For missionaries, a good platform--a reason to be in country validated by the government--can mean the difference between deportation and successful ministry, especially in a closed country. The platform is particularly important in areas like minority villages, where tourism is about the only excuse perceived by the government as a good reason for foreigners to visit. But if you want to sustain ministry in an area, to take up residence in a city, to be visible and still be able to do illegal work, tourism won't work. That's where missions organizations have gotten creative.
Long before Hudson Taylor smuggled himself into China and began the China Inland Mission, missionaries were finding ways to sustain work in cultures where they weren't welcome. For the apostle Paul, it was a prison cell that ironically kept him preserved from the Pharisees and Sadducees, two Jewish sects that may have ripped him to shreds had they ever gotten a firm hold on him. Jesus chose carpentry as his platform, and the profession allowed God in the flesh to live in a small town and remain relatively unknown until he began his in-your-face redemptive mission.
Today, missionaries in China find similar ways to sustain the work there. Whether building business to help the economy or offering healing hands to the afflicted, they usually engage in some sort of occupation that will help China, so as to invite the government's favor. The only problem is that along with favor comes intense scrutiny, so they're forced to walk a tightrope, balancing between the government's expectations and God's calling on their lives.
On this trip and others, I've seen platforms in action, and I've been grateful to play a small role in each of them, like a screw that hold up one of the legs, so those who stand on top don't lose their balance. My roles as an accomplice in undercover schemes have been varied. I've been an English teacher, an adventure-crazed backpacker, a college student, a tourist, a businessperson, and part of a medical organization. Each time, I've experienced a taste of what it must be like to live as a full-time missionary who, with mafia-like secrecy, straddles the line of legality for the sake of the greater good.
This is not to mean that platforms adopted aren't useful or necessary. Some platforms, like medical work or relief for the impoverished, lend themselves more readily to ministry. But the same ulterior motives drive them all: get access, show compassion and preach the Gospel that can save both body and soul.
In JH, I found two platforms at work, moving in different directions but promising to converge somewhere down the road. We would be teaching English, establishing relationships with the minority kids at the middle school. At first glance, it was hard to see how doing the hokey pokey and playing kickball would impact the kingdom. But as we learned more about the vision for the people, we found that our job was to plow the soil of these kids' hearts so that when they return to their homes in the countryside, activities born out of the other platform might have a better chance of bearing fruit.
Obviously I can't go into too much detail, but it was great to see how God places creative, courageous people in the roles where he wants them, and it was encouraging to see that some of the work we did last year was supplemented by these two platforms. As Jesus said, "My Father is always working."