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God is Moving in the Cities of China

As the greatest rural to urban migration in history continues in China, God is at work. He is opening doors for Christians to impact the cities of China, and He is stirring up His people to go through those doors. God’s people, both inside and outside of China, are beginning to respond to the challenge of the cities.

Urban Christians in China are finding creative new ways to show the love of Christ to their neighbors, coworkers and employees. A Christian business owner in one city hires both Christian and non- Christian migrants from the same villages and encourages the Christians to share their faith with their coworkers. Many of the Christian migrants are children of poor rural pas- tors, so the income they earn helps advance the kingdom of God in the countryside as well.

Another group of urban Christians have formed a family life ministry which brings non- Christian couples together to learn relational and parenting skills. As these couples learn God’s plan for the family, many of them come to faith in Christ. The training sessions are conducted in homes with small groups of couples meeting weekly for several months. As these couples become Christians and bond with one another, the leaders encourage them to continue meeting—not just as a marriage and parenting support group but as a church!

A growing group of Christian factory owners in southern China have committed themselves to raise the quality of life of their employees. This is good for business as Western buyers are anxious to buy from factories that have good quality of life standards for their workers. It is also a powerful way to encourage the growth of the church. Christian teachers, drama troupes, musical groups and so on are brought in to provide educational and cultural activities and, as they share the gospel, factory workers come to know Christ through their wit- ness. Christians working in the factories as bi-vocational pastors gather them together and form churches, right inside the factories.

Other urban Christians are establishing “shop churches,” taking the church to the marketplace. Since many shops in China include a residence over or behind the shop, these small businesses provide not only a meeting place but housing and a source of in- come for bi-vocational church planters.

Rural Christians are catching a vision to take the decades-long revival they have experienced in the country- side to the cities. Large rural church networks have assigned key leaders to evangelize and plant churches in the cities. While cultural barriers have hindered their effectiveness, they are not about to give up.

Recently a group of rural and urban Christian leaders met to consider how they could work together to evangelize and plant churches in a particular city. “We rural Christians are like an army surrounding the city, but we can’t penetrate it,” said one of the rural leaders.

An urban pastor responded, “We’re like spiritual guerilla fighters in the city. We are already in the city, and we understand how to reach out and do ministry in the city, but we are too few to really make an impact.”

It was clear to both groups that they needed each other—the urban pastors needed more laborers to expand their ministry, and the rural leaders needed help in understanding how to adjust their ministry approach to suit the urban setting. The biggest barrier to co- operation, they both acknowledged, was pride on both sides.

“Urban Christian leaders need to humble themselves and accept us,” said one rural leader. “And we must also humble ourselves,” he hastened to add.

Christian leaders who had been involved in effective city-reaching efforts in other parts of the world were present at this meeting. They encouraged those gathered to see their city not as an adversary to be conquered but as a needy friend to be served. As the church serves the city, they pointed out, it is demonstrating the love of Christ in very tangible ways, preparing the soil for the seed of the Word to take root and grow.

This prompted those gathered to share some of the ways the church in China is already serving the city. One shared how a sister from his fellowship started an orphanage in another city, which resulted in the development of a very positive attitude towards the church in that city. Another shared how the church in a small, poor city provided labor for a road that needed to be built. This was so appreciated by the local authorities that a sign was erected by the road acknowledging the church’s contribution.

As these Christian leaders from rural and urban churches came to know and appreciate one another, the cultural barriers that separated them began to disappear. They ended the meeting by praying together and agreeing to meet again to explore how they could partner to reach their city for Jesus Christ.

Overseas Chinese

Many overseas Chinese Christians are returning to lend their considerable skills to the task of discipling the cities of their mother country. Chris- tian Chinese business people, doctors, educators and other professionals are showing the love of Christ and sharing the gospel with their colleagues, clients, students and patients. They are also making an impact on the spiritual climate in their cities as they carry out their work with integrity, often in sharp contrast to those around them. Some are directly challenging systemic injustices in the cities, promoting the rule of law, teaching business ethics and exposing corruption.

Other Expatriates

Non- Chinese Christians from around the world are also making an impact in the cities of China. Christian English teachers continue to reach intellectuals on college campuses. An increasing number of these teachers are focusing on connecting those they win to Christ with existing churches or church planting movements. This important development is facilitated by the fact that local Christians are get- ting involved in campus ministries alongside expatriates.

Christian professionals and business people from around the world are proclaiming the gospel by word and deed in many different spheres of influence. As a result, Christian communities are being multiplied among many different affinity groups such as lawyers and medical workers—even government officials!

In addition, Christians are moving aggressively to minister to the urban poor, orphans and other disenfranchised groups of city dwellers. They are building schools for the children of migrant workers, providing vocational training to give the urban poor a hand up and meeting social needs in the city in many other ways.

Over the past two and a half years, one young lady has developed a minis- try of compassion to street children in one of China’s largest cities. These street children have been sold by impoverished rural parents to unscrupulous “businessmen” who house them in shacks in the back alleys of the city and force them to beg, sell flowers and in other ways make money for them. The children are given a daily quota and are often beaten if they fail to meet it.

As she became aware of this situation, this young lady went to the home villages of these children and offered to pay their parents the same amount their bosses had promised to pay if they would either bring their children home and put them in school or give her permission to take care of them. She is currently caring for 20 -25 of these children and hopes to expand her capacity to care for 50 or more and to expand to other cities.

The growing emphasis on urban mission in China is a welcome trend. However, the needs and opportunities in China’s cities are overwhelming to those involved. “Please come help us!” was the plea this author heard over and over on a recent trip to China.

In addition, there are hundreds of cities in China where very few, if any, of the kinds of ministries described in this article are taking place for one simple reason: there are very few Christians in those cities. Most Chris- tian work seems to be concentrated in a handful of China’s cities. Who will take the gospel in word and deed to the vast majority of China’s cities that have yet to experience anything like what we have described here?

The opportunities are there. China is desperately seeking foreign experts to bring expertise and capital, create jobs and in many other ways assist in the development and modernization of China’s cities. Traditional missionaries are not welcome, but Christian professionals, business people and educators are. In addition, as the fledgling third sector continues to develop, Christians skilled in the development and management of non- governmental organizations are also urgently needed and welcomed.

God is moving in the cities of China, but it is clear that there is much more He could and would do if more of His people were to make themselves available to serve in these cities. We invite you to contact us at info@chsource.org for more information on how you can be involved.

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Jim Nickel

Jim Nickel was vice president of ChinaSource from 2000 to 2004 and was involved in promoting work among the unreached Chinese peoples for many yearsView Full Bio