In 1984, Joann Pittman went to China with the intention of teaching English for one year; she stayed for 28 years. Today she is passionate about helping people prepare for and navigate the challenges of cross-cultural living. Joann shares a word of advice for anyone who might be called to serve in China, but doesn’t necessarily know where to start.

“Obviously if you don’t know the language, if you don’t know Chinese, English teaching is probably the main way to go to China. China is still looking for English teachers for their universities and even their high schools. You can be hired, be given a work visa, and go to China; it’s relatively easy for that.”

“But somebody who wants to stay longer, put down roots, and really engage with the culture, it is going to require language skills. Many people will go and spend their first two or three years in language study. You can go and enroll in a university and learn Chinese.”

Aside from teaching English, there are also non-profit groups and humanitarian projects to be involved with. However, Joann says that the government has been a bit more restrictive on what religious activities and organizations they allow in China these days.

Despite these obstacles, Joann says that the church is actually quite strong in China. Chinese Christians are doing their best to advance the gospel message around this vast country.

“Evangelism, while it’s an important role for foreigners to play, it’s really primarily what Chinese are doing because they’ve got the language and culture skills.”

Joann offers helpful advice on how we can we best support our Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ, based on our role as Christians.

“Westerners who want to serve China and want to serve the church, I think our role is to really learn and know what’s going on in the church and what the issues are, and then be willing to go into a posture of serving. How can we serve them?”

“I think that’s an area where the West can serve. Not saying, ‘here’s what you need to do,’ but ‘here are some things that we’ve done well and not well. How can you maybe not make the same mistakes?’”

She speaks to some of the greatest needs in China today.

“A common one would be in the area of leadership. There are so many Christians in China, qualified and well-trained leaders for churches, but there’s just not enough.”

“This would be true, both in the official church or what we call the three-self church, and in the house church movement. It’s not uncommon to hear a story of somebody who maybe in a house church setting becomes a Christian, and then the next day they’re asked to teach Sunday School because the need is so great.”

“Leadership Training is a big one; leadership training by mentoring, particularly in the house churches. The leaders are maybe in their 20’s and 30’s and in the generation above them, there’s no role models for how to be a Christian leader, parent, pastor, wife or husband.”

These are needs that can possibly be met through the combined efforts of the body of Christ. We can help to support the church in China through our willingness to learn, serve, and demonstrate God’s love on a tangible level.


Joann Pittman is a consultant, trainer, teacher, researcher, and writer who focuses on helping people live well where they don’t belong. In her case, that was China. Joann helps people prepare for and navigate the challenges of cross-cultural living through writing, speaking, and training. She is the author of Survival Chinese Lessons and The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China.

Serving the church in China
Also on this edition of Connecting Faith
Dwight Nordstrom on Business in China

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