A Bigger Picture of Jesus: An Interview on Faith in the Wilderness

Editor’s note: We recently interviewed Hannah Nation, editor of the new book Faith in the Wilderness, a collection of pandemic sermons preached by Chinese house church pastors in the first months of the pandemic. She talked with us candidly about how Chinese Christians have a different understanding of suffering with Christ than Westerners tend to, and how she was personally challenged and encouraged by them in editing this book.

This is the second of a two-part series (read the first part here). The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.


The Story Behind the Book

China Partnership: What is “Faith in the Wilderness” and how did it come into being?

Hannah Nation: The book is a collection of nine different sermonic letters preached by house church pastors through the early days of the 2020 pandemic. These sermons were preached evangelistically – the heart behind this was to have an old-school tent revival, but held in the digital space. These sermons come from online preaching events that house church pastors across China have been having.

In these events, they are preaching both to Christians that need to be encouraged in their faith as they are suffering in darkness, but also preaching to those who do not believe. Chinese households are usually multi-generational, and most households are a mixture of believers and non-believers. These are open access preaching events, so Christians are probably the ones who hear about this and log on, but especially during lockdown, these believers likely had several family members listening in while they attend who do not believe or have not even heard the gospel.


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“Jesus gives really beautiful wisdom to all of his children around the world. We are not the only ones with answers to some of the big questions. Sometimes, other places and other people might have better answers to the questions we have in common.


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These sermons are unique, because in America it is not very typical for us to hold evangelism and discipleship together in the same sermon. We tend to separate the two from each other. The Chinese seem much more adept and comfortable with the idea that these are really not necessarily very different. A lot of the things that you would say to someone you are evangelizing are also applicable to someone that is in the faith, and vice versa.

We learned about these preaching events and asked permission for our translation team to begin translating them through 2020. After we had about 20 sermons, I looked through and decided which ones would speak best beyond a Chinese context to a broader cultural setting, and would resonate with an American audience. I selected the nine that are in the book, and worked to organize them into readable chapters. I also tried to bring some cohesion and movement to the book; it starts with three chapters focused on our brokenness and the brokenness of the world, then there are three chapters that focus on the redemption we see in Christ, and ends with a more forward-looking section of meditations on our hope. The last chapter is a reflection on the Book of Revelation, and where we are going through our suffering.

CP: How should people read “Faith in the Wilderness”? Is it a devotional book? Is it something to sit down and read until you’re finished?

Hannah: It’s not a book to rush through. It is very reflective, and there is a lot to chew on. It is the kind of book that would work really well for personal devotions or if you are doing a personal retreat; it is something to slowly work through or meditate on. It doesn’t have to be read continuously, but each chapter is able to stand on its own. It is the type of thing you could  read through, and then go back and revisit individual chapters.

We also think it is something that would work really well in a group setting. There is a lot of conversational fodder in it, it is the type of book that sparks a lot of thoughts. Our co-worker created an awesome study guide that goes with the book and is free to download. She created questions that would help groups draw out conversations about suffering, which is an often-neglected topic in community group settings. That is partially because it is a hard topic and requires vulnerability and openness. If you are in a group that has met together for awhile and knows each other fairly well, I think this would be a really good book to work through. I can’t speak highly enough of the study guide; it is quite excellent. I could also see this book being really fruitful in special interest type groups, such as college students or women’s fellowship groups. No one has tested it in a group dealing with issues of grief or of suffering, but it would be interesting to see how someone thought about that.

Jesus Is On the Move

CP: What do you hope the impact of this book will be? As it goes out into the world, what do you hope it will do?

Hannah: I hope it introduces people who don’t know anything about China or Chinese Christianity to the richness that is there. I hope it opens their minds to the idea that Jesus gives really beautiful wisdom to all of his children around the world. We are not the only ones with answers to some of the big questions. Sometimes, other places and other people might have better answers to the questions we have in common.

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“Learning from and being blessed by Christians halfway around the world helps me to lift my eyes and see a bigger picture of who Jesus is. When I understand this bigger picture, then I understand what my life means as a part of something that big and that beautiful.

That leads into the second thing: I personally have been deeply challenged and encouraged in my own understanding of hardship in life by working on the material for this book. I hope others are as well. My hope is that people who are discouraged and read this book will be deeply refreshed in the Spirit, in understanding who Jesus is and what he calls his children to do and to be in this world.

There is so much discouragement and fear among American Christians right now. I do not disagree; there is a lot to be upset about or fearful of. But when I look around the world and I see what Jesus is doing in all of these different places, it is not even that I feel encouraged, it is that this is an amazing moment. Even if we are discouraged about what is happening in our corner of the world, if I look at the big picture, all I can do is worship Jesus and be amazed at how much he is on the move in this world. He is not neglecting this world.

Learning from and being blessed by Christians halfway around the world helps me to lift my eyes and see a bigger picture of who Jesus is. When I understand this bigger picture, then I understand what my life means as a part of something that big and that beautiful.


Hannah Nation is the Managing Director of the Center for House Church Theology. A prolific writer and student of missions history and World Christianity, she is inspired by this historical moment and the privilege of witnessing a new chapter in church history unfold across China.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray that the words of Chinese Christians will encourage global believers to praise a God who is on the move in China and across the world.

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Further Reading

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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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Nanjing: A Welcoming City of Newcomers
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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