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 last 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.
After several years of overseas theological study, your family came back to China. What was your hope for your work when you returned?
I have a strong passion to disciple Chinese students and young workers in full-time ministry. I am very passionate about helping people with the fullness of Christian growth. I want to help them see how Christian faith can change not only their belief, but also their relationships with their parents, other people, their choice of work, parenting, marriage. I slowly realized that the process of discipleship takes time. It requires people spending energy to continually encourage others to grow in their Christian faith.
Why did you feel this need?
I saw people have moral issues, personality conflicts, emotional depression, or other things from their family background, and so they quit full-time ministry. I also saw pastors who were trying so hard to serve the church, but who were struggling with their family needs. I saw the importance of a holistic approach to Christian growth.
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Has that been neglected in China?
Most of the younger Christians with whom I work are first-generation Christians. They don’t have older believers they can look to – their spiritual transformation oftentimes faces challenges.
A few years after returning to China, you changed roles again.
I stepped up and gave direction to full-time ministry workers in our region of China.
There was a lot of political stress you began to go through.
Because of the work, I was questioned by government security police more than ten times, about every other month. It was stressful.
How did that impact your family?
The visits were stressful, and there were many unknowns. In the end I was threatened, it seemed there was no way for me to find a solution. Even when I received counsel, it seemed nobody could give me a clear answer of what I could do. I continued the dialogue, but could not find a clear solution. Because of that, my wife began to experience PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].
Because of the PTSD, my wife said she couldn’t continue to live in the city where we had been, and we needed to look for another direction. We prayed, asked friends for counsel, and in the end we moved to another city in China.
What do you mean, you “received a threat”?
The security police officer told me to hand sensitive ministry information to him; to move to another location; or to leave the country permanently. Those were my only three options.
What have you been doing since you moved?
These last several years we have received counseling and tried to adjust and explore more ministry opportunities. The last two years I have been training, discipling, and mentoring house church pastors. I have been building up church planters, and teaching and preaching for the house churches.
Now your family is about to make another change and leave China. Could you tell me about that?
Tim: Through serving the house church, we have realized our family needs more stability. My child often asks if we can provide a more stable environment. My wife, although her PTSD is getting better, also feels stress sometimes. For me, I have been personally evaluating my gifts and passions, and questioning what long-term direction God is giving to us. So, we started looking for other options. Through this journey we realized that serving in another city in China is very difficult.
Jen: Because you are a known person, you feel restricted. Limited.
Tim: We feel the limitations of the things we do. There are always concerns about security, about trouble. We don’t feel the freedom to make decisions.
Jen: The security problems have not only affected me, but also our child, who has been very angry. At a certain level, our child is anxious and fearful about the country, and the government. That is another reason we have been considering providing a safer environment for our child to heal.
Is this a permanent decision?
Tim: We both feel this is God’s timing, it is the right decision to make and it is time to move on, even though it is hard.
Jen: We don’t know that it is a permanent decision. Our hearts are still in China.This move overseas seems like a season to us – but it is still hard. It also feels permanent in some ways.
As I gradually recover emotionally, I have been able to minister a bit more. I see the need more, and I have received feedback about how God is using this knowledge to help other people. Thinking about moving overseas for me, ministry-wise, is really hard. I feel other countries have so many resources already, while China has such a huge need. It is really hard to leave.