One of the things I love talking about is taking steps of faith to bring Jesus to as many people as possible. I serve with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), and our vision is to make Jesus and his mission accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime they want to be a part of it. I lived in China with my wife and four children for 22 years until COVID-19 came along and, like many others, we got stuck outside of the country. Nevertheless, I praise the Lord for digital means to continue to connect with people in China.
My digital ministry story began in 2006 when I returned to China after being in the United States for a few months. I was excited to tell people about Jesus but was overwhelmed. There were two hundred million people in the part of China where I was leading workers and ministry teams. Although I love talking with people, I knew I would never be able to speak with that many people, and I would never be able to get ten thousand friends to come and join me either! Then, as I looked around, I noticed that more and more people were on the internet, so I started some websites to connect with others online.
By 2010, the small group I was working with (at that time it would have been a stretch to call us a team) was seeing around three thousand people a month indicating a decision for Christ online. We were blown away by this. However, since then, things have become more complicated—although the principles are still the same. Put Jesus in front of as many people as possible, let them hear the gospel so they have an opportunity to respond to it, then help them grow in their walk with Christ. I constantly ask my teammates: “Are we helping people move a little closer to Jesus every day? Can those who do not know Jesus come to know him? Will those who know him know him a little bit better?”
You might be wondering how we do online evangelism and discipleship in today’s China. As you might imagine, it is crazy!
The first thing we needed to decide was that we did not care about creating a brand or promoting an organization. I do not want anything we create or do to be famous. I want Jesus to be famous. Thinking this way makes it a lot easier to do what works. For instance, we open a website and call it XinShengMing. When it gets shut down, we rename it XSM. When that gets shut down, we call it GoChina. We just keep giving it a new name. We opened a WeChat account and called it “JesusFilm.” WeChat asked us to change the name, so we called it “NewLife Films.” Then that was shut down, so once again we opened a new website. In 2021, we had three websites and nine social media accounts shut down.
Every day we had posts blocked, and our four social media teams were getting discouraged. I pulled them all together and reminded them that we had connected with over thirty million people. We had shared the gospel over three million times and linked over a thousand people with local churches. If we had waited for a perfect or easy way to communicate, those people would not have had an opportunity to know Jesus a little more. It is incredible what God is doing. We cannot wait for safe or ideal situations; rather, we must keep taking the gospel to people.
You might ask about security concerns since everything on the internet is monitored. In 2022, 13 of our 25 local Chinese team members were questioned by the police. After each occurrence, I asked the team member if he or she wanted to quit. I did not want anyone to be involved with this work just because we were friends. Most of them told me they wanted to keep working on this. They knew they were helping people learn about Jesus. One young woman, who had worked with us for three months, said that every time the police told her she was doing wrong, the Holy Spirit reminded her of a previous conversation that was the opposite of what the police said. She knew she was doing what the Lord wanted and helping others to experience Jesus a little bit better.
A few team members decided to stop working with us, and that was okay. As you build teams, you need to look for people who, first and foremost, are called to the mission; they cannot be hired just for a task. I was reminded of this as I read John 10:12–13 one morning. In that passage, Jesus talks about being a shepherd: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” We need team members who view themselves as being used by the Lord as shepherds and not those who run when the wolf comes along.
Our process is like a funnel. We try to connect with people on matters of the heart or spirit, including feel-good content like movies, music, or difficult things people face in their lives. Once we make a connection, we invite these people into groups and then offer them deeper relationships. We had over thirty million people view our content on many different platforms around China. Of those around forty thousand have joined our groups where we can talk with them and get them involved in topical discussions about leadership, parenting, gardening, or anything else they might be interested in talking about. After we gather people around their interests and build trust with them, we then share Christ with them. As appropriate, we ask them if they want to study the Bible or learn how to share their faith. If they respond positively, we have a team that makes phone calls to connect them to local fellowships.
We do not have enough workers to help all forty thousand who are in our groups. If you or your organization are interested in being involved, we can help you promote your online events in our groups. Just let us know. Our heart’s desire is to enable people to experience Jesus more. If you can be part of that—praise the Lord!
As I mentioned at the beginning, we do not want to be famous. We know that when you become too well known in China, the authorities will knock you down. They are using artificial intelligence which makes it harder to keep anything—websites, videos, articles—online. Sites and content get pulled down very quickly. However, since our goal is to get as much of our content, and the content of others we have worked with over the years, shared as widely as possible, we do not want just a few platforms with hundreds of thousands of followers; rather, we want our content spread across many channels.
With that in mind, we give away our content for free—no strings attached. We want people to use it in whatever way their audiences want to engage with it. For example, if we have a thirty-minute video and someone cuts it down to thirty seconds because they can engage their audience better in that format, then we say—go for it! If something needs to be reworked, then do it. Our goal is to get content out there to be used because there are many people who want to share Jesus with the people around them, but they do not know what to share once they run out of their own ideas. If we can help hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people share our content with their networks, that is much better than creating a few big accounts that quickly get shut down. It is harder to shut down thousands of individuals who are mobilized!
At present, we are collecting shareable content on a Google drive and learning the kinds of content people can use. Then, we will have a group of developers create an app or website that will allow people to both upload and share their content as well as download the content that they want to share with their people. In phase one, the content will be available for free in both Chinese and English. Once we figure out the best way to do this, we plan to add other languages and also work with creators who will have some requirements for sharing their content. There are many around the world who want content that is easy to share, and together we can help them. If you would like to work on this project with us, please let me know.1
Remember—do not wait for the best (read “safest”) opportunity. Get shut down and get shut down often. If you are not getting in trouble, you are not getting the gospel to people. Think about how many friends have been questioned by the police—and how many are still behind bars. I know just two or three who are being held, but I know thousands who have been questioned. So, be bold and work to get the gospel out there.
I will end with a story. One of the women on my team in China is a 65-year-old mother who cares for her autistic son at home. Last year, from July to December she had 41 Zoom events with over nine hundred people who attended her events. Thirteen people accepted Christ through her ministry online. She told me that when I encouraged her to try holding Zoom events in 2020, she was not sure if she could learn how to use Zoom let alone hold events. Nevertheless, after three months she became comfortable using it and is amazed by what God is doing. Are there people in your life who could be mobilized like this mom?
- Travis may be contacted by emailing email@example.com.