Editor’s note: The first week of October, Christians from around southeast Asia and the globe came together for a time of encouragement and fellowship at the Jakarta 2023 conference in Indonesia. Ryan, CP’s translation manager, writes that opportunities to gather with the global church are rare for Chinese Christians — but a strong reminder to all believers of the deep unity we share through Jesus.
A Conference Unlike Others
On the heels of The Gospel Coalition national conference in Indianapolis at the end of September, another Christian conference was about to take place on the other side of the world. Over 2,100 attendees from 19 different nations gathered in Jakarta, Indonesia in the first week of October. There were a half-dozen plenary speakers, plus another 20 workshop speakers from three different continents. Some of them recently spoke at the TGC conference a week prior, some were well-known authors and theologians in the West, but over half of the speakers were unknown to Christians in the West – yet they are at the forefront of some of the most exciting gospel movements in the Asia Pacific region.
Many still took the risk to come, because this would be one of the few times in their lives where they could personally interact with brothers and sisters outside of the Chinese firewall.
The main audience of the conference were brothers and sisters from mainland China and Indonesia. The singing, the talks, and workshops were all conducted in Chinese, English, and Indonesian. Although the goal of the conference was to encourage and support the house church in China, such a conference is not possible in China. In fact, due to security reasons, publicity for this conference was intentionally limited in China. One of the plenary speakers was prevented from leaving China by the government, and in the past, some Chinese brothers and sisters have been harassed and even imprisoned for attending similar conferences. Yet many still took the risk to come, because this would be one of the few times in their lives where they could personally interact with brothers and sisters outside of the Chinese firewall.
A Leveling Effect
One of the words Chinese attendees repeatedly used to describe the conference was “awe,” because this was the first time many of them were able to experience worship in such large magnitude. Everything in China is designed to awe people through the vastness of its scale: the height of skyscrapers, the grandeur of the Party, the might of the People’s Liberation Army displayed in parades, the size of river dams, etc. One may still remember the impressive show of force in the opening ceremony of the 2008 summer Olympics, in which 2,008 performers sang and danced in unison for over an hour. But for Chinese house churches, such experience of unity and magnitude have never been possible because by law, they are not even allowed to gather. Simply the experience of singing hymns in different languages with 2,000 others from around the world was a shock and a boost of confidence for them.
Many speakers also humbly recognized that their fame and popularity mean very little in the midst of a people going through persecution for their faith.
Even famous speakers from the West became more approachable in the conference. For one, they were less known to an Asian audience. Many of them were just glad to have someone greet them and speak to them in English in the midst of a sea of Chinese or Indonesian speakers. They were grateful to have someone guide them through the building and answer their questions about China and Indonesia. But many speakers also humbly recognized that their fame and popularity mean very little in the midst of a people going through persecution for their faith.
There is a leveling effect in a global conference like this, where famous Western speakers are humbled as they stand in the midst of a suffering people, and the marginalized and persecuted become more valued for their perseverance and faithfulness. Although some of their friends and pastors have been imprisoned, although some of them will face unwanted attention from the government for attending this conference, although they are worshiping God under an authoritarian regime, this conference reminded them that they are no less valuable in the eyes of their Heavenly Father, and they are an important member of the body of Christ.
He Himself Is Our Peace
The plenary speakers of the conference preached through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where Paul reminded the Ephesians of the mystery that both Jews and Gentiles are fellow heirs with Christ, “members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” There is perhaps no better description of the people in this conference than Paul’s words above.
I took a short trip to China before attending the conference, and there was noticeable tension and even animosity toward the West in the Mainland. Yet this conference shows us the bond of faith is stronger than any geopolitical tension. And it is my hope that, should any military conflicts arise between China and the West, and the peoples of both worlds devolve into prejudice and mutual-suspicion, the church will rise up to testify for the love we have for each other, because the bond that ties us together is not founded on a set of religious practices or life philosophies.
There was noticeable tension and even animosity toward the West in the Mainland. Yet this conference shows us the bond of faith is stronger than any geopolitical tension…’He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.’
No, our bond is based on a historical event that happened in the past – the death and resurrection of Jesus – and on a reality still happening today – Christ’s ascended reigns over all nations in heaven. That is our true reality. “He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” That was the message I shared with my friends and family in China when I visited them, and no doubt the message many house church Christians are sharing with their friends and families right now.
Ryan moved from Guangzhou, China, to Ohio at the age of 12. He is the pastor for neighborhood ministries at a PCA church, and also serves as the translation manager for China Partnership.
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