While there are many negative news reports during the COVID-19 pandemic, this story of a revitalized rural church is a much-needed source of encouragement. China Christian Daily reports on a rural church in Hubei province (home to the city of Wuhan) that went from close-to-closing its doors to being a reinvigorated congregation.
How a Poor Rural Church Survived
As the country has become more industrialized and the urban areas have grown, Chinese young adults from underdeveloped rural regions have migrated to the developed areas to work or start a business. Their children and the elderly people are usually left behind at home. Among the migrant workers are young and middle-aged Christians from the rural regions.
Consequently, churches in underdeveloped rural regions are shrinking. My county, for example, has thirty-some churches. One of them has now been closed down while many are on the verge of closing due to the lack of a pastor. The current non-ordained pastors from most of these churches have not been theologically educated.
A mountain church I would like to share about was once about to close down. It suffered from not having enough administrators and pastors. However, under God’s guidance, the church made its way through the crisis and has recovered.
It is located in a village in a poor and underdeveloped mountainous area on the southeastern edge of Hubei province. Originally it was formed by several believers in the mid-1980s. By the early 1990s, it had begun to take shape—a small chapel that could accommodate 300 people. The organization of church affairs was complete. Among the organization were three efficient administrators and a young pastor who graduated from a Bible college (all of them were volunteers and male). There were also other volunteers. By the mid-1990s, its membership had reached over 100. On an average Sunday service, the number of attenders was up to 70 or 80.
In the early 2000s, the church’s principal administrator passed away because of an illness. The other two leaders were either seriously ill or too old to work. Because of the large number of migrant workers, the church could not find a younger believer to be part of the administrative team. The young pastor was weakened by the loss of his three good spiritual partners. As his child grew up, his family’s financial situation became increasingly difficult. His morale began to wither. Eventually, he joined the influx of migrant workers to the developed coastal areas. Thus, the church lost its leaders and administrative staff, leaving disorder and no one in the pulpit. On Sundays, only a dozen spiritually mature believers would come to the church to either give personal testimonies, organize prayers, or simply chat.
At the beginning of 2006, the aged administrator’s son, a young man who worked in the town, came back home to visit him. The young man had been baptized nearly five years ago and was a volunteer in his church in town. He gave himself a nickname, “Brother Humble.” Having learned about the church’s crisis from his father, the heart of Brother Humble was saddened, but he took on the burden of helping this church after he was moved by the Holy Spirit.
The first step was to help the church restore Sunday services. Initially Brother Humble decided to take one Sunday off every month to teach in this church. However, after serving like this for a while he saw the church’s needs, so he changed the initial schedule to teaching at the church two Sundays each month. During this period, he organized a meeting with “several ordinary volunteers,” then he chose an outstanding volunteer, Sister Zhu, to be the moderator of the Sunday services. He also found two literate and capable believers who could read the Bible to the congregation on the Sundays when there was no sermon. In this way, Sunday services were restored. An atmosphere of worship was restored and attendance began to increase.
The second step was to gradually help improve the administration of church affairs. During Brother Humble’s initial pastoral ministry, he proposed that a 70-year-old man be the church’s temporary principal administrator and take charge of its routine work. At the same time, Brother Humble used his Sunday sermons to urge believers to ask God for pastors and administrators. Through thorough study and observation, he identified Sister Song, who was in her early 40s, as the leader of the management team. She was often assigned tasks so she could be trained. Later, she was officially appointed head of administration of the church by the local CCC & TSPM [China Christian Council & Three-Self Patriotic Movement]. At the same time, based on the original volunteer team, two more staff joined in. A church committee headed by Sister Song was formed.
The third step was to help identify and train pastors to improve the pastoral team. Brother Humble, Sister Song, and the committee agreed to train pastors. They began with two young and educated female believers. After a period of time, the two left the village to find jobs because of the financial pressure on their families. The congregation continued to pray for the church’s revival. Later, God chose a young lady, Sister Yu, who worked at a local kindergarten. Ever since Sister Yu came to the church she had been very thirsty for God’s words and she spiritually grew quickly. She was keen to help and care for believers. On Sundays when there were no sermons, she also took the initiative to lead Bible reading. She was worried because there weren’t enough pastors.
The church committee decided that Sister Yu should receive training. Brother Humble suggested that she enroll in an online undergraduate program provided by Liangyou College (a seminary based in Hong Kong). To help her study online, the church bought a laptop computer for her. Initially, because Yu’s home had no internet, Brother Humble would download the materials on his laptop at home first and then transfer them to Yu’s computer; the exam questions were to be answered by Yu who would save the answers electronically and upload them to Brother Humble’s PC. Then Humble would email the answers to Liangyou College. Yu was admitted as an undergraduate student to the college.
Later, a local business woman. a believer, learned that Yu had no money for the internet. So, the businesswoman gave Yu 1,000RMB so she could have the internet installed. In order for her to be better able to concentrate on her studies and commitment to the church, the committee recommended that she quit her kindergarten job and that the church give her a monthly salary of 1,000RMB (she was paid 1,500RMB a month at the kindergarten). Sister Yu readily accepted the church’s offer. Brother Humble had been following her progress and had long prayed for her, and visited and encouraged her. Through years of studying and practicing at her church Yu improved remarkably in her services and sermons.
We acknowledge the special circumstances that God listened to the church’s prayers for pastors. We are equally grateful that God sent the daughter of an elderly sister to come back to serve. She was also called Sister Yu, but she was younger. She went to the church with her mother from an early age. When she grew up she went away to study in a college. After graduation, she worked in coastal cities and went to the churches there. Having been convinced she was called by God, she left her job to study for a full-time undergraduate degree in theology. After graduation, she was moved by the Holy Spirit and decided to go back to her hometown to serve for a few years or more (as a volunteer). The sister’s return brought financial aid that helped with older Sister Yu’s living costs. Younger Yu was also a spiritual mentor to the older Yu.
Through nearly five years of effort, the older Yu successfully obtained an undergraduate degree in theology this spring. Last winter Yu obtained a preaching license issued by the local CCC & TSPM. From then on, the church had a theologically equipped pastor. Currently, the church committee is considering raising the salary of Sister Yu and hiring her as a full-time pastor.
The following are my reflections on the transformation of crisis into opportunity. The priority is to look up to the Lord with faith. Be convinced that God will be faithful to the end. Be convinced no one can close the door that God has opened (Revelation 3:7). The revival of a church is not possible without prayers!
The second issue is to share your difficulties and seek help. The church mentioned above, for example, gained the help of Brother Humble and the younger Sister Yu. The younger Yu also brought a certain amount of funds. It can be seen that the key is for older believers to share the situation of the local church with the believers who have migrated to urban areas. It is very important that church clergy keep in touch with believers who have left home because they may be a source of aid for the church.
The third point is that the church must be willing to pay the price of training its human resources. Church leaders should have the vision for and understanding that training and supplying pastors has a cost.
Finally, we should value the internet. The church should act accordingly by encouraging mature students who may not have the opportunity to attend a full-time seminary program to study online and to help those who receive the education.
Image Credit: China Christian Daily.
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.