Like most Americans, the last year and a half has left my soul disheartened. As a mother, I worry for the state of the world my small children will inherit. As a citizen, I am concerned with the dissension of society. As a person from the rural Deep South who now lives outside of Los Angeles, I despair at the mutual polarization and lack of recognition of our common humanity.
Yet God’s ways are higher than man’s. He has not forgotten his people or plan. I am convinced of this because I see it in Scripture, but also because I work with the Chinese house church. Every day, I am reminded that God will triumph. This month, members and leaders of urban Chinese churches have shared with us about how they live in and love their cities—even when some of these very believers have been thrown in jail for doing so.
I can think of no better reminder of what loving God and one’s neighbor looks like than their example. I hope you can join me in learning from them how to love our cities, even when it is hard. (And while doing so, we must keep in mind an important caveat: Chinese Christians are human and sinful. They fall into their own traps, but their experiences can still be a leading light Westerners can follow.)
Those I look up to in China bathe all they do in prayer. He Kewang,* a prayer leader in her southern Chinese city, wrote this month that true power comes through talking with God, not through halls of influence. “We may not have earthly power, but through prayer, we can bring the needs of the city to God,” she said.
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Another woman, who works in the red-light districts of China, reminds me that God can do what we cannot. She said, “The work done on our knees petitioning our Mighty Father can powerfully change the things we don’t see—yes, even in seemingly dark places.”
Chinese Christians not only pray for their own cities—they also ask us to pray for them. Zhu Min, a Xiamen pastor, said that the prayers of overseas Christians display to him and his church the warmth of God’s love in the midst of the political difficulties they are currently experiencing.
2. In order to reach their city, Christians must love and live in those cities.
A Shanghai urban church planter wrote that he cannot reach his city by judging it from the outside. “We cannot point out cultural idols and preach a gospel which can be understood and believed if we do not enter into and understand the culture,” he said. As his church understands the specific pressures people face, they have begun ministries targeted to those needs. “We help brothers and sisters to face the cultural situation of Shanghai,” he said.
3. The most destructive pressures come from within the church’s own walls.
Globally, the pressures that Christians living in cities face remain much the same, although the nations differ: exorbitant housing prices and high costs of living, for example, result in overwhelming pressure. In China, many churches also experience overt persecution. But pastors say temptation to love the things of the world is actually their biggest problem. “It is true that external persecution is occurring more frequently, but the situation inside the church is actually more worrisome,” Pastor Zhu, the Xiamen pastor, wrote. “Many people are not awakened to the deeper spiritual crisis: they are double-minded in their loves.”
It is easy to point fingers at outside threats, but I ought to begin by examining the idols within my own heart and my local church.
4. Seek ways to love and bless our enemies.
Finally, Chinese Christians fervently seek out ways to serve and bless their physical and ideological enemies. Pastor Zhu reminds me that his church exists to bring the gospel to all people, including government workers who want his church to die.
Sister He has spent more than a month in jail because of her faith. Even so, she has organized prayer for her city throughout the pandemic, cares for migrant teens in trouble, and even visited jail to explicitly share the gospel with a former mayor now imprisoned for corruption. She continues to vigorously seek justice, but also loves with patience and perseverance. “The world does not believe in love that has no explainable cause,” she wrote. “Amid all kinds of hardship and conflicts, God delights for his children to grow in knowledge and to overflow in love.”
I don’t have to sort out all the problems of the world. Instead, I can be assured of my Father’s abundant love, and then go love all he puts in my path.
*All names of Chinese leaders are pseudonyms.
E.F. Gregory is a mom of three young children. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband is a P.C.A. church planter.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray that Western believers will have open hearts that are eager to learn from the lives and experiences of their Chinese brothers and sisters.