Editor’s note: Grace transforms. In recent decades, millions of Chinese people have met Jesus and had their lives turned inside out. Their hopes, dreams, families, leisure, and (in some cases) occupations have changed because of Christ. This is the fourth of a five-part interview series with “Tim,” a Chinese ministry leader. In this series, Tim shares his story of faith.Our hope is that these interviews challenge and encourage Western believers to examine their own faith and remind them to pray for their brothers and sisters in China.
In the mid-90s you joined an international Christian organization. You were one of the first Chinese staff members.
I was the first mainland Chinese staff in my province. The year before me, a few other Chinese had begun to do full-time ministry, although many of these people didn’t remain with the group long. Slowly, we began to see Chinese staff.
When I was leading my local ministry in the late 90s, Jen [my wife] brought a mission team from overseas, around Christmastime. We did ministry together.
Did sparks fly immediately?
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Jen: Yeah, kind of.
Tim: Jen and another sister were singing. Her voice is beautiful… so beautiful! So yeah, we started dating at that time.
Then Jen returned overseas? How did you talk?
Jen: There was something called NetTALK. We spent half the time saying, “Can you hear me, can you hear me?”
Tim: We only talked about once a month. It was very expensive. After a few years she moved back to China, and a few months after that we got married.
What was this period of your life like? You got married, and went from not knowing any Christians to working for a Christian organization. You were one of very few Chinese staff and were a leader in the group. These are huge life changes.
I got married seven years after becoming a Christian. The first few years I was a Christian, I hardly ever saw anyone come to Christ. After that I saw revival, with more and more people coming to Christ. I also started connecting to other believers from the house churches and even the government churches.
Why do you think that, all of a sudden in the mid-90s, more and more people started to become Christians?
The [Tiananmen Square] incident was in 1989. For the next couple of years, people were silent. They were all thinking about money at that time, about making their fortune. Then they realized, “This doesn’t satisfy.”
I think people were seeking the truth. After that, students and intellectuals were looking for truth. I think the Tiananmen Square incident gave that generation of Chinese people a way to turn around, to really look for the truth, and to find the Christian faith.
Why intellectuals, especially?
Before, intellectual people were still deeply impacted by socialism. After the Tiananmen incident, they gave up. They didn’t believe in anything.
It sounds like the growth of Christianity in China has in many ways mirrored your own process of accepting Christianity?
In the late 70s the Chinese government allowed the government churches to reopen. Then there was a revival of house churches in northern China. In the mid-80s, they were persecuted. Many of them fled their hometowns and ran away to southern China. There, they became missionaries. They used part of their time to work, and part of their time to reach out to neighbors in nearby house churches.
Even in the mid-70s, house churches existed. Some of those people came from the countryside and were not highly educated. But they were very devoted, and impacted the new generation of Christians. I didn’t know all this at the time, but it seems God was preparing everything.
Then you went overseas for theological study?
Tim: I received a Master of Divinity in missions, and Jen got a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation.
Jen: Spiritual formation is about the growth of the whole person, their spiritual relationship with God, and also their psychological growth. It includes studies about your heart and motivation, and also studies history and tradition.
It’s practical. How a person changes, the process of transformation.
Why were you attracted to these degrees?
Tim: I believe Chinese Christians are going to be the next missionaries, so I wanted to study the concept of missions.
Jen: For me, it was mostly out of my own struggle. I had been in full-time ministry for almost ten years and was ready to give up, because I felt my spiritual life could not support my ministry. I had been struggling for quite a few years. I couldn’t make myself better, so I questioned whether it was time for me to quit.
When I arrived, the title of the first seminar I went to was, “Why do I know so much, yet still sin so much?” That was a title that grabbed me, so I went to the lecture and thought, “This is the question I am struggling with.”
How did your time of studying affect you?
Tim: Study was hard. We had a young child, but it was refreshing many times. The Chinese church we were involved in gave us a lot of help.
Jen: For me it was a watershed, a turning point in my Christian life. It was the first time I experienced God’s grace for a prolonged period. Also, I looked deeply into my own heart. It was a time of tearing down old foundations and rebuilding new foundations. I asked and answered lots of questions: “Is God really good? Does he really like me, or just tolerate me? Does he have to save me? How does grace operate in daily life?”
I was wrestling with some of the deep issues in my heart concerning my relationship with God. Before that, I always kind of distrusted him, although I wouldn’t admit it. But that’s why I had struggled so much. I realized through the classes that this was a deep work God was doing. After that, my heart was convinced God loved me: it was a moving of knowledge from head to heart.
I also realized that many other ministry workers had similar struggles. In the middle of my studies, I went back to China and did a seminar for a few days with full-time workers. A lot of people came and said, “Wow, I didn’t know a lot of those things, and I’m going through the same process. I’m burned out with ministry, I feel a lack of motivation, distance from God, self-condemnation, all of that.”
I was convinced the Lord led me to that major so I could come back and contribute to the spiritual growth of other full-time workers – to give them hope, to walk with them as they went through tough times. That was definitely the turning point of my whole Christian life.