Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Are We Avoiding the Nails?

Written by: on June 14, 2018

Jung Chang’s Wild Swans is an intriguing love story about mothers; her mother, her grandmother, and her mother-country Communist China. Set in biographical format, Chang’s tri-generational review covers her experiences from binding feet and shoulders, to her membership in the Red Guard, to her earning a PhD from the University of York. The narrative is Eastern biased, Western influenced, and Buddhist centric. This post will focus on how to make this book enhance my upcoming 2018 Advance to Hong Kong. I hope to gain more cross-cultural understanding and find ways as a Christian leader to meet needs and reflect Christ in my Asian refugee communities at home and at-risk people-groups abroad.

I use the armor of God viewing lens when analyzing the Satanic influences on cultures and I hope to leverage Chang’s work and narrative accounts of how Chinese Buddhists manage their spirit world, gods, and how shame and honor affects their lives. First, belief in and fear of the spirit world is a dominant principle in the Buddhist practice of religion. For example, at funerals it is son’s responsibility to hold a “special flag” that calls to the dead.[1] The son would then kneel by the coffin and shout, “Avoid the nails” as a spiritual tradition to help keep their deceased father from being hurt by the nails.[2] As I reflected on that idea, “avoid the nails” my mental thoughts and imagery went to my Heavenly Father and His Son Christ, who went to the cross to be crucified and atone for my sins. Christ could not and did not avoid the nails. I wonder how the Hong Kong Buddhist would view Christ after knowing that He voluntarily accepted nails to be driven through his hands and feet?

Chang’s book mentions the influence of “shaman” who are people believed to have access to and influence in the world of “good and evil spirits”.[3] Shaman are sometimes called in to help exorcize evil spirits in the Buddhist religion. I found this a fascinating comparison to our Christian Evangelical history in the West since it is also influenced by “exorcism” of evil spirits. Here are some Biblical examples of Christ casting out demons: a mute man in Luke 11:14, demon possessed were healed in Matt. 8:16, and demons were evicted and sent into the swine in Matt. 8:32. The Chinese people are very sensitive to the influence of the spirit world. So much so, that they have created their own spiritual practice and response on how to mange spirits.

From the Armor of God perspective, Paul described these spirits as rulers, powers, world forces, and spiritual forces of darkness and wickedness in the heavenly places.[4] Wearing the viewing lens of the armor of God, I can see how Satan devised schemes from the simple to the complex that he introduces to people groups and cultures. Even through Chang moved away from her Socialist Chinese world-view and moved into the Capitalist British context, she is still influenced by the deep-rooted schemes and cultural tricks that Satan has impressed upon her people. Another wile of the devil or trick that he uses is to play down the importance of one creator God as all knowing, seeing, and powerful and replace Him through the introduction of many gods.

As I searched for the gods in Chang’s world I found references to the god of fire (48), fertility (51), fortune (54) kindness (51), and even the god of the kitchen (53). My wife would laugh at that one, the “god of the kitchen!” Yet, their belief in these gods is no laughing matter and they will go to the grave, if required, to appease the fears, wants, and wishes of these gods.[5]  It is considered a great shame and loss of honor to disrespect their gods. As 2018 Advance members we must pay attention to our surroundings in the physical and spiritual world that we will enter while in Hong Kong. You may remember that one of the Cape Town souvenir shops down by the Warf, 2nd floor, with tribal witchdoctor head dressings and masks was filled with evil spirits as sensed by some of you and my wife JoAnne.

Shull reviews Wild Swans and calls it a “panorama of heroic struggles.”[6] Shame and honor were key in the death of Chang’s grandmother who suffered and died from the “accumulation of anguish.”[7] The Asian culture is driven by the need to keep or restore honor and “save face.”[8] Chang tells a story about having to crouch down on an overcrowded bus to maintain the “honor of the motherland” in front of some American guests.[9] When I served in Botswana I used to witness truckloads of Chinese bond-servants who were sent to Africa to “work off” a family dishonor. They lived in austere conditions, worked for meager wages, and served for 1-3 years as a laborer in Chinese construction projects as shame-payments to restore their honor so they could return home to their families.

In summary, Chang’s Wild Swans is a made-for-movie screenplay and life-happens documentary about her family survival in Communist China and escape to the Western world in England.  As LGP8 cohort members and future global leaders this book is good for the contextual and cultural awareness challenges awaiting the visiting and ministering Christian migrant. We must not avoid the nails if we hope to reach the world for Christ. Therefore, I hope LGP8 can engage the Hong Kong people as God gives each of us the opportunity. I know that the armor of God challenge coin artifact will successfully cross the cultural barriers from religion to addiction and pray for the opportunity to share Christ with one of the least of these (Matt. 25:40).

Stand firm 站立得住

M. Webb

[1] Jung Chang. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. (New York: Touchstone, 2003) 28.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 53.
[4] Eph. 6:12, ESV.
[5] Ibid., 48-54.
[6] Ellen Shull. “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China / Still Life with Rice: A Young American Woman Discovers the Life and Legacy of Her Korean Grandmother.” English Journal 86, no. 4 (04, 1997): 85.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Chang, Wild Swans, 102.
[9] Ibid., 615.

About the Author


4 responses to “Are We Avoiding the Nails?”

  1. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for highlighting how a cultural belief can be a bridge to Christ. Like Paul’s speech on Mars Hill where he identified the Greek ‘Unknown God’, so too can the Chinese cultural lament of “avoid the nails” be a bridge in telling the Christ story of crucifixion and surrender for humanity.

    And in a brief aside, not related to your post, I just finished a murder mystery book while on holiday (see Shawn’s comments for my commentary), and in it a coin had a significant role. As your work linked you with addicts in the past, I assume you know about the Alcoholic’s Anonymous coin which serves as a reminder of one’s commitment to sobriety. Anyway, that storyline just reminded me that there are other coins out there serving a similar purpose to your AOG coin.


  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mike,

    Honestly, I believe we should start praying together even now for your Armor of God ministry in Hong Kong. Something big is going to happen, I am convinced of it. So, I stand with you in prayer, for Satan would like us to miss the opportunity…

  3. Shawn Hart says:

    Mike, I watched one of those travel network shows that had the host hiking the back woods of some country in search of whatever…however, in the episode, they commented how the tribe that was guiding them were Christian converts. That fact kept me interested. However, as they moved deeper into the dark mountains, they would come across these little pagan altars that had been built along the trail, and at each one, the guides would stop an offer sacrifices to the pagan gods represented. The host asked the question, “But I thought you were Christian?” The guide said, “We are, but we still don’t want to risk offending the other gods.” I am curious how we effectively penetrate such severely affected religious groups and still instill in them the purity and necessity of the One, all-powerful God. It seems that even in China, though Christianity…aka monotheism…is growing, it still has a history and culture to contend with.

  4. Jason Turbeville says:

    Great job connecting your dissertation to our reading this week. I had a hard time connecting to mine but your connection between being able to use the spiritual world to connect to the pagan practices as a bridge was good. I look forward to our time in China brother.


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