I do pastoral work full time in a house church in a city in X Province.
At the outset of the pandemic, it seemed that every sphere of society in China and around the world had hit the pause button. However, as the pandemic went on, I saw that God’s work in the city where I served, and within the city’s churches, was not paused by the virus. In fact, the church where I served not only persevered but also continued to experience growth.
We have heard that in China 40 percent of the churches saw a sharp decline in numbers during the three years of the pandemic. There were also some small churches that had to suspend their services overnight. Because of that, they didn’t receive enough offerings and then couldn’t afford to pay their rent.
This made things particularly difficult in large cities where rents are very high. If you have only 20 to 30 people in a church and suddenly everyone is out of work, that is a huge impact on the church financially. It meant a lot of smaller churches could no longer pay their rent. These churches were not able to survive the pandemic. But in my church, during the three years of the epidemic, we can see that God was still reviving his church.
The outbreak in China began in November or December of 2019, but exploded in March of 2020, just after Spring Festival. That March I went to a city in another province to serve in a church. I’m very thankful that our church is led by a mature pastor who had been theologically trained and pastored churches in the West for at least 10 years. He returned to China to pastor churches in my city, and has led co-workers in the ministry, even during the pandemic.
Even during the epidemic, we planted new churches, building on the growth of the existing churches. So we can see that God was working. During the pandemic, God protected his church from being affected by the virus, not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of the lives of the brothers and sisters.
However, we all know that as we follow God, worship God, and especially as we expand God’s kingdom to establish new churches, the church is actually engaged in a spiritual battle. When God’s kingdom is being expanded, the devil tries to hinder it. It’s so obvious that in the year when we first decided to come out and start planting new churches, there was a great deal of external persecution from the government.
Yet, in the midst of this persecution, God was molding his people, and often using methods that we don’t quite understand so that we can learn lessons.
Why am I saying this?
When we initially planted the church, it was full of young people. The average age of the brothers and sisters was 28.5 years old. Most of these individuals were part of college fellowships back in the days. During our younger years, we rarely faced significant external pressures within our local congregations. However, as our church expanded and new members, especially graduates, joined us, our core group shifted to these 28-year-olds. Consequently, when external persecution came knocking, it was us, not our parents as in the past, who had to confront these challenges head-on. Such a shift compelled us to grapple with a fundamental question: What does it mean to follow Jesus, especially in the unique context of China? Looking back, I think the persecution we experienced during our church planting stage was a refining process orchestrated by God. In Chinese churches, some pastors argue that enduring persecution and suffering are part of the DNA of the Chinese church. Without these trials, the church might not be what it is today.
The older generations, our predecessors, grew up in the midst of storms, rain, and persecution. I firmly believe that persecution will be indispensable for this generation as well. It’s ingrained in the DNA of all Christians that when there’s no external persecution, that’s when problems begin to occur within the church.
Editor’s note: If you missed the introduction to this series, “God at Work During 3 Years of Isolation,” be sure to check it out!
Image credit: via Piqsels.
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