The world in which Jesus grew up and spent his earthly life was in many respects a microcosm of our world today. Political tensions permeated the society as the people of Israel struggled under Roman oppression. Hypocrisy and corruption characterized much of the religious establishment. Deep cultural divisions separated people according to ethnicity or class.
As in our day, these extreme pressures provoked extreme responses. Some ran for the hills to get away from it all, sequestering themselves in caves to maintain their purity as they awaited the promised Messiah. Others took up arms and plotted the overthrow of those in power. Many were asking, “Where is God in all this? Has he forgotten us? Is he even here?”
Framing this slice of history within the contours of eternity, the gospels proclaim he is here.
We find God in a manger. He walks city streets. He loves those in need. He suffers on a cross.
The gospel writers are not oblivious to the chaos and dysfunction of their day. But these are not the end of the story. In the midst of the swirling conflict, they focus our attention on Immanuel, the God who enters the mess of human activity to bring about his eternal purposes. Amidst the suffering and tragedy there is good news; the gospel mystery is being revealed before our eyes.
Today the world watches warily as a rising superpower threatens to upend the global order. Christians in China face increasing pressure. Many who had served faithfully for decades now find themselves unable to return to a country they had once considered home.
Amidst these unwelcome developments we may be justified in asking, “Where is God in all this?”
Our go-to narrative highlights a repressive regime, suffering believers, and lost ministry opportunities, all of which are very real. Yet the lens of the gospel refocuses our gaze on the God who remains very active amidst the chaos and disappointment. The truth of the gospel gives birth to a new narrative.
As the experience of our brothers and sisters in China reminds us, suffering is not the end of the story. In many ways it is the beginning. It is in the unexpected interruption of our own plans that we see God’s plan unfolding. In the pain of loss and separation we experience the sufficiency of Christ.
In his post, “New Wine Means New Wineskins,” Truman March reflects on the end of a “golden age” of readily observable church growth, sweet fellowship with Chinese believers, and the anticipation of seeing some of them going beyond China’s borders with the gospel. He contrasts those golden years with the jarring events of 2018, culminating in an untimely departure from China.
Recounting his steps over the past five years, Truman points to the emergence of a new narrative. This China story posits a different role for foreign Christians, who may have previously seen themselves playing key roles within China. It embraces the value of collaboration. And it acknowledges new opportunities for service among Chinese globally. Reflecting on the announcement in March of this year that China is once again issuing visas, he writes:
Increasingly, the role of the international worker among the Chinese has been diminished due to lack of access. Over the past several years, many churches have not had the level of direct support that international organizations provided in the past. With the March 15 changes, direct access once again seems possible. Yet, when we return, we are not returning to the same church that we left behind. The church still needs support. However, our ability to support them must come from a recognition of our brothers and sisters as true peers. We must acknowledge that they are the leaders and stewards of the direction the church is heading. We must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and willing to take the role of Aaron and Hur—holding up their hands as they lead and battle on the frontlines, rather than pushing our own vision or agenda.
Although rooted in a particular historical period and cultural milieu, the gospels transcend their context with a narrative of hope for the ages. In the same way, God’s unfolding narrative for China, while rooted in the unsettling events of today, invites us to step into his eternal purposes.
As March writes, “Our roles have changed. Yet, we serve an unchanging God whose heart for the nations is unquenchable. New wine needs new wineskins. I encourage my fellow workers to prayerfully consider what these changes mean for the future of our work among the Chinese people, and to prepare to humbly submit to the new roles God has prepared for us.”
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, 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 …View Full Bio
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