"So, why did you become a Christian," one Dong Christian asked another believer she had just met from another area.
"Oh, why would you not become a Christian? You get free trips to go play!"
This interaction was shared with DongTeam a few days ago, and though we do not like to share such negative stories of Dong Christians, this reflects a prevailing mood among Dong Christians, and one that needs much prayer. Let us try to see this interaction from a Dong perspective and find how we can pray specific and direct prayers for our Dong brothers and sisters.
The Dong people are animists. That means they will spiritually interpret the world, attaching spiritual significance not only to objects such as trees, rocks, or sacred locations, but also that the happenings of the world are all run through their worldview filter, including all their spiritual assumptions. They have no scripture, as Christians are so blessed to have the clear word of God, and must rely on what their parents and culture teach them to be so.
The cultural pressure to remain within the teachings of your parents is quite strong. Greed, however, can overcome that pressure. Many Dong (probably just as many now as there have always been) will turn from those teachings of their culture if they can find something more profitable or beneficial. That is why so many Dong, and other Chinese minorities, can move into town, put aside former "superstitions" (as they have been taught to call them), and wholly pursue money as their God without looking back to the spiritual practices of their ancestors.
In the same way, some Dong can "receive Christ" if that seems to be a better "spiritual opportunity." In other words, they weigh the benefits of following this new way to the stigma of disobeying the way passed down by their ancestors.
That brings us to the current trend in outreach to the Dong people right now: "training sessions." They will be invited by foreigners or Chinese Christians to leave their village and travel to a big city where they can receive "training." From the perspective of the outsiders (foreign or Chinese), this is a more secure way to help local Christians grow and learn how to share their faith, more secure that is, than trying to reach them in their own village.
The problem is, many of these Dong people, especially these sweet middle aged Dong ladies that often show interest in the Gospel, have never even been to the county seat, much less to a big city. When they see their village acquaintances receiving expense paid trips to the city because they are Christians, they begin to evaluate if they themselves might not want to become a Christian. Are the benefits enough to allow me to go against my cultural traditions? For many, the answer is "yes," they will be more than happy to sit through some "training" in order to receive a free trip to town and back. That sure beats the daily hard labor back home!
Then, you can receive comments from believers like we see above. Just a few entries ago, the Prayer Journal talked through some of the problems and dangers of running training sessions for Dong people anywhere that is not local to them. This entry is to help explain a little more of how Dong people think.
It is not that all Dong Christians are this shallow, but certainly some are. We need to be in prayer for these Christians, to pray for their growth in the Lord. We also need to remember the issues connected to these training sessions and pray through how the Lord would have us encourage the growth of the Dong church.
Lord Jesus, our hearts hurt when we see such lack of faith and instead a focus on selfish gain in a Christian brother and sister. We have so much hope for the Dong church and want to pray for a strengthening and deepness to be added to them.
We ask you to work in their hearts to show them the meaning of daily carrying their cross, the exact opposite of any selfish intentions. Help them to follow you. May the Dong Christians who are stronger be able to show a testimony of a life lived in faithfulness and service to you, and may the Christians meet together and find a refreshing watering from your scripture.
We also pray for your guidance for those running and coordinating these training sessions. The material may be good, but the method of bringing Dong people out of their local context can be such a temptation for Chinese peasants. Please give wisdom as we pray through better ways to help strengthen the Dong church. We still focus on the end vision of our prayers: "An indigenous, reproductive Dong church solidly founded in Christ and the Bible, living in the freedom that comes through Christ and sharing that freedom throughout their own and other people groups."