Lutheran Women & Missions Around the World

Globalization of Eastern Culture Through Missions


A young Chinese Christian man (shown above) who had been appointed to care for the boys home in a Chinese village had been noted in the Women’s Missionary Society logs as a martyr for his religion. Addressing his death, the missionary society states “Mr. Cheng Tung Bien, the superintendent of our boys’ Orphan Home in Yüchow, was brutally murdered by Chinese heathen Buddhist and Taoist Monks, because he is such a prominent Christian.1 Shortly after explaining his death, there is a raising question of the worth of his sacrifice, which they address as a “Victory through [the] Lord Jesus Christ.”2

These kinds of stories show the rationale for many of the mission trips and sacrifices made in trying to convert and influence foreign areas, allowing for religion to be the catalyst for worth. Missionary trips made by the Woman’s Missionary Society of Augustana have pushed for a spread of Lutheran ideology through methods like this and many more in countries like China, and have reasoned for a need to build multiple schools, orphanages, and churches in most country and village visited. There are many current day problems regarding expansion and development of any kind, especially in regards to the environment and social issues, often known as sustainable development that has been ignored for the earlier part of developmental history. The actions and developments made by the Woman’s Missionary Society from 1892 to 1927 are exemplary of the push for western development and modernization in smaller, undeveloped areas of the world, resulting in globalization, further pushing away from issues regarding sustainable development. These correlations to globalization occur most prominently in the ways the missionary society justify the spread of Christianity and and development, create a need for western ideologies to be pushed into eastern cultures, and through the disregard of any documentation of concerns outside of their interests.

In addressing the concerns of how the missionary society reflect globalization and the overall impact that has on sustainable development, it is first important to understand what globalization is and what sustainable development addresses. Globalization is defined as a “integration of nation-states, cultures, economies, markets, and diverse peoples, into a global network or system.3 This can be understood as a homogenization of differences into one working form that benefits, or at least is expected to, everyone involved. There are many contestable arguments about what globalization does and it’s impacts on the world, This essay will discuss its relation to sustainable development. There are three models of sustainability that will be addressed in this paper and it should be noted that while these are not the sole models that exist, these will help in understanding the context of globalization in relation with missionary trips. There stands to be three models addressed by Willis Jenkins in her chapter; economic, ecological, and political. Of these three models, the focus will lie primarily in the political model with some small points in economic sustainability model. The focus on any ecological model is unnecessary due to the fact the environmental movement was non existent until the 1970s; however, the sustainability of the other two models remain to be a large part of sustainability for the region. The political models of sustainability, hereby referred to as social models of sustainability “propose to sustain social systems that realize human dignity,” while the economic models focus primarily in economic concerns, both of which focus on both local and national problems.4 These models will stand as the focus to the issues arising from missionary trips and development made by the Woman’s Missionary Society.

The spread of Christianity in eastern cultures was always met with backlash and the persistence of missionary trips despite it is largely contributed to the idea that it is a moral and religious obligation to continue on these trips. In comparison, these same reasons are very similar to how globalization is continued to be justified and pushed for. Within the beginning of the survey where the Woman’s Missionary Society is talking about the history of the church, they state that women were the one’s that were told to go and tell people about Christianity and the lord, and state it as the “Risen Lord’s first missionary command and it was first given to women.”5 This kind of religious impetus to go on missionary work continues throughout the work and fundraising done for many different buildings, especially for the Bible School in Hsuchow. The reasoning for the $7,000 that to be raised for the Bible School was justified by the way “Christianity has a real message… for Christ taught that all people, women as well as men, have infinite value in the sight of God… [and] it is our moral duty to spread this gospel news of social, political, moral, and religious salvation to those who yet suffer darkness.”6 This is one of the most clear points the missionary society makes regarding mission trips being justified by Christianity, aligning themselves with their religion for more than just religious teaching. The implications behind this is that along with their religion, they are also teaching the values that is commonplace in western society, including the political and social aspects despite having a clash with the beliefs in the eastern cultures. Similar to this is in the study of a prominent Chinese Christian figure Witness Lee, who pushed for growth of the religion with many programs, and even after his death influenced the continuation of this ideal. In an article by Liu Yi, it is noted that the “gospel work continues in America with programs such as ‘Bible for America’ and ‘GTCA’ (‘Gospelize, Truthize, and Churchize America’)… and students and scholars coming to America [from China] have become the first target.”7 This problem in globalization of religious ideologies is commonly associated with problems in the political model of sustainability. These kinds of actions ignore the other religious, political, and moral beliefs of the people it targets and go against the model of sustainability focusing on human dignity, which should be in respect of one’s culture and not working to homogenize it into one ideal, like what is happening in both cases for both Lee and the Missionary society. By continuing this trend of unfair justification for spreading their religion, they do not follow along the model laid out for sustainable development to occur.

While there stands to be some ignoring of cultural differences, the missionary society does acknowledge the differences in medical practices, identifying that the change into western practices of medicine should be gradual; however, in doing so they also create an economic concern that fails to be addressed after the social change occurs. These kinds of problems also indicate a sense of thinking that a more advanced or modern form or practice is better than the older, which creates an underlying social and economic problems as well. The missionary society in multiple places state that their development of hospitals is charitable and beneficial for the communities and that the change into them must be gradual due to the Chinese conservative backlash to the medicine; however, they also state that “a new profession had to be built up in along side of and gradually replacing the old one.”8 This indication of social acknowledgement is a step in the right direction; however, also assumes that their method is better in almost every way, and do not make any attempts to combine the two in order to reconcile problems, rather they plan to replace entirely, just slower than less contested topics. The other problem that arises in this is the lack of concern for a continuation of assistance for hospitals and medicine for the area as the missionary societies sole focus seems to just be training doctors and building hospitals, very rarely noting that there needs to be more current equipment in the hospitals. These are similar to the ways in which globalization of western corporations focus on their own needs rather than the countries or villages they are going to impact. In Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, Vandana Shiva discusses the case study of shrimp trawling in India, where companies from America travel use trawling machines that use deep nets to catch the shrimp. The issue she states lies in the continuous overfishing that occurs there and the impacts this has on the local ecology and job market for local fishermen.9 The overfishing in this area ignores not only these economic issues with fishing jobs, but also impacts the traditional beliefs of the locals when the fishing harms the turtles within the ecosystem through the bycatch of the fishing nets, despite the sacrality of the turtles to the locals.10 This implication is similar to the missionary society because it reflects the lack of understanding that the traditions of the locals is something not only important to them, but also should be respected even if it goes against their practices. These kinds of economic and social practices are ignoring the economic viability of the development being formed and refuse to acknowledge the social reality of the people that live in these areas by placing their own practices as the correct ones.

Although claiming higher ground in practices and ideologies by claiming to aid the eastern nations, the western missionaries seemed to be focused on personal concerns over aiding the other countries in their times of need. This was encountered in the research of the archival evidence when the Woman’s Mission Board addresses conflicts in China such as the civil wars they experienced. The first civil war is what begins to address a need to go to China, stating:

China is indeed a land of need. Never in the world’s history  was there greater need among the teeming millions of China. China needs Christ and Christ needs China. What shall we do with China with this terrible Civil War going on? Pray for China! Don’t judge China because of this war. Remember the United Stated has a Civil War, and we are a civilized and Christian nation. They are heathens.11

These views of the west being far more advanced came in many different forms, more than just in war, bust also in medicine, doctors like the one shown above make note that this is the primary call for missions towards the east.


In this section it shows a clear call for forgiveness and help to China; however, it is similar to the previous examples in the way it condescends to their religious views, comparing themselves to the United States during its civil war to theirs, as if theirs is expected since they live as “heathens,” and not as Christians.12 While this does not necessarily show a personal interest at first glance, the idea that the spread of Christianity is needed is itself an example of personal interest within the community. In the way they speak about the spread of Christian faith in their mission statements shows the personal interest is spreading their faith to these eastern regions. In reference to the numerous recordings of women being told to “go tell” in the bible, the missionary society holds it close in their beginning statements that St. John states “those who honor Christ will be honored by Christ,” in direct response to being told to go forth and speak about the lord. 13 The very idea that it is their religious obligation to go and speak shows their personal interest being a priority over the plight the Chinese are facing in the war. This can be identified in the language used to describe them, calling them ‘heathens’ and basically uncivilized. Additionally, there is further evidence of priorities being with their own people rather than the Chinese during a second war documented by them. In a resume of their work of China, the article discusses problems within their mission trips to pull out their missionaries due to the war, praying for it to end so they can “continue their blessed work;” however, they do not call for help for the Chinese who are once again being subject to another war.14 This is important because it calls into question the legitimacy of their concern previous for the issues ongoing in China. These concerns are legitimate in regards to the missionary work because they address the problems with social sustainability between the missionaries and the Chinese communities.

Overall the models of sustainability addressed have been largely ignored in part by the superiority and necessity of the western ideology and culture above that of the eastern communities. Priorities of the Woman’s Mission Board greatly reflects that of the missionary work today. By allowing this kind of work to continue as a fully justified and necessary part of charity work in other countries, the social and economic problems of sustainability associated with globalization will continue to rise unless something is done to address it.


  1. Woman’s Mission Board, Woman’s Missionary Society Augustana Lutheran Church of America: Survey of Thirty-Five Years Activities, 1892-1927 (Chicago: Woman’s Mission Board 1934), 32.
  2. Woman’s Mission Board, 32.
  3. Lois Ann Lorentzen, “Globalization.” Grounding Religion. ed. Whitney A. Bauman, 181-202, (New York: Routledge 2011), 181.
  4. Willis Jenkins, “Sustainability.” Grounding Religion. ed. Whitney A. Bauman, 96-112, (New York: Routledge 2011), 106-107.
  5. Woman’s Mission Board, 3.
  6. Woman’s Mission Board, 57.
  7. Liu Yi, Globalization of Chinese Christianity: A Study of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee’s Ministry, (Shanghai: Shanghai University 2016), 109.
  8. Woman’s Mission Board, 136.
  9. Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, (Massachusetts: South End Press 2000), 48-49
  10. Shiva, 41.
  11. Woman’s Mission Board, 22.
  12. Woman’s Mission Board, 22.
  13. Woman’s Mission Board, 3.
  14. Woman’s Mission Board, 57-58.

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