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God does great things in us
before he can do great things through us
4 April 2011

Entering a new culture is daunting. It means going from being Somebody to Nobody, native to foreigner, foreground to background. Everything you thought you knew about the world is turned upside-down, and who you were in the past becomes largely irrelevant. Nobody knows of the wonderful deeds you have accomplished, the high status you have built up or the great respect you have earned. What matters above all is simply who you are now, in this moment, to these people. And I didn’t like that feeling one bit.

Coming to China was a shock to the system. I came from a background of influence and power, with passion and vision to change people’s lives: I never considered that it might be me who had to undergo the transformation.

I was a million miles from my comfort zone. I was discriminated against for being different. I didn’t fit in, I didn’t speak the language, and I didn’t understand the weird and wonderful Chinese culture. A wealth of feelings surfaced: insecurity, frustration, hyper-criticism. I was angry at the Chinese people simply for being Chinese, and for living life in a way which I didn’t comprehend. I tried to teach classes on leadership, I told people the things that I felt they needed to hear, but my words hit a brick wall. These methods had worked perfectly back home, so why not here? I was broken; I couldn’t even accomplish the one thing I had come here to do.

China classroom
My one, awesome Constant in all of this, was God. Everything around me had changed, but God never moved. I asked Him why my classes failed. Why people were not listening to me. Why I was having no impact on China. And He simply answered, “Stop telling them. Teach them."

The next week I stepped back and listened, rather than preaching at people. I tried to model leadership, rather than instructing it. My principles remained the same, but my methods changed. It worked: people were engaged, and I was learning with them. Alongside them.

Slowly my focus changed from being all about Me and what I had come to do, to being about those I had come to serve. From this attitude of humility and grace came stronger relationships, better rapport with my team, and greater impact through my life and work in China. I began to speak not as a prophet of perfection, but as a fellow struggler on the journey of life.

God had to break me down in order for me to be of any use. I believe He put me in China not for my happiness, but for my holiness. To discover all the junk inside of me, and cleanse me from it. To remove my cultural preconceptions, and teach me to live by grace. It’s not about who I think I am, or what I have achieved with my life, but who I am in Christ when everything else is taken away. And as He breathes out His grace and forgiveness on me, so I need to breathe grace and forgiveness out freely on those around me.

If there’s one thing to take away from my experience in China then it is this: God has to do great things in us, before He can begin do great things through us. I learnt this the hard way. But being on that journey is an adventure and a privilege in itself, and I wouldn’t change that for anything!


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