China #4: There have always been Winters

by Juan Sarmiento

During one of the many rich conversations, a wise and influential Korean pastor shared with me his long-term view of God’s faithfulness towards and through the Church. “There have always been winters,” he said. “They come and go, but we have faced them year after year.”

As we made our visits with the Church in the Jiangsu and Shandong provinces of China, the group could feel the temperatures dropping while still being able to enjoy the red, yellow, and brown hues of Autumn. I have now come to the Korean peninsula for additional visits. Despite their geographical proximity, Christians in China and South Korea live very different realities as Christians and have very distinct features. However, both have faced historical challenges in ways that Presbyterians in the United States can learn much from.

Churches in both China and South Korea recognize the sacrificial efforts that missionaries that came in the late 19th and early 20th century while confidently expressing their love for their own countries and cultures. Both have faced unsettling international geopolitical pressures and undergone dramatic social revolutions. Both have developed their own identities facing the stigma usually associated with being a minority group. Both continue to be misunderstood as being part of a “Western religion” although most Christians today live in non-Western countries. Both are grateful for the ongoing friendship with Presbyterians in the United States and the wider Christian family.

 It is safe to say that the churches in China, South Korea, and the United States are facing periods of significant change. Changing seasons are very much “part of life” for all of us. The many affirmations of persevering faithfulness that our group heard and saw from fellow Christians in the world’s most populous country gave us many reasons to be hopeful about God’s work and purposes in the years to come.

“We need not to act surprised as if winters were something unusual or unexpected. What we need to do is to be prepared,” my pastor friend added, referring to the signs of the numerical decline of Christianity in South Korea.

The Church will continue to find wisdom and strength to shine Christ’s unchanging light under ever-shifting conditions. As members of the Body of Christ, we get to give and receive warmth and sometimes refreshment while walking this narrow road together.