I had a dream on June 7 of this year—not an aspirational vision like that of Martin Luther King Jr., but the distinct awareness while I was sleeping of a Scripture passage being repeated over and over again: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” Even in the dream, I wondered what this verse at the opening of Psalm 90 was supposed to mean to me at that moment.
When I got up later in the morning, I heard the unfortunate news that one of our largest WeChat channels had been shut down. Of course, I knew it was a possibility, but somehow that hardly lessened the blow of losing more than 200,00 followers overnight. In less than a month, all our major channels on WeChat were gone, and it was clear that our ministry would have to find a new direction.
It was a decade ago already that I first recognized new media as a key opportunity for the mission of Christianity in China. I have dedicated myself to this pursuit ever since and joined ReFrame Ministries (普世佳音) because they shared this vision. Over these years, I have hosted conferences, given lectures, taught in seminaries, and published books on the role of new media in missions.
But what happens when WeChat is no longer viable? When social media is monitored to the point that we cannot maintain a significant presence anymore? What happens when the regulations increase, and the darkness seems to grow?
Another psalm has provided hope for me in this dark season: “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 139:12).
It was clear six months ago that the changing context in China would demand a shift in our strategy as a ministry (and for so many other China-focused ministries as well). I can now say with greater certainty what that shift looks like for us specifically: it is a shift towards publishing. This is not about the old or traditional models of publishing, but a form of publishing that is shaped by all the lessons we have learned through our experience over the past ten years in new media. We are cultivating a “new media oriented” publishing ministry with professional standards.
The seeds of this were planted long ago—I look back now and see clearly that God was preparing us before we knew what was coming. ReFrame Ministries moved to Grand Rapids, MI, in 2018, and we have been gleaning from the rich legacy of Christian publishing in this city since. We have been learning by doing, producing an average of five books per year, and we are actively growing as we have sent eight separate titles to print this year. But it is not the numbers that matter as much as our priorities and commitments in this shift — priorities that grow out of who we are as a media ministry.
Here are three of our priorities as a “new media oriented” publisher:
- Varied media: Publishing is no longer limited to the printing press and physical distribution of hard copies of books, although those are still valuable and effective tools of media where available. We continue to push the limits of media by producing books in multiple formats, from traditional print copies mailed from our warehouse to digital editions like ePubs and PDFs that can be accessed wherever an internet connection can be made. We are also developing creative ways of integrating text-based content with other forms of media.
- Contextualized content: New media taught us the importance of adapting content for the intended audience. Our shift from producing primarily content for social media towards longer content for publication in no way changes our commitment to do just that. While our print publishing is currently based in the US, we are actively working with partners to produce contextualized versions of our resources for distribution in Taiwan and Europe, as well as mainland China.
- Pressing topics: We are devoted to the ongoing conversations facing Chinese believers and the church today — conversations that are generating a more robust public theology, cultivating the church’s mission through media, and energizing the spiritual growth of individual Christians. We refuse to shy away from hard or controversial topics, because it is precisely in these topic areas that the church’s voice needs to be heard.
In doing these things, I believe we are equipped to provide believers in China—as well as the Chinese church globally—with quality resources that are relevant, challenging, and forward-looking in the midst of this challenging moment.
But it’s not about us, of course. I am thankful for the glimmers of light in the darkness—in the simple recognition that God has been preparing us as a publishing ministry for such a time as this, and even more in the promise that we celebrate at Christmas: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Psalm 90 ends with this prayer: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, establish the work of our hands upon us: yes, establish the work of our hands!” This is my prayer, not only for our small new media publishing ministry, but also for you and the many China-related ministries that are also navigating this season: may God establish his church and his people in China as he establishes the work of our collective hands.
Written by Jerry An, with Heather Haveman.
Pastor Jerry An has worked in media ministry since 2001, and now serves as the Chinese Team Leader at ReFrame Ministries (formerly Back to God Ministries International). Under his vision and leadership, the Chinese language ministry of ReFrame has become a pioneer, think tank, and partner in new media ministry. Pastor …View Full Bio
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