On May 28, the Gospel Times reported on the 80th anniversary celebrations of a church in Yunnan Province. The church’s history is an interesting window into the denominational twists and turns (some might say confusion) that were often a part of church growth and development in China. According to the article the church was started by Adventist missionaries, was later described as being Pentecostal, and later pastored by someone from the China Inland Mission.
In the early 1950s the Chinese government launched the Church Unification Campaign, which abolished foreign denominations and forced congregations (often representing different denominations) to merge.
While Adventism is generally regarded as further outside the mainstream of Christianity in the West, in China the government simply regards it as a Christian sect, the one that gathers for worship on Saturday instead of Sunday. It has no separate legal standing, but is simply included in the supervisory structure of Protestant Christianity. What is left unclear in this article is whether this church still identifies as Adventist or not. You can read more about Adventism in China here.
Shiping County, Yunnan Honghe Prefecture
Xiantang Church Looks Back on 80 Years of History
On the morning of May 26, nearly 1,500 believers and church workers from Yunnan Province’s Yuxi and Honghe Prefectures gathered in the province’s Shiping County for a celebration at Xiantang Church.
The Shiping church has four meeting points, one elder, two preachers, and more than 1,000 believers. Most of the believers are of the Han majority group, with the Huayao, a branch of Yi and Miao peoples, also represented.
According to Shiping County church elder Li Shidai, Christianity came to Shiping in 1932 when the Fujian Reverend Xiao Ru Jin (female) and a Reverend Wu arrived to preach the gospel. The church belonged to the Seventh Day Adventists and was established at the county seat's South Main Street, where it grew to more than 30 members.
In 1940, after the ministers Xiao and Wu left Shiping, a British missionary, locally called Zhou Xingwu, came from Zhanyi County to preach in Shiping. At this time the church, now Pentecostal, was located on South Main Street in the Sun family home. Reverend Zhou remained for three months and then moved on to the Spring Ridge area.
Zhou was succeeded by the Reverend Qin of China Inland Mission.
Later, a new Seventh Day Adventist clergyman by the name of Wang Defu arrived to lead the congregation.
He was followed by Reverend Chen Zhilun of Sichuan, who came to Shiping in 1948 to lead the church, which now met in the old Wu temple on South Main Street.
In early 1949, with a subsidy from the Kunming Adventist parish, the church purchased South Main Street's Li Bingcheng, the home of the Li Guocheng brothers, to serve as their new meeting place. There they established the "Shiping County Church," also called "The Jesus Church."
Between 1948 and 1958 the number of believers grew to more than 50. With the rise of the Cultural Revolution, the church was occupied [probably by government work units] and had to halt all regular activities.
After 1980, the government began implementation of new religious policies and the church resumed activities. The original church building at 48 South Main Street was occupied until September 1993, when it was returned to the congregation. That same year in early November, renovations were begun and the church was able to celebrate its first Christmas in the building on December 25, 1993.
In January of 1994, with the help of Peng Xiufen and others, colleagues of the Reverend Li Shidai arrived to report to the county government on the implementation of current religious policies and to help establish the church.
With the help and support of the Honghe "Liang Hui" [the partnership of the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council] the Shiping County Christian Church was legally re-opened on November 13, 1994. Peng Xiu Fen was ordained as Elder and Li Shidai as Preacher.
"Shiping County Christian Church," received its formal listing on December 25, 1994. The listing ceremony was attended by the county's United Front Work Department, Politics and Law Committee, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and various Longzhen area and other relevant leaders.
In that year the church grew to 133 believers, founded the Christian Management Committee, and established church regulations. From that point, Shiping County Christian Church has gradually moved towards a normalization of development.
As the number of believers increased, it became difficult to accommodate the group due to tight quarters. In addition, the church had fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair and in early 2002 they found it necessary to begin planning the construction of a new building. However, due to financial difficulties, it was not easy to find a suitable location.
On August 20 of 2002, the church purchased an old warehouse from the County Agricultural Materials Company for 145,000 RMB, putting forth an investment of more than 100,000 RMB to renovate the building for church use.
As the number of believers continued to grow, church activities also increased. After nearly a decade of use the building itself became increasingly unsafe, endangering the welfare of the congregation and requiring immediate demolition and reconstruction.
On August 22 of 2008 the County People’s Government Office issued a “Security Risk Rectification Notice”, requiring the congregants to abandon the building and find an alternative meeting place. Because the building was originally designed to be a warehouse, it lacked many of the standard requirements needed to fulfill building safety codes.
The church began renovations on September 23, and on December 22 the church moved from 48 South Main Street to its present location at 42 Ci Ba Tou Lane.
On June 17, 2014, the church once again began construction, and the new building was successfully completed on April 14, 2015.
During a speech Elder Li Shi Dai said,
My hope is that the Shiping church of tomorrow will, with the same spirit and drive they used to construct this building, build the church of God. The outer hardware has been finished, but now we want to bring the inner software (that of the spirit) up a level so that we bring glory to God’s name in this place and lift high the cross of Christ. May the Shiping Church become a house of prayer, a center from which the gospel spreads, a spiritual home, and a shining lamp in the dark.
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