The world of China’s migrants is constantly changing, which means the state of migrant churches and the strategies of church planters are also in flux. The twenty-year story of Living Waters churches can help us understand some of the changes, as well as the current challenges.
Established in 2001 in Beijing, the Living Waters churches began by giving attention to migrant workers. This was a time of rapid urbanization in China, and the main reason that the majority of migrant workers moved into the city was to escape poverty in their villages. Therefore, both new city churches and migrant churches grew very quickly at this time. Some of the migrants who had come to the city had already become Christians in their hometowns. When they came to the city to work, they would share the gospel with great zeal and brought to the Lord many who had not previously heard the gospel.
As young church planters, my wife and I were still in Bible school and for security reasons could not openly share our identity as students. Because of that, some of the believers were suspicious of us. However, after a year of building relationships with them, they could observe our lives and service, and for the next three years the work grew quickly. As we look back, we realize that this rapid growth in the early days was the work of God’s Spirit who, of course, is always at work. There were fewer churches in those days, and a lot of people were coming into the city looking for a place to belong. It was relatively easy to preach the gospel to people from the countryside.
In 2004, after Brother Xu (our leader) was married, he and his wife moved next to the church and began serving there full time. In 2006, my wife and I also moved next to one of the churches. By this time there were five or six Living Waters fellowships in different places. A pivotal year for Living Waters was 2007 as three important things happened. First, we developed a relationship with a city church and thus could gain a fresh perspective on what it actually means to be part of the migrant community. Second, we began to return to our hometowns to help the village churches and went to smaller cities to help train other workers. Third, we began to use a team model for ministry, and became a team of three couples. These three things would have a great impact on the growth and development of Living Waters.
In 2009, we got to know Teacher Peng, and this also had an impact on Living Waters. One aspect was that through him, we got to know other migrant church planting pastors. Also, in 2011 we began a full-time program to train younger co-workers, and through this we were able to grow even more. All of this happened as we continued to work towards building a strong team of coworkers.
Together with Teacher Peng, in 2015, we began a new and larger team comprised of various pastors who were focused on reaching migrants. We called this new team Harvest. Our hope was (and is) that Harvest will be a truly indigenous Chinese mission organization. All of the Harvest workers, including those in Living Waters, have experienced difficulties, yet, at the same time, have known the deep and present grace of God. From the beginning until now, Harvest has recruited new members, most of them relatively young. We are all moving forward together and expectantly.
The last ten years of living in Beijing have been especially difficult for migrants. The reasons include decreasing job opportunities for migrant workers and the lack of opportunities for children’s education. Moreover, Beijing is growing into a new and modern city which means that most affordable and typical migrant housing has been torn down. For this reason, many have chosen to leave the capital and move to the satellite towns and cities around Beijing or to other places altogether. In light of this, Living Waters has also begun to plant churches in other areas. At this point, Harvest Mission, of which Living Waters is a part, has undertakings in Beijing, Hebei, Henan, and Guangdong. It has also begun church planting in the Northwest. We are hoping and praying for more and younger coworkers, and together we will continue to plant churches, train more workers, and be sent on mission.