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End of an Era?

From the series Our China Stories

Nearly 30 years ago the organization I belonged to at the time produced a promotional video, the theme of which was “God’s hour for China.” Emerging from the shadow of Tiananmen, China was resuming its cautious, yet courageous, passage into a new era of reform and openness to the outside world. 

The urban church phenomenon so familiar today was still a long way off. Most of China’s Christians remained in the countryside. Yet two decades of revival had fueled extraordinary church growth. Young people on college campuses in China and abroad were coming to faith in significant numbers. Neither the newly installed Amity Press nor the human “donkeys” streaming across the border from Hong Kong and elsewhere could satisfy the insatiable demand for God’s word. Clearly it was a new day. God was up to something in China.

Implicit in the phrase “God’s hour for China,” was a sense of opportunity. Not only was God doing something amazing in China; He was inviting Christians everywhere to get involved. In a way, it was this sense of opportunity that told the outside world that God’s time for China had finally arrived. Our ability to do something for China was an indicator that God was at work. 

But what about the decades when China was closed to all outside involvement? What about today, when many foreign workers have had to leave and new restrictions are making life increasingly difficult for those who stay? Is “God’s hour” limited only to those snippets of history when foreign believers have free and unfettered access to China? 

Our China stories are exactly that – accounts of how we as outsiders have been able to engage in China in some way. Arising out of our limited frame of reference, they often leave no room for a larger and longer and much more complicated story that includes periods when it appeared as if God were absent. 

China again finds itself in a time of transition, and the stories told during this decade will be different from those that have served to narrate the past 30 years. How believers outside China choose to respond in this transition will determine in part the nature of these stories. 

A few years ago I explored a number of possible responses to this new season in the e-book 7 Trends Impacting Foreign Christians in ChinaThe situation has continued to evolve in the years since, but the overall trends and suggested strategies remain relevant. Among the questions asked in the e-book: “Are we willing to be creative and see something new come into being? Can we participate in bringing that new thing into existence?”

There is a time for mourning what has been lost and for celebrating those things that have been accomplished. But there is also a time to welcome a new reality even when it is at odds with the stories we have come to believe about China and about ourselves. Only as we do so are we able to begin to catch a glimpse of God’s much larger story and our place in it.

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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

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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