Church Planting in China During the Coronavirus Outbreak

China-Partnership-Church-Planting-China-During-Coronavirus-Outbreak

This article first appeared in Life in the Gospel, the new quarterly from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and is republished here with permission.


LATE JANUARY: In an unassuming corner of one of China’s most important cities, 20 people, all wearing face masks, recently met for the first time in a rented room. In the corner, an open laptop showed 30 faces calling in. This was the launch of Pastor Hu’s new church.

“Death is real, but the resurrection is even more real,” Pastor Hu said. His next words, though, showed the strain felt so piercingly in Covid-19 China: “This is no sermon, but a terminally ill survivor telling another patient where the vaccine is.”

In late January, the Chinese government quarantined the entire city of Wuhan, a central Chinese city with a population of 11 million, in a desperate attempt to halt the coronavirus, now known as Covid-19. Since then, China has struggled to contain the virus’s spread so much so that even thousands of miles away, Pastor Hu’s city lies in the grip of the disease.

In the light of Covid-19, does China really need a new church at this moment? Surely, one might think, there are dozens of more important steps Christians in China might be taking to serve those around them. Yet, in the midst of his city and country’s suffering, Pastor Hu decided to forge ahead with his church’s long-planned February launch. Was it the right call?


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Despite the ordinary persecution Chinese believers face and the extraordinary obstacle they now endure in the pandemic, Hu is convinced “church planting is the best way to fulfill God’s plan.


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Pastor Hu believes the pandemic and its hardships showcase the need for more communities faithfully witnessing to God’s presence, righteousness, and love. “It is precisely in these difficult times that we need all the more to preach the word of God,” he said. Times of trial call for speaking with others about the Bible with even more passion than usual, “so that we may ‘deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives’ (Hebrews 2:15). God’s word must be preached in a manner that is undaunted by death.”

Inside China, people are cut off from one another and from much of the world. The Chinese church believes God has not abandoned them, but is with them in their isolation. “In the face of disaster, what we need is not to hide in our homes to wait for the pandemic to pass,” he says. Instead, Christ-followers should show others why Jesus’s willing sacrifice is good news for them, especially in a time of national tragedy.

The decision to continue with the church plant was covered in prayer. A week before his church launched, members of his plant began meeting each morning in an online chat room to pray. They have continued daily meetings since the church started.

Prayer was also central to a different decision made just weeks earlier. The day before the government quarantined Wuhan, Hu had to inform various Wuhan church leaders they would be unable to participate in a Christian conference taking place outside of mainland China. This conclusion was made after an online prayer meeting between conference organizers and the believers from Wuhan. “It was a painful process thinking about whether it was right or wrong for them to stay in the city,” he shared. “To an extent, I even doubted if God’s presence was with us while we were praying.”

Yet there was evidence of God’s hand in the timing of the conference, which would have been canceled entirely had it occurred even one day later. And God’s hand was in the decision to require Wuhan brothers and sisters to stay where they were before the government quarantined the city. Not one case of the virus was found among the many conference attendees. “I experienced a God who does great things in little places. God is a giver of many blessings. He not only challenged our faith and tested our loyalty, but also gave each [conference] participant the opportunity to bear their own share of responsibility, each making their own decision about whether to attend [the conference] or not, deciding how they could love both God and their neighbors. My faith took a great leap upward through the experience,” Hu said.

Pastor Hu has leaned on the personal renewal he experienced at the conference as he forges ahead with his church plant. In disregard to the risks to their own physical health, conference speakers preached on topics of suffering and resurrection, affirming Hu in his understanding of what it means to follow God. “The faithful decision would be to do everything we could so that the preaching of God’s word would not be hindered — and then to prepare for the worst.” That same logic has been applied to beginning his church in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. The tenor of the conference was bluntly stated by one of its speakers: “Christians should not be afraid of death. Death should be afraid of Christians.”

Despite the ordinary persecution Chinese believers face and the extraordinary obstacles they now endure in the pandemic, Hu is convinced “church planting is the best way to fulfill God’s plan.” No one knows what the situation with the pandemic will be like tomorrow, he said, and no one knows what persecution will look like after it. Beginning a new church remains the best embodiment of God’s grace to the city, even as physical suffering is undeniably real. When the gospel is proclaimed, “there really cannot be any worst outcome. The good news is preached. Can anything bad happen?”

This does not mean we ignore pain and distress. It does no good to wish a person well if you do not care for her bodily needs. This starts simply. Pastor Hu has encouraged his congregants to have eyes for the needs of others, whether it means helping their neighbors buy groceries or handing out masks (currently difficult to obtain in China) to street workers and delivery people. Even before Covid-19, his church had a budget for mercy and justice ministry, and Hu anticipates that the needs brought about by the pandemic will continue for a long time to come. Already, he has had attendees who lost their jobs because of the economic impact of the virus. “We want to share the full gospel — the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection — and also to show people how we can live,” he said.

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Already he has had attendees who lost their jobs because of the economic impact of the virus. ‘We want to share the full gospel — the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection — and also to show people how we can live…’

Practical measures are necessary as the church confronts contagious disease, and believers must do all they can to be wise custodians of the realities they face. Even as Pastor Hu’s church began meeting weekly in a physical space, he also spread word about the church plant’s virtual webcast. The church clarified policies on who should remain at home (for instance, those who have traveled to heavily-impacted areas or have reason to believe they came in contact with someone who has Covid-19), and issued guidelines on measures worshippers should take: wearing masks, physically spreading out around the room, and keeping any children with their parents.

There have been more online worshippers than in-person participants in the first few weeks of Pastor Hu’s new church. God has used these provisional arrangements to expand his kingdom, as Christians sequestered in apartments share with unbelieving family members. One member wrote, “Praise the Lord, my parents — who do not believe –— finally heard the gospel [watching] with me at home.” Pastor Hu is thankful for the technology that makes this possible, but eager for the day it is no longer necessary. “As Paul writes in his letter to Timothy, ‘I long to see you’ (2 Timothy 1:4). Webcasting is temporary; fellowship in person is what we really desire.”

Covid-19 has abruptly halted normal life across China. While he expected the new church to face adversity, the coronavirus calamity was unforeseen. But Pastor Hu believes this is God’s plan to build his church: “Even in the Bible, we rarely see churches built up in peaceful and prosperous times, because people do not find the gospel precious in those kinds of times.” Yet Pastor Hu sees God’s hand as he lays down his own plans and embraces the Lord’s providence for himself, his family, and his church. “I believe God is shaping me to have a servant’s heart,” he said, “through this uncomfortable grace.”

 


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More COVID-19 Resources

We’ve put together a special page devoted to ways we can learn from, love, and pray alongside our Chinese brothers and sisters during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

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Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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