Chinese churches scattered across the globe hold immense potential within the universal Christian mission, but that potential often remains untapped. One persistent challenge is the deep-seated racial discrimination prevalent among Chinese people, as well as their indifference to, or even their tendency to avoid, the diverse races, cultures, and language groups that surround them.

In May 2023, pastor David Doong, general director of the Chinese Coordination Center of World Evangelism (CCCOWE) and host of the Missional Discipleship podcast, conducted an interview in Mandarin with pastor Qian Bin of the Evangelical Chinese Church of Seattle (ECCS). What follows is a translated and edited excerpt from that conversation.

David Doong: In the United States, racial issues are a sensitive topic. It’s no longer just a Black-and-white issue; all ethnic groups seem to be drawn into the fray. As a Chinese church pastor in Seattle, when did you begin to take notice of racial issues?

Qian Bin: When our church was established in 1960, the congregation consisted primarily of ethnically Chinese individuals from Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, with shifts in immigration patterns, immigrant families from China, Southeast Asia, North America, and even Europe gradually became part of our congregation. Consequently, our church has become a melting pot of multiple languages, multicultural backgrounds, and diverse traditions. We even have multiple congregations, all shepherded by the same group of pastors and elders.

Our church comprises Mandarin-, English-, and Cantonese-speaking congregations, each with significant cultural and background differences (they are from different places geographically). Everyone within the same church must confront the disparities and tensions between different cultures, languages, and modes of thought. Of course, many blessings come from cultural diversity. How God’s people, regardless of their cultural backgrounds and traditions, can worship and serve God together in one church and one body is the issue on which I have focused.

And because our surrounding community is composed predominantly of white, Black, Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and other non-Chinese groups, we must address racial issues while understanding the concept of a missional church and missional discipleship in such a context.

Doong: How has your church made progress in this area?

Qian: In 2016, another pastor from our church invited me to dinner with a few other pastors. Upon arriving at the restaurant, I discovered that one of the guests was the pastor of our English congregation, and another was the pastor of a historic Black church in Seattle, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. The final guest was the white pastor of a large white Presbyterian church.

Article continues below

Over the next two years, we united in prayer, affirming that God had brought us together like a large family. We began to refer to this gathering as “kindred,” which we translated as zhu li yi jia qin (“one friendly family in the Lord”) in Chinese. We also started inviting fellow believers from our church to join the network.

During these two years of shared prayer, we realized that, as a Chinese church that wanted to become a missional church, we seldom acknowledged the needs of the city surrounding us. Particularly as immigrants, we tend to concentrate on improving our own lives. We can uphold our own faith and spiritual life well, but we often fall short in our missional life. In those prayer gatherings, all the pastors recognized that we must engage with the multiracial community.

Doong: Given that racial issues are so prevalent in society, it must have been challenging for you to initiate regular meals and prayers with Black and white church leaders.

Qian: For our church, the motivation to confront racial issues does not necessarily stem from observing the problem of racial division but from an internal recognition of the need for a life of missional discipleship.

Thus, after two years of prayer, we took the next step: Starting in 2018, in addition to the quarterly joint prayer time, we decided to “do church together” for six to seven weeks each year. This meant that three churches would exchange pulpits, establish joint groups and Sunday schools, and start holding various meetings and services together in the city, with the aim of becoming a beacon in this divided world.

We encountered many complex situations. For example, May 31, 2020—the Pentecost Sunday following the onset of the pandemic—was our joint-worship Sunday. We selected a park as the outdoor gathering place, and I was the speaker that day. However, on May 26, George Floyd was killed. The social atmosphere in the US was extremely tense that week, with severe racial conflicts erupting in many places, including protests near our church. So I wondered, how should we conduct this meeting? What message should I preach? How will the congregation react? Everything was uncertain.

Article continues below

As the speaker, I was truly anxious and could only pray throughout the night, and the pastoral staff of our church also prayed for me. I will never forget how on Sunday morning, before the meeting began, several of us pastors stood on the stage in a circle and prayed together. We confessed before God our sins against each other, and we prayed for the tumultuous situation in American society, our city, our congregations, and our meeting that day.

The sermon I wrote for that day commenced with the apostles preaching in diverse tongues and to various tribes at Pentecost. It looked back to the Israelites receiving God’s law on Mount Sinai 50 days after their exodus from Egypt, and even further back to the incident at the Tower of Babel. I explored how the myriad languages of humanity were born out of pride, which led God to sow confusion among people. This gave rise to interpersonal conflicts, a world steeped in discord, wars between nations, cultural incompatibility, and discrimination across various societal layers. All these issues can be traced back to the pervasive influence of sin.

Yet we can also discern God’s intention, which is unified worship from brothers and sisters of all tribes and nations. Christ has redeemed every culture, race, and identity. In light of this, despite our many differences, our identity as Christians should transcend our individual cultures. The various divisions within our races and cultures have been redeemed and healed by the blood of Christ, becoming transformed into scars that reflect God’s glory and grace. When we congregate, we present to the world a new race, one redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

In the social climate of the time, I believe this message resonated profoundly. Even though the pandemic lasted longer than we anticipated, and even though the US subsequently underwent a polarizing presidential election and racial divisions, inflicting significant trauma on the church, our message of kinship at that time, coupled with our commitment to listening to each other and praying together among different ethnicities and ideologies, allowed us to dwell in hope and grace.

Doong: Even within the Chinese community, there can be significant differences in political and historical narratives. When you engage with Black and white churches and encounter differing opinions, how do you typically navigate these differences or tensions?

Qian: For sure, there can be disparate views among pastors. When we exchange pulpits, we discover that the same sermon provokes different reactions in different congregations. For instance, when a Black pastor preached in our Mandarin congregation, some of the first-generation Chinese immigrants quickly labeled him as a political “liberal,” and division ensued.

Article continues below

There are many different perspectives in this world, whether on political or racial issues. However, the truth that we as God’s people need to uphold is that we receive his Word and become one body under his guidance. So we insist on humbly submitting to God’s Word, listening to his Word collectively, and seeking how to respond. Therefore, we do not focus on debating issues—rather, we return to the Bible to see how God guides us.

In the face of tension and political conflict at various levels, the church consistently embodies a role of compassion and service, rooted in love. The church recognizes that human brokenness serves as fertile ground for the gospel and is thus the place where God calls us.

We also underscore to our congregation that if we are continually embroiled in the debate of choosing one over the other, it signifies that our church is not truly living out our faith with courage. Throughout history, the global church has not championed individual freedom, but rather voluntary servitude to Jesus Christ; not the equality of power, but submission to God’s sovereignty; not the pursuit of personal happiness, but willingness to take risks and endure suffering; not aiding caesar in ruling the world, but surrendering to God’s authority, transcending caesar’s limitations and the divisions of racial segregation.

For Chinese churches in North America, racial, political, and cultural issues are the circumstances of our mission. If we aspire to faithfully manifest God’s glory and propagate the gospel, we must engage with this situation and cannot remain aloof. Concerning the pervasive racial conflict in the US, particularly the discord between whites and African Americans, Chinese Christians can actually play a buffering role as we share numerous concerns with both sides, and we can redirect the focus back to God when dealing with historical wounds and entanglements. We perceive this as a unique role that God permits us to play.

Doong: Since God has dispersed Chinese people globally, we possess immense potential to become a strategic group in worldwide missions. However, if we fail to overcome Chinese ethnocentrism and racial discrimination against others, we will not bestow blessings upon all nations and peoples but will merely be ensnared in a sense of superiority or inferiority. How do we overcome this mindset?

Article continues below

Qian: I have a few suggestions. First, when we are willing to delve into the histories of different ethnic groups, such as the theological evolution and history of the Black church, that can assist us in broadening our perspectives. Consequently, when we converse with Black pastors, we will not always feel alienated, but instead we will comprehend the reasons behind their beliefs.

Second, we need to foster friendships with more pastors and church workers from diverse ethnic groups—having coffee, praying and dining together, sharing experiences, and traveling together. Upon establishing friendships, we will discover that God has indeed placed numerous mission elements in his kingdom. We can meet and chat for an hour today primarily because we are willing to sit together, sharing food and drink, which leads to many ideas about ministry directions.

Third, we need to immerse ourselves in the community and the wider world. As a pastor, I often grapple with a dilemma: The numerous internal issues within my church and the needs of my congregation frequently make it challenging to devote adequate attention to diverse ethnic groups, individuals, and the needs of people outside our church. Besides forming friendships with other pastors, I’ve come to realize that I need to delve deeper into this broader community.

Here’s one unconventional way I experience diversity. Amazon’s headquarters is in Seattle. I volunteer to deliver packages for Amazon on my day off. I pledge to spend five hours delivering packages, and in return, Amazon gives me about 40 packages that can be delivered within that time frame and assists me in planning the route on GPS. I have no idea where I’ll be directed to go, including places I’d never ordinarily visit.

At each destination, whether it’s a multi-million-dollar mansion or a low-cost rental community, I get a glimpse of different lifestyles. This feels like a spiritual practice for me, as if I’m viewing the world through the eyes of Jesus. I can see more deeply into communities I wouldn’t have access to if not for my delivery duties.

This process enables me to view my city and community from a different perspective, and in doing so, my spirit is rejuvenated and restored. As I immerse myself in different communities and witness the varying circumstances within each one, I develop an interest in the community’s people and gain a deeper understanding of its history and current situation. For me, it’s a process of spiritual formation.

Article continues below

The principle I want to stress here is that as pastors, besides tending to our congregations, we also need to take the time to immerse ourselves in the communities we’re part of.

This article has been translated from Chinese into English from an episode transcript excerpt of the Missional Discipleship podcast, based on an agreement between CT and CCCOWE.

[ This article is also available in 简体中文 and 繁體中文. ]