Spring had come to Chengdu City, so a Chinese friend and I decided to go into the countryside to enjoy the flowers. After a lovely stroll among the canola flowers and a delicious lunch, we went to visit a nearby church where we know the folks. Their church, has an interesting story, somewhat in contrast with the stories that often reach the news about the church in China.
This church has had a presence in Wufeng town for many decades, perhaps even dating back to the late 1800s. When things started to open up in the 1980s, the believers began to meet again. They registered their church in 1985, acquired a fairly large piece of land outside town and then, in 1989, built their first “modern” building using local materials, local funds and local labor.
Wufeng itself is an old town, with a history dating back 2,000 years. Though it is not far from Chengdu in miles, it feels like a different world. It’s primarily an agricultural area, largely untouched by modernization. When I first visited in 2009, many of the town roads were unpaved.
Wufeng is a naturally beautiful area, with the Tuo River snaking its way through the green hills. For many reasons (poverty, natural beauty, long history) the Chengdu city government decided to invest in Wufeng, to create a tourist destination where city people could go for a relaxing day.
The church’s land is in the area that the government designated for redevelopment. It overlooks the river and is situated between the bus terminal and the new “Old Town.” Initially, the government recommended that the church move to a different site and give the land to the developer. The church people thought of a different plan—to include the church as part of the new development. The government and developer agreed.
The developer replaced the sanctuary with one twice the size of the old one, at no cost to the church family. The church spire is just about the first thing a tourist sees when strolling toward the “Old Town.” The developer thought the church family could pay for the interior finishing and the church family agreed. However, the church family could only afford simple finishing, not up to the standard of the rest of the area-wide development. So the developer decided to do the interior finishing. The church family left the design entirely up to the developer. The result is stunning, and very appropriate. You can see the result in the photo below. Beautiful!
The first phase of the redevelopment is now finished. There are many tourists strolling around the town and visiting the church. Church members are often present in the sanctuary to answer any questions visitors may have, and to sell Bibles and other Christian literature.
The land around the church has been beautifully landscaped. On one side, they plan to create a walking path telling the story of Jesus at various stations. This plan has the support of the developer and local government. On the other side, there are rose arbors ideal for wedding photos. The church has become an attractive place for young Chinese couples to get married.
Throughout the tourist development, there are signs pointing to the church, no different from the signs pointing to the parking area or the shopping areas. According to the signage, the church is on Gospel Road.
This rural church, with its congregation of around 100 people, has won the favor of their neighbors, including local government officials.