In Christianity, spirituality can be interpreted as a life process that aims to re-establish the original, ideal, body, mind, and spirit of man in alignment with the image of the creator. This alignment concept stems from Genesis 1:27 that says: “So God created man in his own image…”
In the actual, real world, man’s spirituality comes in various forms that often fall short of the original creation plan. Is it possible that the created is given the option of free choice? Can man’s action or behavior be used to assess his spirituality? These questions prompted me to look for signs indicative of spirituality in the Dalian Chinese Christian community in China.
Between 2009 and 2018, I visited Dalian Nationality University (DLNU) several times as an exchange scholar. I was invited as an education professor to assess and train DLNU’s young faculty. In China, young faculty members called “lǎo shī” are non-tenured and their instruction is typically teacher centered. The charge of my training was not so much to teach them content but rather to teach them more about student-centered pedagogy. For that reason, the intense professional development in instructional strategies went very well with a wide spectrum of young faculty from architecture, engineering, computer science, physical sciences, mathematics, foreign language, business, fine arts, and so on.
After the day’s training, and especially over the weekends, I explored beyond the campus to find out more about that beautiful, coastal city in the northeastern part of China.
One day I was enjoying a leisurely stroll in an off-campus public park when I noticed a group of fifteen young people. I got closer and found them singing and socializing with other park visitors. These young people were unique in that they each wore a lightweight vest with the Chinese characters “God loves you” on it, along with a red cross. I also noticed that they each had a special badge that they wore, and I wanted to assume that these were government permits.
Were these young people ambassadors of Christ?
At the end of the afternoon encounter, the group invited me to join them on Friday evening at a young people’s fellowship meeting. I accepted the offer because I wanted to find out more about this local Christian community.
My prior experience of a Friday youth fellowship in the Chicago area has been a gathering of young people with a light worship program followed by socializing and light refreshments. What I was expecting as I went to the fellowship was totally wrong!
The church was within walking distance of DLNU and I arrived right on time. The small and not-so-well-furnished church was already filled. The majority of the attendees were not to my mind young.
The fellowship was led in turn by three young people—playing guitar, singing, and reading the Bible. There was not much socializing and absolutely no refreshments before the 300-plus people departed quietly and orderly into the night. I was most intrigued by this unexpected encounter with the youth fellowship and decided to come back for the full Sunday service—only to be even more pleasantly surprised!
I returned early to the same church that Sunday and found it already packed. About 500 people sat shoulder to shoulder on long uncomfortable wooden benches in a big, stuffy room ventilated by electrical fans. The visiting pastor spoke zealously. He had a few PowerPoint slides to guide his sermon but no notes on the lectern. On several occasions, the pastor asked the congregation to recite certain Bible verses and the congregation was able to respond very well in unison. The congregation recited the verses loudly and clearly. Is this not a typical hallmark of Chinese memorization? The church had three consecutive Sunday services. The total attendance of the three services was estimated to be over 1,500 people.
My Dalian Christian community encounter was brief and surprisingly pleasant. It also gave me an opportunity to ponder the question mentioned above concerning the evidence of Christian spirituality. Indeed, I found that the Dalian Christian community that I visited shows many signs of Christian love in action as described in Romans 12:9-13:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
As a Christian, I find it important to sustain and grow spiritually myself. More importantly, I feel the urge to stir the quiet spiritual water to make ripples of engagement with other believers and ultimately reach unreached souls as Christ’s ambassador. My encounter with the Dalian Christian community was just such an opportunity.
May the good Lord continue to bless the Dalian Christians so they can bless others. Amen.
Ovid Wong, PhD is an education professor at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. His public education experience spans from the inner-city classroom of Chicago to the suburban office of the assistant superintendent. He is the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Outstanding Science Teacher in Illinois award; National Science Teacher Association’s …View Full Bio
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