If I asked you to join me for lunch with a successful Chinese businessman…
- A major chicken producer, including all the KFC’s in northern China.
- An exporter of medical gloves, shipping over 7 billion units his last year in the business.
- A man who oversaw nearly 10,000 employees and multiple factories and production facilities in his 20 years of leadership.
…what kind of man would you expect to meet?
Probably not the child-like guy listening intently as my 9-year-old son taught him to hit a baseball in the empty lot across from our suburban Indiana home. Not the guy high-fiving and chest bumping the neighborhood kids as he pounded his first “home run” into the outfield shrubs. Not the guy laughing uncontrollably at his first exposure to America’s Funniest Home Videos (our family’s Sunday night ritual) before retiring to sleep on a Kohl’s clearance futon in my basement.
But Joseph is different. After tasting almost all the success the extremely focused and highly competitive Chinese culture has to offer, he sold it all and walked away at age 42. “The first half of my life was focused on my business,” he told me. “Now God gets the second half to help reach the children and youth of China.”
Get Joseph talking about Chinese teenagers and he’ll likely start crying. The demands of the Eastern culture swallow so many of them. They go to school 6 days a week. Then after a normal day of classes, almost all of them head straight to tutoring (school after school), and some even attend additional study sessions after tutoring that last late into the evening (school after school after school). All this learning drives toward one cumulative exam that effectively decides their entire future.
Depression is high, suicide is rampant, and church is an afterthought (even in Christian families). Education is god.
“We’re losing the next generation,” he says with great urgency. “I want to do something about that.”
So he’s seeking to cast vision, unite churches, create programs, and even build youth camps, leveraging the very same skills that helped him develop two massively successful businesses for a whole new cause: the children and youth of China.
Joseph inspires me. Not because of his innate business sense, his big vision, or his willingness to sacrifice. Sure, those are all impressive. But the thing that inspires me most about Joseph is that somehow, amidst all the self-confidence that is born from great success, and all the admiration and privilege that come from fulfilling such highly-valued cultural expectations…
Joseph never lost his identity.
We see how identity is swallowed by our failures and personal struggles. Bankruptcy. Rebellious kids. Job termination. Weight problems. Career stagnation. Divorce. Life’s difficulties, social hierarchies, and the ongoing commentary of a hypercritical culture (as well as those relentless voices in our heads) chip away at our identity with unending persistence. We begin to see ourselves as less than who we really are, God’s beautiful creation made in His image. The ball rolls easily downhill.
But identity isn’t just lost in our shortcomings. In fact, it may be even easier to misplace amongst our successes.
When you find your groove and begin to make your way in the world, a healthy dose of self-confidence can quickly turn into a false foundation of self-reliance. We clothe ourselves in the accolades of others, and “successful” is who we become. The same voices that condemn us when we fall transform into a choir of passionate worshippers ushering us into the throne room of our accomplishments.
Success can steal our identity, too.
But not for Joseph.
How can a man who had it all walk away from it all? What he does was never who he was. His identity is in Jesus.
We are all looking for ourselves somewhere – work, pleasure, family, success, wealth, appearances, religious piousness or secular enlightenment. And the truth is, most of us are exhausted. You see, Jesus didn’t just come to teach us morality, He came to solve our identity crisis. His finished work – in history – replaces all the things we do and all the places we go to “find ourselves.” It is finished. There are no failures to earn our way out of, and no successes that can keep up our image. Exhale. In Christ, our identity is secured.
Joseph knows who he is, whether he is commanding 10,000 employees or sleeping on a fold-out mattress in his American friend’s basement. And because of that, I believe that countless Chinese youth are going to find the same freedom, too.
So can you.