Yan became a Christian in 1998, a year that will be long remembered for a major flood that devastated the southern part of China. The beginning of the new millennium also became the watershed in China for fast economic development and galloping church growth as millions of people, seeking prosperity, immigrated to the cities. Recognizing this seismic social shift, the largest house church networks, all of which had originated in rural areas, shifted their focus to the cities. As a result, many immigrant workers and urban dwellers came to faith because of the mission work of these church networks and the evangelists they sent to the cities. Some migrant workers brought their faith with them when they arrived in cities teeming with people.
Yan’s cousin was one of these Christian immigrants. She became a Christian in Hainan province where she worked, and later brought the Christian faith to her hometown. She brought several Christian books to Yan’s home, including a Bible. Every night before she fell asleep, Yan read from these books. The Bible was not easy for her to understand. However, one book, a collection of many testimonies, gripped her heart. Yan began to think that if the God described in this book truly is the God of universe, then he might be willing to listen to her prayers as he had for others. Yan began to pray and eventually started attending a local church. Her decision to follow Christ quickly followed. Then, she moved to a nearby city where she began to study the Bible.
This was the golden age of Christianity in China (1995–2015), especially for Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity. At this time, an old missionary lady from Singapore attempted to teach Yan to speak in tongues without success. A mission team from Beijing came to visit the churches in her city. Yan had the opportunity to pray with this team. Some of them also prayed in tongues during the prayer meeting. One leader from the team insisted that speaking in tongues cannot be taught, because it is a gift from God. They laid hands on Yan and prayed for her to receive this gift, but she did not receive the gift of tongues at that time. Yan, with a sense of desperation, continued to pray fervently for this gift. She firmly believed that if she earnestly sought this gift, it would eventually be granted to her by God.
Later, Yan had an opportunity to study at an underground Bible school in Xuzhou. This Bible school was associated with the house church networks. Some of the faculty members frequently spoke in tongues during their prayer meetings. It was in this Spirit-filled atmosphere that she discovered her spiritual gift as a worship leader. Sadly, the school was forcibly closed because the director of the school was arrested by the authorities. All the students, including Yan, were sent back to their homes to protect their safety. When Yan arrived back at her home, she read the promise in Luke 11:13 that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. She also saw that in Acts 1:8, Jesus encouraged his disciples to seek the power that comes from the Holy Spirit. The breakthrough for Yan finally came one evening. She started to speak in tongues while she was dreaming. When she woke from her dream, she could not stop speaking in tongues for quite some time.
The Lord was faithful in fulfilling his promises to Yan regarding her life of discipleship after her Pentecostal experience. She summarized her prayers for her Christian walk with three phrases: fruitfulness in ministry, divine guidance for direction, and wisdom to handle persecution.
In 2004, Yan went to a nearby city and began her studies at the Southwest China Bible School (SCBS). Yan studied there for one year. During the missions practicum required by the school, she and her team went to minister to an unreached people group, the Yao people. The peace of the Lord was with them, and the people accepted them gladly when they arrived at their village. They sang Christian songs with a group of young people and, by explaining the meaning of the Christian songs, they were able to share the gospel with them. On the second night, seven of the young people responded positively to the gospel and committed their lives to the Lord. Two years later, three brothers from this area came to the SCBS to receive more training in the Bible. They became full-time ministers after their graduation, sharing the gospel in their home region to this day.
Yan was then invited to join the school as a faculty member after her graduation in 2005. The school played a significant role in training ministers for minority people groups. Through the ministry of this school, more than twenty minority people groups have been reached. Yan teamed up with other coworkers, built friendships with the students, impacted their lives spiritually, and equipped them in God’s truth and in ministerial skills. Today, many of these students are still standing firm in their Christian faith and actively serving the Lord. During this period, Yan, together with her husband, was also involved in the ministries of several local churches. Through her ministry in both the Bible school and the churches, the Lord has touched and transformed many lives.
The life of discipleship (or following Jesus) in China often includes persecution, particularly for ministers. However, Yan insists that persecution does not define the nature of one’s faith; rather, it is one’s response to persecution that defines their faith. Since Yan has become involved in ministry after her Pentecostal experience, she has received the wisdom and boldness needed to handle persecution. The Lord has been faithful in his promises by providing her with wisdom, peace, and strength when she has faced challenges.
In July of 2005, Yan participated in a training for Sunday school teachers with about 50 people in her city. The security guards discovered this training session and reported it to the local police. All the Christians involved were taken to the police station, including an instructor from Taiwan. Some of the members of the group responded by crying and with great fear. Yan, however, had a strong sense of peace and felt confirmation from the Spirit that none of them would be affected by this. At the end of the day, all the Christians were released unharmed.
In September of 2005, while Yan was serving at the SCBS, a group of police came to raid the school as the students were studying in class. The police took all the people, including two missionaries who were present at that time, to the police station. The police interrogated the students and faculty one by one. When it was Yan’s turn, the promise of Jesus came to her mind that the Holy Spirit would give her words to speak when she was questioned by authorities (Luke 12:11–12). Her calmness encouraged the others who were frightened and worried. They were able to answer the questions posed by the police calmly and with wisdom. Nobody was affected by this incident, and the two missionaries were able to stay in China and continue their ministries. The students were able to return to their homes peacefully. Six months later, the school resumed its training program at a new location with more students joining the original group. These persecutions did not decrease Yan’s earnestness and enthusiasm but served as markers and witnesses of her Christian faith.
More recently, Yan encountered persecution again in March of 2022. This time she did not experience the persecution alone but with her husband and two children. In 2018 the new regulations regarding religious activity signaled great changes and increased pressure for Christians in China. Yan and her husband considered how they might respond when trouble came. Yet, when the persecution finally came into their lives, the promises of the Bible became very real to them.
When the authorities came to question them at their rented apartment, they were given strength to respond spontaneously with wisdom and confidence. They did not deny their involvement in ministry. The authorities threatened them and then left. This investigation was just the beginning, and police officers would constantly call or visit their apartment over a period of many months. Yan and her husband still participated in ministry after this incident, but in a more limited way. God allowed these challenges into their Christian lives not to undermine their faith but, rather, to let them experience his presence and promises in a deeper way.
As the pressure continued to grow and the “space” for her ministry became more limited, her presence and that of her family posed a very real threat to the Christians they were serving. Finally, through God’s mercy, Yan and her family were able to travel to the Philippines. Currently, she and her husband are serving at the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary with the hope that they might reach more people from this new platform for ministry.
Yan declared, “I am just an ordinary Christian, but my God is not an ordinary God. He can do extraordinary things through ordinary Christians like me.” God revealed himself to Yan, chose her, equipped her, and granted her opportunities to grow and participate in ministry. God has guided her through good times and difficult times. Yan’s testimony represents what hundreds of thousands of Chinese Christians have experienced over the past twenty-plus years.
Editor’s note: Zhang Li interviewed Yan and translated her story into English.