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.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
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.
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.