There are many Christians who want to do something to help China and the Chinese people. Latter-day Saints who are interested in China often consider the story of Ammon in the Book of Mormon and wonder if it could apply to China one day. I think that’s a useful question to consider. Ammon, as a reminder, was the son of a Nephite king who turned down the opportunity to rule in order to go on a self-selected mission among the Lamanites. He managed to become a servant to a local Lamanite king and through his work there miraculously helped bring about his conversion, opening the doors for the Gospel to be preached in a land that was once hostile to the Nephites and their religion. So sometimes LDS people contemplate his example of service, and wonder if they can help China through compassionate service if they were to come here. Some then come here to teach English or to study, for example, and they may hope that perhaps by being very kind and service oriented, it will open doors for the Gospel to be more fully present in China.
However, Ammon’s success came not because he was so warm and loving as he mingled with the locals, though he undoubtedly was kind. He touched the heart of King Lamoni by surviving what might have been a suicide mission, surprising opponents and fellow servants with his military skills. Ultimately it was his brilliant expertise with the sling and the sword, coupled with fast thinking, sound strategy, great courage, and a heavy dose of assistance from the Lord, that touched the heart of the king and opened wide the doors for the Gospel to be taught among that people.
The fact that Ammon humbly continued carrying out his orders as a servant after his victory in defending the flocks of the king was a moving bonus. But it was his excellence and expertise in battle that catalyzed a monumental change among the Lamanites. Meanwhile, the other sons of Mosiah in other Lamanite towns who tried the direct approach of preaching (no doubt coupled with kindness and service) got nowhere and were quickly thrown in prison, as you will be in China if you don’t respect the regulations here.
From what I’ve learned these past 5 years in China, I’d say that China (at least at the upper levels of government) does not want your service. (Even when disaster strikes, China is often suspicious of foreigners coming to serve and would rather use their own capable resources to deal with the crisis.) It doesn’t want your missionaries. And now, China might not even want your singers and dancers. Though I love what BYU’s Young Ambassadors have done for China for the past 30-something years, I think government leaders are no longer impressed by sweet young people who can sing and dance well. What China wants and needs now is expertise and excellence that can lift China in key areas. Talented, capable, intelligent individuals that can help China achieve its goals such as strengthening its economy, increasing innovation, enhancing the environment, and alleviating illness.
If you want to change China with your love of its people and your love of God, first develop the skills and know-how that can help China in the areas that matter to the leaders here, and prepare to do it with courage and a touch of divine help to inspire and open doors. Develop skills that will help you stand out and inspire others. How, I don’t know. I haven’t done that. Not even close. But there are people out there who can. There are some great ones over here now, but we need more. There are some incredible Christians, including some great Mormons, with the vision and the skills to be instruments on the hands of God here to open doors that are not fully open yet. If you’ve got the talent and the faith to take on the impossible and prevail like Ammon, then please weave China into your plans. China is calling. It’s the most exciting and wonderful place I’ve ever been, and there’s an incredible journey waiting for you here, especially if you have the track record, the credibility, and the skills to make a difference here. Language skills also help!
Meanwhile, I hope BYU will recognize that if it is going to play a role in China, it must be through something more than song and dance, as useful as that has been. China is rising. The way to China’s heart and soul requires more relevant paths. This is a time for bold, aggressive cooperation and investment, in my opinion, to allow the deep expertise of BYU in numerous practical fields to inspire and bless China. So much good can be done with the right talent and expertise in the right place. And the right place, in my opinion, is China. And to be more specific, the place in China that seems most open and hungry for the skills that BYU and other Christian experts can bring is probably right here in Shanghai, a remarkably open community hungry for growth and the next generation of expertise.
China is calling.