What I Learned: Refuge from Our Fears

Editor’s note: At the end of each month, the editorial team shares a brief wrap-up of how that month’s content encouraged and challenged us. This month, church planter Andrew Harwell shared how the words of a Chinese brother and sister called him to run to Christ for refuge from suffering and fear.


As I read the reflections on the Psalms this month, I am struck by the compassion and care of God. His goodness is on display as sisters and brothers in Christ living in China turn to Psalms written in generations past for comfort in current times of great need.

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“As a church planter, I sit on several fears. Some come from the news, but most come from within my heart…Fear and unbelief make me wonder if the Lord is really capable of providing refuge for me when what I fear becomes a reality?

When Fear Becomes Reality

Sister Bao En’s reflection on Psalm 2 especially struck me. Considering how the nations counsel together to tell God to buzz off, she wrote, “Every day the news media reports frightening stories…telling us obedience to God will bind and limit our freedom.” (I know this fear too!) But Psalm 2, she says, tells a different story. In this story, the narrative begins not with fright, but with confidence: “God still reigns in power; in him, we find refuge from all fears.”

Now, as a church planter, I sit on several fears. Some come from the news, but most come from within my heart:


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  • Will our new church plant be a faithful presence in our community, or will this expression of Christ’s church fail? 

  • What would happen to my family and me if that happened? 

  • What will happen if we lose access to the Community Center we rent for worship? 

These practical fears rise to the surface, but they are produced from a deeper fear. The fear and unbelief make me wonder if the Lord is really capable of providing refuge for me when what I fear becomes a reality?  

Sister Bao En, invited my fearful heart to, “‘Kiss the Son’…rest in him and live for him. If we do this, we are assured that, whatever happens to us, we will be safe.”

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“Keep returning to the gospel! Keep returning to the God who has invited us to seek refuge in his arms. Keep returning to a God who has not and will not allow his church to fail.

Whether we face phantom fears of being turned away by a God who promised never to do so, or stronger fears of being imprisoned for remaining faithful to Christ, Psalm 2 invites us to come and “kiss the Son.” Psalm 2 asks us to bring our fears and come away from the storms caused by nations, laws, media, and narratives into the refuge offered by the King. God does not just invite us to come with our doubts – even in the midst of suffering, he calls us into the reassuring arms of Christ. 

Suffering That Cannot Overwhelm

I am more comfortable with fear than with suffering. In fear, my imagination runs toward what might happen – but suffering has nothing to do with imagination. Where fear is possibility, suffering is reality. I do not want to suffer, and do much work to try and avoid suffering in any form. In that work of avoiding suffering, I forget the invitation of Psalm 2. There is a God who will not let suffering overwhelm the refuge he offers. There are many types of suffering: the suffering of physical illness or financial loss, or the suffering that comes with living faithfully in obedience to Christ and in opposition to current political, nationalistic, or modern narratives. Yet none of these sufferings will overwhelm the refuge offered and secured by Christ. 

The words of Gabriel, a Chinese lawyer, speak right to my fearful heart: “We actually believe the Holy Spirit is moving in us – do you think it is worth it [avoid suffering]? I do not. You suffer for the sake of the gospel; if you suffer in a manner contrary to the gospel, there is no benefit in your suffering. We have to keep returning to the gospel.”

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“I hope [my little church plant] would come to see even suffering as a great invitation. Although none of us may ever sit down with Gabriel and Bao En, we can hear them say: ‘Come, let us together find refuge in Christ.’

Keep returning to the gospel! Keep returning to the God who has invited us to seek refuge in his arms. Keep returning to his watchful and compassionate gaze when we fear he will forget us. Keep returning to his words of “well done” in the midst of suffering. Keep returning to a God who has not and will not allow his church to fail. Keep returning to the gospel. 

When asked to reflect on these blogs, I did not know the type of gift I was being offered. These words are a compassionate gift, written by saints who find refuge in Christ amidst great suffering. Their words challenged me as a pastor, and pulled me further away from my fears.  

Specifically, their words, written in days of suffering, pull my heart away from my fears of suffering – whether that suffering be personal,  physical, or that of persecution. Their words also invite my heart to sit content in the refuge. 

I pray the little church plant I have been assigned to care for will learn this with me from our brothers and sisters in China. I hope that we would come to see even suffering as a great invitation. Although none of us may ever sit down with Gabriel and Bao En, we can hear them say: “Come, let us together find refuge in Christ.”


Andrew, his wife Elizabeth, and their three children live in metro Atlanta, where Andrew serves as a church planter at Living Fellowship Church.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

As you are confronted with your own fears and suffering, pray that God will give you strength and courage to run to Christ for refuge.

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Further Reading

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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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Nanjing: A Welcoming City of Newcomers
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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 LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

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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About Chongqing

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 Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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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 Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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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

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

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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