In 2015 I was reminded in a powerful way of the strong foundation of Christian faith that exists in Southwest China. Several colleagues and I traveled to visit the parents of a close Chinese friend and to worship together with the church that meets in their small village. I had heard that this dedicated Christian couple received the Pentecostal experience, and, although they were persecuted and ostracized because of this, they have remained firm in their Pentecostal convictions. So, I wanted to meet this resilient couple and learn about their church’s history.
It was Saturday afternoon when we arrived in the village of Fa Ta. There I stayed in the home of my friend’s father, Brother Wu (a pseudonym). Brother Wu explained that prior to 1949 two British missionaries, Pastor Gao and Pastor Wang, had ministered in that general area among the Lisu people and established a church. A church building was built at that time. Although these fine missionaries were not Pentecostals, the gospel was preached, and the church established. The communists took over the church after 1949, but in the 1980s the building was given back to the believers.
Brother Wu and his older sister attended a house church meeting in Fa Ta village in 1974. Brother Wu was fourteen years old at the time. This was during the Cultural Revolution, so no churches were officially open. Nevertheless, Christians who had heard the gospel from the British missionaries traveled to the village and shared in a house church meeting. During this meeting Brother Wu and his sister committed their lives to Christ.
Brother Wu continued to meet with the Christians in Fa Ta and eventually became a leader in the church. He served as the treasurer for many years.
In 1992 a Chinese American pastor, Pastor Lai, traveled to Kunming and conducted a series of revival meetings at the TSPM seminary located there. Due to conflict between the school’s leaders, these meetings proved to be controversial. Although the conflict was largely unrelated to the revival meetings and centered on accusations of financial misconduct, the meetings were blamed by some for the result: the seminary was shut down for many months.
Nevertheless, these meetings birthed a significant revival that swept through lots of the churches in Yunnan Province. Church leaders from many of the numerous minority groups that populate Yunnan attended these meetings. Quite a few were baptized in the Spirit, spoke in tongues, received great encouragement, saw people delivered from demonic influence, and took the Pentecostal message back to their home villages. As a result, Pentecostal revival spread to many Miao, Lisu, and Yi people, and other churches.
One of the Lisu brothers in Wu’s area, Brother Yong, attended these meetings in Kunming. He was deeply impacted and brought the Pentecostal message and experience to Fa Ta in 1993. At this time Brother Wu and many others were baptized in the Spirit and spoke in tongues. Brother Yong and other Pentecostals ministered in the area of Wu Ding County, with the result that between 1993 and 1995 over 40 village churches were led into the Pentecostal experience.
The TSPM church leaders in the area, clearly pressured by the government, opposed this Pentecostal revival. After Brother Wu was baptized in the Spirit, he began to face opposition from TSPM church leaders. Eventually, in 1999 he, his family, and 19 other families (over 30 believers) left the village TSPM church and established an independent Pentecostal house church.
Some notable Pentecostal house church leaders visited their area and brought encouragement during this time. For example, in 1994 Zhang Rong Liang, the “uncle” of the Fangcheng Church (a large, Pentecostal house church network) visited and conducted meetings in the area.
Beginning in 1993 and running into the first decade of the twenty-first century, many other Pentecostal believers in the villages of Wu Ding County left their TSPM churches and established their own Pentecostal house churches due to opposition. Now there are over 40 Pentecostal churches in Wu Ding that network together. Brother Wu estimated that this Pentecostal network of churches, which includes Lisu, Miao, Yi, Dai, and Han churches, now includes over 200 churches when one also considers those churches outside of Wu Ding County.
My Chinese colleagues are excited about the potential of working together with this group and hope to provide encouragement and training for their leaders and young people. This clearly is a great need.
In addition to learning about this fascinating history, Brother Wu’s son-in-law, Xiao Zhen, committed his life to Christ that Saturday in 2015. In the evening, as the extended family gathered together, my friend shared his testimony. I followed with a simple presentation of the gospel. It was my joy to lead Xiao Zhen in the sinner’s prayer. After the prayer his young daughter, her face beaming, exclaimed, “I’m so happy because now I know my daddy will be with me in heaven.” It was exciting to see Xiao Zhen and his entire family in the worship service the next day.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was first published on July 24, 2017, on the blog of the Asian Center for Pentecostal Theology and is reprinted with permission.
Robert Menzies, (Ph.D. University of Aberdeen) is an adjunct professor at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in the Philippines. He has taught at Bible schools and seminaries in the Philippines, Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Russia, Holland, Korea, and the United States. Dr. Menzies has authored several books on the work of …View Full Bio
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