In September 2020, Educational Resources and Referrals–China (ERRC) hosted their annual fund-raising gala. The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Carol Hamrin, former Senior Research Analyst at the US Department of State and a long-time friend of ChinaSource. In her talk Hamrin focused on social and cultural exchange and the implications for US-China relations and China’s rise as a global power.
ERRC included a written version of Dr. Hamrin’s talk in their winter newsletter, and a copy is posted at the Global China Center. We are grateful to Martha Chan at ERRC and Carol Hamrin for granting ChinaSource permission to republish the talk here. We believe that Dr. Hamrin has an important word for those of us engaged in China ministry and want this talk to reach the widest possible audience.
Fervent Faith and Audacious Hope:
Reflections on China Today and God’s Purpose
My goals for these remarks are three-fold:
- To analyze the overall socio-political context for believers in China;
- To offer some lessons I’ve learned based on signs of God’s sovereign work in China through periodic tumult;
- To highlight acts of fervent faith by Chinese Christians in response to the COVID crisis, giving us audacious hope as we fact the future.
When preparing for this talk, I went into my files to review a talk I gave in 2007 on scenarios for China by 2020. To my surprise I was on target—agreeing with the “rise of China” thesis emerging in the mass media, but highlighting the “shadows” of the totalitarian culture of Mao and of Deng Xiaoping’s authoritarian goals of constraining successive leaders. For example, China’s leaders need to show major progress by next year on Deng’s priorities—economic development, peaceful reunification, and parity with US power in the Asia-Pacific. Then they will be ready to celebrate the 2021 centennial of the founding of the CCP.
In my experience studying China, it is never wise to simply project the past into the future because its history is marked by cycles of repression-tolerance. For 40 years after Mao died, those cycles stayed within the boundaries of US-led post-war global institutions. The current CCP leader and President Xi Jinping has led China onto a different path, tightening central Party control over society and challenging the West.
But we should note that this is a sign of CCP insecurity despite seeming strength. The weak legitimacy of Princeling leaders not appointed by Deng has been challenged by a number of crises in recent years.
- 2003: SARS
- 2004-5: Color Revolutions in Europe
- 2008: Earthquake in Sichuan, violent protests in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the Great Recession
- Current: COVID recurrence, separatist sentiment in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and historic flooding
A Chinese friend recently told me that following the containment of the virus, many people in Beijing are worried about economic growth, which has dropped to a level not seen in 40 years. He stressed that “a bigger problem is US-China relations. There are big uncertainties. The situation for the church now is reverting back to what it was in the 1960s.”
Given this critical situation, I want to share my reflections since 1989 on God’s sovereign work in China through periodic tumult. The shock of the Tiananmen incident elicited deep grieving in my heart and pondering on “Where is God in this?”
My first lesson: We must accept the limits of our human understanding. God’s ways are not our ways. Proverbs 3:5-6: “lean not on your own understanding.”
John 12 relates how “At first Jesu’ disciples did not understand.” To be a disciple means living with daily uncertainty and a major shortage of short-term clarity. Over and over again Jesus had to say to his followers, “you do not know…”
Jesus’ primary purpose is not the comfort of his followers—which we tend to seek—but bringing in the kingdom rule reconciling all to God. When something happens, it may take a long time to know what it means for the kingdom. Some “good things” turn out to be bad because they are mishandled or create pride. Some seemingly “bad things” are really good in the longer term, because they lead to faith and humble service to God.
My second lesson: We need to change perspective from nostalgia for a past Normal to looking forward to God’s New Normal. Isaiah 43: “This is what the Lord says—’Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’” The main them of NT Wright’s book, God and the Pandemic, is a profound commentary on Romans 8:28, the familiar verse, “God works all things together for good to those who love him.” Wright indicates the original meaning is actually “God works all things for good with those who love him.” This sense of God working together with us transforms the implicitly passive role of believers. We are not simply spectators or beneficiaries but are active participants as vehicles of the Spirit’s work in creating a context of suffering for multiple works of healing and hope. Thus we are shaped in the pattern of the suffering servant Jesus.
My third lesson: We should look at how our Chinese brothers and sisters are reacting to crisis with “fervent faith” and learn from their long-term experience living with uncertainty and oppression, which has taught them to expect the unexpected.
Fervent Faith During Covid
What does this fervent faith look like? Here are some examples from April and May:
First we see that their faith places priority on prayer, first for reviving the church. They ask us to pray for the repentance of churches in Wuhan for their sins that have displeased God. Pray for oneness among them. Pray that churches and citizens in Wuhan support each other emotionally, financially, and spiritually through prayers. Pray for the physical, emotional, and spiritual health and the spiritual supplies of the members of all churches and their families. May God give the shepherds of the churches wisdom, power, and strategy to know how to lead.
An interview with one pastor gives us three action steps:
- We can welcome more time together as a family and deepen marriage and family relationships.
- The wise use of technology to connect fellow believers can foster even greater intimacy.
- Communities riven with fear and ripe for the message of Christ’s love by Christians willing to take risks and find ways to creatively address the newly felt needs.
Leaders of one church have also adjusted to the new environment by starting each day with prayer to revive it from a lukewarm condition, baptizing new members and starting lay training. One leaders has been leading four Bible study groups each day. More and more people have come to realize that having money and a house cannot save them and many churches have started telephone or “WeChat evangelism,” believing, “the more difficult the environment, the more opportunities for ministry.”
Beijing International Christian Fellowship (BICF)
BICF was unable to hold large gatherings under the lockdown, but quickly rolled out an online version of a new plan for outreach to the 80,000 international students in the city, meanwhile helping students cooped up on campuses to receive food and other necessities.
Family Ministries Growing
Great Dads (my husband’s NGO) had just trained in last December a dozen new associates in China who adjusted quickly to online training, reaching over 350 more dads.
After an overnight retreat, one group of women used quarantine time to begin planning a Christian parenting workshop. They create opportunities for witness such as mailing masks with tracts enclosed.
Those caught in China have overcome difficulties using technology or delivery services to create new relationships and answer meaningful questions.
They are mostly working online, and report that Chinese students and scholars in the US and China are more open, feeling lonely, more vulnerable, and less self-sufficient. Staff serve as surrogate “family” to Chinese caught in the US needing help.
Audacious Hope for the Future
Each of these examples of fervent faith may seem small by itself, but they add to the work of the Holy Spirit through the whole body of Christ to give us audacious hope as we face the future. There will always be suffering, but through history Christians have been at the forefront of sharing and caring for the suffering.
I quote my colleague Wright Doyle of the Global China Center:
In China at previous times when everyone was suffering, Christians suffered differently. They suffered as a people with faith, hope, and love.
When we gain kingdom perspective, we will welcome difficulties as a ladder, enabling us to climb up and see life from God’s point of view and purpose.
“We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
“Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away yet inwardly we are being renewed day be day. . . . Fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So our mission is to shine brightly and turn many to righteousness. Let us encourage each other in spreading a contagion of audacious hope from heart to heart.
“May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace . . .” Romans 15:13
Note: Carol Hamrin is the author of a three-book series, “Salt and Light,” a collection of biographical sketches of Chinese Christians of the modern era. There is also a companion website: Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, which continues to add new stories.
Carol Lee Hamrin, Ph.D., serves as a research professor at George Mason University and a senior associate with the Global China Center. She served under five U.S. administrations as the senior China research specialist in the U.S. Department of State and in 2003 received the Center for Public Justice Leadership …View Full Bio
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