Musings on the Eve of a Journey to East Asia

by Jeff Ritchie

This week I leave for a two-week trip to China. In a blog last year I mentioned the impact on my life of the Rev. Bao, Jia Yuan, one of the servant leaders of the Church in China. Today I would like to share some other testimonies of Chinese Christians. They are my offering to God in gratitude for thirty years of interaction with China, and especially, with Chinese Christians.

Evangelism – A Testimony and a Story

The Church in China has been one of the fastest-growing churches around the world. What kind of a church is it that sees 10,000 Chinese becoming followers of Jesus each day and six new churches started? What can we learn from Chinese Christians about evangelism? The former head of the Church in China, Bishop K.H. Ting, was asked this question over twenty-five years ago by a Presbyterian mission co-worker, Philip Wickeri. Bishop Ting’s response appeared in the 1991 edition of the Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  He said:

A certain amount of religious freedom must exist in order for evangelism to happen. But religious freedom is not everything.There must be an enthusiasm and an inner drive to witness to Christ on the part of the church and its members.This enthusiasm comes from a spirituality in which Christ means everything to the believers, rather than a formal teaching on the Great Commission. When Christ means everything to believers, they cannot but tell others of him, and that is evangelism.

A story from one of the provinces of northeast China illustrates this “enthusiasm and inner drive.” Originally part of a volume of stories about grass-roots communities in China, Households of God on China’s Soil, compiled by Raymond Fung (1982), it appears also in Prayers and Thoughts of Chinese Christians, presented by Kim-Kwong Chan and Alan Hunter (1993). The story is told by an eighteen year-old young woman of the Korean minority people who live in northeast China.

We are a small Korean minority community of about eighty families. . . .In our case we are all Christians. The heads of the households make a solemn pledge every year at Easter that our whole village will live forever in devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ. Then it is the young people’s turn. . . .

Eight or nine years ago, our village was not all Christian. . . .We had a lot of problems among us. Some wives are of Korean blood, some Han [i.e., ethnic Chinese]. One of the problems . . . had to do with coke. We depend on coke for fuel to keep our room warm. It so happened that the Korean women felt that the Han women were getting better quality coke, in bigger pieces and at the same price, thanks to their family ties with those in charge. This was the beginning. Soon the men were drawn in. It was bad. People did not talk to each other.

The crisis came during an extremely cold winter. A baby boy died in the night. The mother almost went crazy. She made wild accusations regarding the quality of the coke and why it went dead in the middle of the night. Things became very tense. The heads of the families came together to deal with the accusation and find a solution. . . . There were Christians on both sides.

For some time the discussion got nowhere. Then Brother Lee, whose wife is Han, volunteered
to share his coke with others. Nobody took him seriously. But he did what he promised. After
work hours he would bring a few kilos of coke and give it to a Korean family. . . . He simply
walked in, gave his greetings and said: “I’ve come to see if you need coke. This is fine coke.” If there was no response, he would simply leave the coke by the stove and go away. Sometimes they would examine the coke, chat about its quality and have tea.

One Sunday, after the service, Elder Chong [one of the oldest of the elders of the church] asked Brother Lee to come up. He embraced him in front of everybody and told the church what Brother Lee had done. He said: “Brother Lee alone acted like our Lord. He showed us the way.” Brother Lee was moved to tears. Elder Chong could not contain himself either. Soon everybody was crying and confessing their sins to each other.

Evangelism is very important for us. Father insists that it must begin with the heads of families. . . .So he puts in a lot of effort as an elder to get parents to be good Christians and to teach their wives and children about God. When it’s his turn to preach, he likes to ask the people to commit themselves to preaching the gospel to their neighbors. . . .

At the time this story was told, the Church in China was primarily rural. Today the country has seen a massive migration of people from the rural areas to the cities. But the same witness “in Jesus' way” may be seen in the lives of urban Chinese Christians as well. Outreach Foundation teams visiting Chinese churches in larger cities such as Harbin, Jinan, Nanjing, and Hangzhou find Christians reaching out to neighbors in ordinary ways and in extraordinary ways. Churches are starting senior citizen centers and ministering to the children of undocumented (internal) migrants. They continue to start new churches in communities where none exist. The inner drive and enthusiasm to witness continues unabated.

Here is an urban evangelism story that I experienced. One of the mission challenges the Church in China has been dealing with recently is witness among the upwardly mobile populations who are part of the economic boom in China. On a 2014 trip to China, our Outreach team providentially stumbled upon a grass-roots outreach to business people in Shandong Province. Our trip, it seems, coincided with meeting of over one hundred Chinese Christian business leaders. They had formed only a year before at the encouragement of their pastors. They had come from all over the province in order to learn better how to carry out their businesses on Christian principles and be witnesses in the market place.

Whether in poverty or affluence, whether in times of persecution or freedom, Chinese Christians have demonstrated an inner drive and enthusiasm to witness to their Lord Jesus Christ that has resulted in a church that is growing and maturing. As I head for China this time, what will I find? What challenges for faithful witness to the gospel will I hear from our brothers and sisters? What a privilege it is to walk alongside such a faithful, fervent Church. It is a privilege to connect others with the Church in China through our annual Presbyterian Heritage Discovery tours to China. If you would like to come and see what the Lord is doing in China, look at our trip section of the website for information about our October 17-31 trip. 

I close with a poem of an indigenous Chinese mission society from the 1940s, the “North-West Spiritual Fellowship,” which captures the fire burning in the hearts of Chinese Christians. It exhorts people to consider the mission field of northwest China where there are many non-Han Chinese people groups. While the date is old, the spirit of the prayer burns in the hearts of Chinese believers.

When we look westwards we see a vast barren country.
The Lord is always so concerned and asks:
“Who is willing to go there for me?”

We shed tears in our enthusiasm
The blood burns in our veins
We will hold high the banner of Christ to save the lost sheep.
The Outreach Foundation