Retirement for David and Ann Wilson looks a little bit different than it does for most. For them, it means going to China – and trying to get others to go with them.
The Wilsons are the founders of the nonprofit Volunteers for China, a Christian ministry that sends English language teachers to that country. Since 2003, VFC, which is accepting volunteers for the summer of 2013, has placed 20 to 50 native English speakers a year throughout China.
At a time when the debate over which type of denominational mission strategy works best, VFC has set itself apart from denominationalism. Although it works closely with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the organization avoids replicating American denominational models in China.
Church, the Chinese way
That mission is in line with advice given to American churches by Xi Lian, an expert on the church in China. He contends that in order for Christianity to thrive abroad, it must adapt in its own way.
“One lesson the church might have to learn … that regardless of our desire, our intention, our hope, at some point we have to let go and let the church in those lands develop in its own way,” he told Faith and Leadership.
For VFC, following that principle stems from a simple desire to live out the gospel in China in a way that makes sense to Chineses, David Wilson says.
“In our Christian world today, do we want Christians to be like we Baptists or do we want Christians to be followers of Jesus?” he asked.
'Preach through action'
VFC has also sought to prevent its volunteers from simply doing a stint in China then moving on – a criticism sometimes leveled at short-term missionaries.
Instead, they are trained to build long-term relationships with Chinese citizens by reflecting the love of Christ in their daily actions. Ann Wilson said it’s the group’s conscious effort to follow St. Francis of Assisi’s saying: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
One way that’s done is to encourage repeat participation, which three-time VFC volunteer and recent college graduate Hilary Baker said has been key to her spiritual growth in the program.
Baker said the Wilsons have relationships in China that date back 20 years, predating the launch of VFC in 2003. The couple has passed on to her the importance of connecting with people and building long-term relationships.
Baker has even been able to stay in contact with Chinese friends she met over the past three summers via Skype and e-mail.
”We are all searching for the same things,” Baker said of her Chinese friends. “It doesn’t matter where you are. God made people all the same.”
Texas public school teacher Allan Schneider is preparing for his fourth consecutive summer volunteering for VFC.
Schneider, of San Marcos, Texas, said it provides him an evangelism opportunity by trying to live his faith for others. Then, if the Chinese notice a difference in character or attitude because of the light of Christ, they are more apt to initiate spiritual conversations.
“The most rewarding part is the friendships I’ve developed with Chinese citizens,” Schneider said. “It’s more like a friendship than someone I just see once a year.”
Volunteers for China is currently recruiting particpants for this July. "We really need volunteers — college students and adults — as we are going to have to cancel some teaching locations if we do not find volunteers soon," Ann Wilson said.
Information about how to volunteer is available at the ministry website, volunteersforchina.org.