For decades, expats from the West have streamed into China as teachers, students, and business workers, with the specific goal of sharing their stories of how Jesus Christ changed their lives—and how that same Jesus could change the lives of those they meet. Of course, as many foreigners discovered along the way, the Spirit of God has been present and at work in China long before any Westerner arrived. But God has a way of calling us co-laborers, of inviting us to participate in his work of kingdom expansion, often by sharing our stories.
Stories are powerful. Stories allow us to connect, at a human level, deeper than our cultural distinctions or differences. And stories that are about God allow us to glimpse the impossible: that God is Emmanuel, God with us, and that God is deeply involved in even the smallest details of our experiences.
Even Jesus used stories, or parables, to communicate.
The tide is turning, of course, as the stream of expats now flows out of China rather than in. While there is plenty to mourn in that fact, what if it is also an opportunity? What if the flow of Christian resources, theology, leadership, and insight is also turning, such that the Chinese church has a fresh opportunity to serve at the forefront of these things and the church in the West can listen and glean and learn from the faithful in China?
The Chinese church, and Chinese Christians, have much to offer the rest of the world, not the least of which is their stories.
ReFrame Ministries (普世佳音) has been collecting the stories of Chinese believers since 2017. It started with a friendly competition on WeChat, the social media giant in China: Write out your answer to the question, what has God done in your life? More than a hundred entries came flooding in, and our team began to realize that these were powerful stories. Life-changing stories. Stories that needed to be shared.
Around the same time, the director of the Chinese ministry at ReFrame, Jerry An, was processing a sense of call to carry on Rev. Feng Bingcheng’s task of speaking to a particular generation of Chinese intellectuals who sought answers to deep questions of faith. Rev. Feng’s famous book, Song of a Wanderer, was deeply impactful in Jerry’s life, as it was for so many others. But in a personal conversation several years ago, Rev. Feng challenged Jerry to recognize that each generation asks their own questions. The songs are different. The voices are unique.
The stories flooding WeChat were these voices—the voices of this generation. What if we could gather these voices, these stories, and collect them into a book? And what if we could publish this book as a new “song of a wanderer,” to reach a new generation of Chinese seekers?
And with that, ReFrame’s first full-length Chinese book was born: The Reason for You. As far as we know, this collection of 40 testimonies, entirely in Chinese, was the first of its kind, collecting the stories of Chinese believers, written in Chinese, for a Chinese audience.
It would not be the last.
Even before The Reason for You was published, a group of alumni from Tsinghua University had done the work of writing out their testimonies, with the hope of reaching their fellow Chinese intellectuals with the message of salvation. They had searched for a publisher of their collection but were turned down repeatedly—finding a publisher in the U.S. for their Chinese text and Christian content was not an easy task. Until someone showed them ReFrame’s new book.
When Jerry was contacted by someone from this Tsinghua group about publishing their collection, he could hardly believe it. The shared vision made the collaboration an obvious choice, and within a few months, The Reason for You II: Tsinghua Testimonies was published.
If you are familiar with colleges in China, you probably know that Tsinghua University is a natural rival of the perhaps slightly more famous Peking University. Sometimes even a little college rivalry can be used for the kingdom! A few strategic conversations later, Peking University was certainly not willing to be outdone by the Tsinghua group. A group of PKU alumni was gathered, and as they planned out the project, they decided that if Tsinghua published 40 testimonies, then PKU would publish 100!
Of course, college rivalries pale in comparison to the connection we have in Christ. The project coordinator from Tsinghua served as a valuable consultant on the PKU trilogy of books—yes, trilogy. Peking University Testimonies 1 came out in August 2020, and the second book was released before Chinese New Year 2021. The third volume should be available sometime this summer.
Two books collected through competitions on WeChat, and four university collections later, we have more than 200 published stories of how Jesus Christ changed the lives of individual Chinese brothers and sisters. A few of these are somewhat famous; most you would otherwise never know of. Some have told stories of an intellectual process of coming to faith; others share spiritual experiences or the evidence of God’s presence through difficult circumstances. Some make you laugh, or smile, or cry. All point to Jesus, the author and finisher of each one of our stories of faith.
Over the course of this year, ReFrame Ministries is excited to partner with ChinaSource in making excerpts from some of the stories from the two university collections available for the first time in English. Keep your eye out for these stories to show up on the Chinese Church Voices in the coming months.
I suspect we can all benefit as we allow the flow of stories out of China to wash over us, and we collectively give thanks to God for his long, faithful work among the Chinese. May we also watch with eager expectation that the kingdom is indeed still growing.
You can request copies of ReFrame Ministries’ books in Chinese at https://reframeministries.org/donate/new-songs-of-wanderers-2 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit: Andrey Filippov via Flickr, adapted
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