grow louder and louder as takeoff approaches.
But we are going.
In practical terms we are going because New Hope could use another Physical Therapist (Jo) and at this point in their organizational life cycle could use some of the skills I have. Life is a complex mixture of decisions and connections. Our decisions and connections led us to visit New Hope and Show Hope care centers in September 2016. Sure, we already felt compassion for orphans but who doesn’t? And there are ways to care for orphans in the states, aren’t there?
When I was graduating from college and paralyzed by indecision for what to do next, I read a couple of the most helpful books I have ever read. One was Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung and the other was The Will of God as a Way of Life by Jerry L. Sittser. These books freed me from some bad thinking, changed my paradigm. See, I was looking for the secret passageway through life that led to happiness and security. In my mind, there was only one such path and therefore one false step could lead to ruin.
Put another way, you could say I was paralyzed with indecision at graduation because I was looking for my “calling”. Such a noble pursuit for a nice young man. If pressed on what we mean when we talk about calling, one might say that it’s a combination of a person’s talents/skills and God’s plan for their life. We might even get into a spirited debate about the difference between talents, skills, free will, and providence. In my mind, there was one career path that God had predestined for me. He knew the future, he knew which door led to goodness, fulfillment, significance. He just wouldn’t tell me.
In my personal experience, the idea of “calling” has been somewhat of a scapegoat for me. It gives my fear an undo platform. I don’t think I could say that I “feel called” to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, etc. Sure, these things are a good idea and any decent person would do these things if those in need (especially a family member or friend) crossed their path. The paradigm of calling helps me divide people into groups: those “called” to do something and those not called to do something.
There is a danger when I act because I believe I have a calling from God; it is possible to be preemptively putting the blame on God if things don’t work out like we thought. God let us down, God must not be who he says he is. Or worse, if things don’t work out we have utterly failed God and are stuck in our guilt.
Instead, I have tried to rewire my brain to see life as a series of choices that are not mutually exclusive. And the magic of free will, God’s grace, and belonging to a family and a church is that you can make nearly infinite course-corrections as you walk the paths. We walk with each other. We help point each other toward Jesus, toward the broken. Indeed, Jo and I are able to go and serve largely because of the experiences and opportunities made possible by our friends and families.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
As described above by Wendell Berry, this paradigm2 describes an adventurous way of life in which God has already told us what to do. Our task is simply to do it. He has told us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (Matthew 25:31-46; James 1:27 NRSV).
Rather than a divine dictate or this type of “fate” described above, I see the life with God made possible by Jesus as messier and more participatory. He allows us to make decisions as we prayerfully sense his priorities in the world around us. For us, going to China to be with the kids of New Hope is the current way in which we hope to grow toward His priorities–making His priorities our own.
Do you have to move to China to find a way of life based on Jesus’ priorities? It seems like there would be more need in Africa, don’t you think? Does one have to move to a foreign country to do this kind of work?
The hurting are everywhere, but we must be careful to not de-personalize the mission. Wherever you live you can “sit with those who sit alone”.3 You can adopt, foster, sit with the office outcast at lunch. You can always take a step toward those on the margins in your community or even in your family. One step leads to another as you make your fox tracks through life.
So why China? Despite China’s economic surge, estimates in 2013 and 2014 put the number of people living on less than $1 per day at 82 million, and the number of people living on less than $1.90 per day at around 200 million. UNICEF’s last data available for the number of orphans in China is 712,000 (2010), and child welfare groups say this number could be over a million. At some point we have to make the statistics personal, the general particular. So why are we doing this? Because Jo and I are connected to a particular place where we know particular kids–and that’s where we’re going.
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1“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1973.
2Another helpful metaphor for the better paradigm is that of “dance”. See Rohr, Richard and Morrell, Mike. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016.
3Michael Duncan. Costly Mission. Springvale Vic, Australia: UNOH Publications, 2007.