For Xue Yunhao, a farmer and father of two in Shaanxi Province, repaying a government loan of 20,000 RMB was proving to be an insurmountable obstacle. Faced with medical expenses for his mother’s extended illness plus injuries he had sustained in an automobile accident, Xue fell hopelessly behind in his payments and ended up spending 15 days in jail. Upon his release he had little motivation to keep going.
Enter Wang Jinrong, a local church pastor, who arranged for Xue to participate in a new experimental sheep raising program. With the help of the county Christian Council, Xue was given three sheep to start with. Three out of every ten lambs born to those sheep were to be given to the church so that other poor farmers could participate in the program. At the end of three years Xue would pay the church for the original three sheep.
A year and a half after receiving the three sheep, Xue was converting his once unsuccessful farm into a sheep raising facility that would eventually accommodate 30 to 40 animals. He estimated that within little more than a year he would be completely out of debt.
In China's southwest Yunnan province, the provincial Christian Council took on another pressing social issue when it sponsored a symposium on AIDS for more than 60 church leaders, most of them from ethnic minority groups. Yunnan’s proximity to the infamous “Golden Triangle” has contributed to the rapid spread of AIDS in the province.
During the symposium a government official noted that lower incidents of AIDS were found in communities containing more Christians. “Why don't we build more churches in areas infected with AIDS?” he asked.
Faced with shrinking budgets for social services and a growing list of social dilemmas posed by China’s rapid urbanization and globalization, the Chinese government is finding an unlikely ally in the church. Traditionally marginalized and viewed as a possible threat to society, Christians are now being recognized as having a unique role in easing the inevitable pain brought about by unprecedented social change. The solutions that the church offers do not simply provide temporary relief through programs or financial subsidies. Rather, they get to the core issue of how individuals deal with change by confronting the need for a heart change within the individual.
Evangelical Christians often come in for criticism because of the perception that their actions do not measure up to their words. Quick to point out social ills, they are sometimes seen as less than willing to get involved in addressing them.
Christians in China are challenging this perception as they apply the truth of the gospel to the harsh realities of life around them. As China’s non-profit sec- tor continues to expand, these opportunities will likely in- crease. Confronting the wrenching pain of social change may provide the church with its best avenue for a credible witness in China's increasingly post-mod- ern culture. In the words of Charles Colson, “To much of the watching world, our determined concern for the ‘least of these’ in every land may be our most powerful witness.”
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio