In May of this year, ChinaSource attended the Reformation 500 and the Gospel conference organized by China Partnership. The three-and-a-half day conference in Hong Kong brought together over 3,700 believers (over 3,000 from China) to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Along with hearing from international and mainland Chinese pastors, we interviewed several Chinese attendees to learn more about what drew them to the conference, their take on the current state of the Chinese church, and to hear their impressions of the conference.
We’ve selected excerpts of those interviews showing different perspectives on current church life in China. Last week we heard from church planters in Wenzhou combatting secularization and government pressure and a brother from Wuxi shared about the need for a healthy church. This week a brother from a reforming church in Shenzhen testifies to faith and reliance on God and a returnee from Chengdu talks about the need for mentoring and adjusting to church in China.
A Brother from Shenzhen
ChinaSource: Tell us how you came to believe in the Lord.
A Brother from Shenzhen: I accepted the gospel in the winter of 2008. When I was at work, a sister shared the gospel with me and took me to her church. I had never heard that there was church there because our hometown is in a pretty remote place. At that time you generally didn’t hear the gospel there.
So I went to church, went to fellowship; it must have been about a week later. The church I went to then was a family church, it only had 20 to 30 people, just a few rooms on one floor of a building. It was quite small. But the pastor’s preaching of God’s word attracted me. It was as if, besides this world of ours, there existed other things, something else. He said God is king of the universe. My mind was blown. I had never understood this before.
It was marvelous and I was drawn by the words of the Bible. The whole process—hearing of Jesus Christ, hearing that he can save us, and going to church—in that whole process, I [felt in my heart] a corresponding joy. It was as if suddenly this life had hope. As if this world had suddenly changed.
ChinaSource: Tell us about your church and give us a basic overview of your situation?
A Brother from Shenzhen: In 2010 several house church pastors felt they wanted to go reformed. Many foreign missionaries came and helped us, so our house church also wanted to become reformed and walk this reformed line, establish rule by elders, establish church structure, and a structure of governance. At that time six house churches [in our area] came together and formed a Presbyterian form of church governance.
At that time all the brothers and sisters were very happy because it seemed that our church had taken yet another step forward, and even more we knew that our church governance had changed to an extent. We felt that not only were there many churches like this domestically, but also abroad—especially in America—and many people were helping us, aiding our growth and establishment. So we felt that there was a lot of hope and we felt very joyful.
Also, in our church, most of the people do manual labor. As far as cultural knowledge, they’re pretty weak. The things they do are toilsome. But everyone is very willing to read the Bible, very willing to draw near to God. They don’t—among the brothers and sisters— they don’t have many doubts or unbelief. They simply believe. So now our church has many families, and also many children.
ChinaSource: What do you feel is the Chinese church’s greatest need, greatest lack, greatest place that needs help?
A Brother from Shenzhen: I think our countryside and cities are all starting to have churches and have the seeds of the gospel, but in our inland provinces they need it even more. For instance, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, those places. And they also are in a pagan environment, I think they need help even more.
ChinaSource: Outside of China, if we listen to the media, they always say that Christians in China are coming under pressure and restrictions from the government. But you Christians on the mainland, do you feel that pressure and restriction from the government?
A Brother from Shenzhen: We often hear that other churches experience repression, but our church, thankfully, has not had even one incident of any real force. We hear from some pastors and also hear some in the news, but [for our situation] we are very thankful. However, after we heard news, especially the news that some churches in Wenzhou were demolished, we were very pained and also anxious. We wondered, will this government of ours slowly no longer allow us Christians to expand? Will the government put more pressure on us, or force us to go to a Three-Self church? But we rely on God, and however God leads us to walk, that way we will walk. At first we were afraid, but slowly we realized, worrying is useless. We can only walk ahead by leaning on God.
A Returnee Sister from Chengdu
ChinaSource: When you returned to China, how did you adapt or adjust as a returnee believer?
A Returnee Sister from Chengdu: There are two sides to this. The first is that I believe I had God’s special leading. But another is, I talk about how my conversion and my call from God were very close together. So when I came back, I didn’t feel that I was just returning to my home country—you might say I truly felt that God wanted me to come back to do something. At the time [I returned], when I encountered problems, if I hadn't had that vision it would have been very painful for me. When I returned to the Chinese church it truly was a challenge—because the differences [from the foreign church] were very great. But because I felt that God was going to have me do something, then these problems made me feel that this was the opportunity of my life.
ChinaSource: Did you have any preparation before returning to China? Anyone to prepare you for the Christian life?
A Returnee Sister from Chengdu: No, there wasn’t any.
ChinaSource: What would you say to someone in the same situation, what would you hope a returnee understood or prepared for?
A Returnee Sister from Chengdu: I would say, you need to distinguish clearly, are you coming to church to worship God, or are you pursuing [horizontal] relationships? Because in foreign churches, connections within the body are very close, but it feels like you’re just keeping up friendships. Many people have actually not grasped the essence of the gospel.
Now, when they return [to China], they will often complain (myself included) that the church lacks love and only talks about the Truth. But these times helped me see more clearly that when I come to church I need to come to worship God.
When I go to church . . . this is what I might say to them: We need to learn to go from strengthening the bonds of fellowship in the body to truly coming to church to completely worship God and look upon God. We need to grasp this foundation, and everything else will be solved in time.
ChinaSource: What do you think is the greatest need in China right now?
A Returnee Sister from Chengdu: I don’t think there is a mass-scale lack [of anything]; it’s individual [needs]. Right now I think as far as resources go, China is already very rich in many aspects. I think the resources are plentiful. So actually right now China is not lacking resources—it’s a matter of how you filter and choose from among all the resources.
But there is [a need for] individual growth: how does the individual, in this process, respond to the leading God gives. This is probably what each of us needs to figure out. So if you want to talk about what needs there will be in the future when there are more people who return [to China], we need to provide them with one-on-one mentoring. I wouldn’t say that there is a large-scale lack [in resources], nor would I even say that persecution in our context is that bad.
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