Coronavirus and the Church, Part 3: “Don’t Waste the Coronavirus, Don’t Waste Persecution”

Editor’s note: This interview originally appeared in April 2020 as a part of the “Church in Outbreak” series of the Redeemer City to City podcast. In mid-March, many churches around the U.S. were prohibited from gathering for weekend services, and churches scrambled to move online. As churches struggled to figure out next steps, Brandon O’Brien interviewed a friend of City to City who works with Christian leaders across China.

Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership.

This interview has been edited and condensed for both clarity and brevity.

O’Brien: You once shared something that has haunted me. You said that a pastor said that the persecution in China had taught them that they loved their middle-class Western lifestyle more than the way of the cross.

When I heard that, I thought: “I also prefer my middle-class Western life over the way of the cross.” That planted a seed for me that has grown for months. It has been one of the gifts for me of the testimony of our Chinese brothers and sisters, because (this is a very selfish thing that I’m saying), from my relatively comfortable place, I can watch people wrestle with very difficult circumstances and questions, and be refined over time, and come to reflections to share with us. You learn by suffering. Then I learn by your suffering, which is the preferred way we like to do it in the West. This conversation globally is so important, because these parts of the body of Christ around the world will receive some different grace. If we can have this conversation together, we will all be enriched.


Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

Bu keeping track of your work and the work of those you work with I have learned just how committed Western churches are to comfort, success, and influence. I anticipate that the inner work of recognizing those things is going to be a big part of the processing that we do in the U.S. in the coming months. From your experience, can you offer any pastoral advice or direction for leaders who are beginning to realize that this is not just a logistical question of how do we meet; this is a moment of deep reflection. What would you offer them, where might they begin?

Yang: That is also what I learned from Chinese brothers and sisters. They really shocked me, and I want to share with you something that entirely changed my perspective. The narrative has been that the government persecuted the church, and the church is the persecuted one, the righteous one. But, as [a well-known American pastor] shared at a recent conference for Chinese pastors, persecution can make you self-righteous. It can make you worse. I was sitting with these pastors when they heard this, that persecution is God’s refinement and discipline. Discipline is not only punishment; it is educational, it is sanctification.

When I heard Chinese pastors talk about their need to repent, about how they do not like the cross, they like the middle-class life, they like control – that challenged me to think of myself and where I need to repent. At that point I had been struggling with something for about two years. In my ordination ceremony, my father said, “I bless you to be a chained or in-jail minister for the Lord.” I hated that message. I hated it. It is not pleasant. Also, I thought, “That may not happen.” But then I heard what the pastors said, and I thought, “I need to deal with that. Why do I hate that?” Because I hate the cross. I hate to suffer with Christ.

Deep in my heart I say, “I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve an unrighteous government that persecutes me.” When I wrestled through that, God asked me: “You really don’t deserve that?” I realized that, sinful as I am, I deserve any kind of punishment or wrath from the Lord – including natural disaster or illness. I fully deserve persecution in any form. But in Jesus Christ, God is calling to me. It is not punishment. It is not wrath. It is to suffer with Christ, to suffer in Christ. Why do I want to escape from that? Is persecution a glory and honor, or something I try to escape?

At that point, I said, “Father, I repent. I deserve that. If it comes to me, it is not because I deserve it, because your Son has already removed that wrath.” But because of that, when I bear suffering, it is suffering with Christ and in Christ. That changed my life. That freed me, and gave me strength and power.

When these things – persecution or even the coronavirus – come, they make us worry. They are entirely out of our control. They threaten our ministry. What will our fundraising become? What will our strategy look like? What is the impact on our ministry plan? We worry about our physical health. All these things are legitimate and we care about people, their deaths and their life. But deep in our hearts, there is a comfort zone of control that, when broken, can bring us to the Lord. That honesty will change us, re-frame us, free us, and empower us. I see that happening in my life. I also saw that in the lives of pastors I know. After they determined to give themselves to be arrested and imprisoned, I saw great power come out of their lives: no fear, and for Christ.

The second thing I have seen is the life of these pastors after they are freed. They are asking: “How can I continue to do evangelism? How can I share the gospel? How can I continue to disciple people? How can I raise up full-time church leaders? How can I reach out to and love my neighbor? How can I plant new churches?” When the pastors shared about their experiences under persecution, they said, “Not submitting to the government and holding our ground is not compromisable. But our calling, mission, and vision is still to preach to all nations, to plant churches, to make disciples. We will not be measured, one day, by the Lord as to whether we held the house church position. We will be measured as to whether we did our job: to continue to preach, evangelize, disciple people and start new churches.”

That is the same question they are asking under coronavirus: not just how to survive, but how to thrive? How can we still press on and push forward?

I’m so excited to see them become so creative. They have online evangelism meetings drawing 3,000 people, they have different kinds of prayer meetings. Pastors are using this time to start reading groups, prayer groups, to prepare for the next stage, and to change the way of reaching out.

After the first stage, we really come back to ourselves to repent and turn to the Lord. Some power and strength will be released, and that will put us in these circumstances. We can still be the church, but in a different way. The strategy and plan will come, and we will be led into different creative ways to push forward for the ministry, the calling.

That is what we have been seeing in China, twice – under persecution, and what is going on now. This will be a blessing. Don’t waste the coronavirus, don’t waste persecution. God has a way.

O’Brien: That feels like a wonderful place to end. I’m grateful for this conversation, for your leadership, and for your sensitivity to the Spirit. The work that has been going on in you in those last months has been evident, and has created a work in many of us, too.

Thank you for your obedience to the Spirit. We will continue to look to our brothers and sisters abroad, and we will continue to point people to those testimonies because we have so much to learn from their example. We are very thankful for you. Thank you for being with us today.

Yang: Thank you, Brandon.

FOR REFLECTION:

Which would you would prefer: bearing the cross of Christ, or entering into his suffering? What would it look like to embrace the suffering way of the cross in your life?

Share This Story

Further Reading

shio-yang-g_C8w1QBca0-unsplash
Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
Read More
zhang-kaiyv-L9NHlk2CGOQ-unsplash
Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
Read More
yifei-wong-HfLKjg2ic64-unsplash
Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
Read More

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

Videos

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.

Videos

Stories from Shenyang

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.

Videos

Stories from Qingdao

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.

Videos

Stories from Xiamen

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.

Videos

Stories from Chongqing

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.

Videos

Stories from Nanjing

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.

Videos

Stories from Changchun

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.

Videos

Stories from Guangzhou

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.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

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.

Videos

Stories from Shenzhen

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. 

Videos

Stories from Chengdu

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.

Videos

Stories from Beijing

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.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.