I just returned from a week in China where I was the spiritual director for a Presbyterian Outreach Foundation and Jiangsu Christian Council-sponsored conference for Chinese pastors and a group of visiting Americans.
My last morning in China, I took a walk around the city of Nanjing and stopped to watch a claw on a machine tearing down an old building. As I watched the concrete structure fall to the ground with all the dust, it was a picture for me of what is happening in China today. The old is passing away, and the new is emerging. Surrounding this construction site are huge, newly built, sparkling condominiums and hotels and department stores. It must be difficult for Chinese to get their bearings in today’s China with all the old landmarks passing away.
We spent our time in Jiangsu Province which is on the east coast in the middle of the country. It is the eastern part of China which has most benefited from the tremendous economic growth. I was able to take a direct one-and-a-half hour flight across the Taiwan Strait to Nanjing. This was impossible five years ago when all flights from Taiwan to China had to transit in Hong Kong. Because of thawing relations between the two sides, there are more and more direct flights for both Taiwanese doing business in China and for the Chinese tourists who are coming to Taiwan for vacations.
We drove about three hours north to a city called Huai-an, which was an important center of Southern Presbyterian mission work before the Communist revolution. Billy Graham’s father-in-law, Nelson Bell, established a hospital in this city and a number of other missionaries from the southern U.S. established churches. Huai-an is about six percent Christian because of the early work of these missionaries and the hard work of the current Chinese Christian leadership.
Every morning we met to worship and share together. I brought Asian Christian art to enrich our worship. We also shared our faith in small groups. I was extremely impressed by the deep faith, the hunger to continue growing, and the Christ-like humility of these Chinese pastors. Half were men and half were women. Almost all of them were in their thirties and forties. Many are serving churches with 3,000 to 8,000 members. I had the privilege of preaching at a worship service on Sunday afternoon with the pews packed with 3,000 people, most of whom had attended an earlier service at 7:30 AM. There is a deep hunger for God among the people of China. The churches are growing and changing as fast as the society around them.
During the Cultural Revolution when many Christians were sent for “re-education” and persecuted for their faith, when one Christian would encounter another, they would greet each other with one word: “Emmanuel (God with us).” Today in all the churches that word is prominent in the front of the sanctuary. This past Saturday as a Chinese Christian dropped me off at the airport, he shook my hand and said, “Emmanuel.”
God is at work in exciting ways in the vast land of China. In most places, the government gives the church a lot of space to do their work. The government has even helped churches acquire land to build the sanctuaries needed to hold the thousands of worshippers who come each week.
One of the pastors shared with me what our week together had meant to him. He said, “With so many needs around me, it is difficult to find time apart to stay connected to God. I know that if my well is dry, I will be of no use to my church members. So, thanks for giving us the opportunity to come to the well and drink of the living water which Christ offers.”
Emmanuel. God with us. That is the good news in China and in the place where you live. Thanks for your continued prayers and support.
In few days I will be leading a group of 32 Taiwanese pastors, seminary students, and college students to Taize, a Christian community in France. It is a remarkable place where about 3,000 to 6,000 young people from all over the world gather each week to pray together, to study the Bible, to serve, and to share. In this culture where folks often find it difficult to be still before God, Taize offers them a model of learning to be quiet and listen to God. When they return to Taiwan their lives are different, and they develop a healthy rhythm of activity and quiet.