Because of my job, we were blessed to get to experience the culture of living as a family in Denmark for a bit more than a month last year. It was a great way to see a different side of the world. Later this spring, I will be returning to China for my third trip, and this time I will bring the family with me; again, we will live here for a month.
It is interesting the different reactions we have gotten in telling people about these two trips. Everyone was really excited/jealous about the trip to Denmark. But when it comes to China, everyone is just a little nervous: aren't you scared, they ask? Isn't it going to be uncomfortable to be in a godless place like that?
You see the same things online. The other day I went to Christian Spotlight on the Movies to read reviews of Mulan and see if there was anything I should be concerned with showing my four-year old. (There wasn't.) A great deal of discussion surrounded the prayers of the Chinese to their ancestors.
So let me tell you my thoughts on this--and explain why I let my kids watch that scene in Mulan, and why I am actually less worried about China's impact on our spiritual life than I was about Denmark.
I have spent quite a bit of time in both of these countries. What I find in Denmark is a post-Christian world. It is littered with landmarks of a past age of faith: beautiful abbeys and cathedrals, breathtaking carvings of the Lord in castle chapels. But no one has a spiritual life. They do not pray at meals, and think you are shocking strange if you do. The only times I have heard the name of God mentioned in Denmark has been as a curse. My hotel room (I'm in Denmark right now) has a Gideon Bible--with about half an inch of dust on it, and the spine hasn't even been cracked. Denmark is a culture that has heard the Gospel...and chosen to move on from it. They heard the Word, and decided that it belongs in a past era.
Not so in China. Here, for the most part, they have never heard of Jesus--or, if they have heard of Christianity, they know as little about it as the average American knows about Japanese Shintoism. Yet they are a people who hunger for spirituality. When my boys were watching Mulan, and the father prayed to his ancestors, I did not ignore it. In fact, I highlighted it. I paused the show and we talked about it. The Chinese know that they are supposed to pray; they have just not heard Who to pray to. They know that they are supposed to honor their ancestors; they have just forgotten their Great Ancestor. They celebrate rebirth at the New Year better than any other culture; they have just not realized that this desire for rebirth is a spiritual one, a desire for being reborn in Christ.
I admit that I have not traveled all of China (only the Beijing-Tianjin-Qinhuangdao section). I have seen most of Denmark. But what I have found between the two is that one nation is post-Christian, having heard the Word and rejected it; while another is pre-Christian, desiring spirituality greatly but not yet knowing how to achieve it.
In actuality, I do not get sad in China, like I do in Denmark. Although I like the country and the people, in Denmark there is a part of my spirit that is always slightly depressed. There is always a part of me that keeps me from fully enjoying looking at a majestic abbey on a hill, knowing that it is now little more than a tomb of this country's past faith. Not so in China. China's people hunger for truth and they know that it has something to do with ancient ancestry, diligent prayer, connection to diety, death and rebirth, and honor/shame.
Being in China is uplifting, not depressing--for there is the next great explosion of our faith; indeed, it is happening already. It would not surprise me at all if, by the time this century is over, there are more believers who are Chinese, Indian, and African, than all Europeans and Americans combined. And that is a very exciting thing.