What happens “When the Church Is the Church”? This was the title of a sermon delivered at Beijing International Christian Fellowship Zhong Guan Cun (BICF–ZGC) just before the Chinese New Year. Weeks on, we are now in the midst of the novel coronavirus outbreak. It’s been incredibly challenging and encouraging to see the answer to this question lived out by God’s sufficient grace.
God has kindly given BICF-ZGC access to Beijing’s growing international community, especially international students and academics. There are over 80,000 international students that reside in Beijing alone. Because of the unique opportunity to reach them our Campus Catalyst Team had organized a two-week Bible and evangelism training conference over the Chinese New Year holiday. Unfortunately, due to health precautions our fellowship has not been permitted to hold any gatherings since January 26.
However, during this critical time God has pulled us together and is also helping us reach out to the international community in more ways than ever before. He's been equipping us for gospel proclamation like the church in Acts 4:32-33.
Engage2020 Online Bible Conference
Our fellowship had prepared two weeks of Bible, evangelism, and missions training over the Chinese New Year that included outreach to international students. Engage2020 was designed to help us “engage with God, his Word and his world.” But because of the coronavirus outbreak this program was quickly transformed into an online format in a matter of days. Praise God for creativity, flexibility and technology! Originally intended for Beijing-based internationals, Engage2020 is now finishing its third week and is connecting with international students across the country, including some in Wuhan.
God has allowed us to meet together in his name at a time when people have been battling deeply debilitating confusion, fear, and isolation. Studying God’s word in community has reminded us that he is in control, and our biggest problem is still our sin. After listening to a series of Bible talks by William Taylor on Matthew 24-25 a Kenyan student in Wuhan shared how excited and joyful we ought to be as we wait for Jesus' return! A Liberian student in Beijing wrote,
I was encouraged from the topic “Overcoming Anxiety” from Philippians 4 which talked about peace and joy. Before I came across that passage, I had so much fear in my heart that I limited the power of God in my life. And that is what fear does. But I’m glad that I was part of the Engage2020 conference online and it helped me a lot to overcome my fear. Right now, I’m the one telling my friends to stay calm because our God will see us through.
Despite being online with limitations to meet friends in person, through outreach training and deeper Bible study, God really has allowed the gospel to be advanced in this unusual situation.
Coronavirus Informal Q & A
For the benefit of the international community here, our fellowship hosted an informal online Q & A with Dr Justin Denholm, an infectious diseases expert in Australia. It provided much-needed real-time access to a caring and knowledgeable professional who could address concerns. As well as answering complex medical questions about the epidemic, Dr Denholm also reminded us that God is still with us in China and that others outside of China are praying for us.
Task Force Food and Masks
On the physical side of things God has enabled us to bless those in physical and practical need. Many of our international students have been on “lockdown” for weeks, unable to leave their campuses, so this new coronavirus ministry has been delivering groceries and masks. Many online retailers have sold out due to the recent high demands. And increasingly university campuses are not even allowing a friend to pass something to a student over the gate. Even so, it has been inspiring to see God working to care for the church in this crisis, bringing peace that only confidence in him can.
Daily Prayer and Hotline
As many in our church are burdened by the uncertainty of this current situation it has been reassuring to see God use his saints to listen and counsel others in our body. Again, technology and flexibility provided by the Lord have allowed us to facilitate three daily prayer sessions online. This has provided much needed fellowship and corporate devotions. The mercy ministry is focused on the spiritual needs of the church with many making themselves available to talk at any time, so there is compassion through Christ felt even by those isolated.
We had hoped to provide this course in person, too, but God gave us the means to proceed online. This course helps people look at the life of Jesus through the gospel of Mark, reminding us of the truth and hope we have in Christ. It is particularly geared to sharing the good news with many who don’t have hope during this time. We are grateful for more opportunities to reach more international students outside our standard Beijing remit, especially as they are in desperate need for community at this time.
Online Church Services
Small groups, families, dorm-room neighbors, and friends have gathered together to meet on the Lord’s day for worship. This has been facilitated by a service outline, downloadable songs, and a sermon recorded by one of our elders. There have been greater opportunities to spend time in deeper discussions over the impact of what we are facing, and time together in God’s word. Our evening services have been live online and given us more opportunities to interact and invite our international friends to join in. Praise God for giving us these unique opportunities to grow as a body that cares for each other and the world around us!
Being the Church
All glory to God. The church is being the church here in Beijing. God has given us love for one another in the small things like online Bible teaching and training, online church, meeting of practical needs and consistently following-up through messaging. Many things have not gone according to our plans, but this has allowed us to have a deeper dependency on the Lord. It has also been a time to reflect on the urgency of sharing what we believe with other internationals here. We have the honor of trusting in our God who wants us to engage with him, his word and his world. Would you pray this for us?
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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