We Get the Smile of God Before Our Performance


Editor’s note: Sara works to train and equip women in ministry, specifically those involved in church planting. Several years ago, she made her first trip to China, where she was able to encourage and offer training to a group of Chinese women who are themselves deep in the trenches of ministry. This is her story of how that experience impacted her, and how she saw God move in miraculous ways in China.


A breeze from the South China Sea tousled the curtains enveloping our meeting room in a wintery dampness. The group of Chinese women chosen for this specific training event were sitting in clusters enjoying a tea break with mounds of freshly sliced kiwi, lychee, and mangoes. Translation had been difficult. Others were gathered around a crude map drawn during our first session when the women told me what Chinese city they were from, reminding me that I didn’t know China’s geography or even the names of their larger cities. Now, they were adding cities to the map, marking where they lived, giving me a rough idea of population, density, and apartment sizes. Finally, we were easing into the first milestone of group dynamics: “joining.” We were beginning to bond and relax with each other.

Maybe, just maybe, transformational training would be possible after all.

When I was first invited to China, I wasn’t keen on the idea.

Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

I was told the Chinese respect “expert” teachers; that they weren’t accustomed to facilitated learning like we do in the West. They would be looking to me for the right answers. That presented a big problem for me. Being new to this ancient culture, I didn’t yet know what the “stressors” were for women in ministry in China. Another concern was our unique training methodology. It wasn’t typical even for Westerners.

Our organization focuses on creating relational space for women in ministry, encouraging them to engage a robust gospel that frees them to embrace and to live their truest identity. We had discovered that our methodology was transferrable to other Western cultures, but Asia? Knowing so little about Chinese culture, let alone the intricacies of the many ethnicities and micro-cultures represented, I couldn’t fathom how effective our training would be. I would be asking women to donate their trust, to share stories of wounding, to begin tracing the thread of redemption through their own journeys, to listen to one another without trying to fix them, and most importantly, to consider how the truths of the gospel affect their daily living. Oh yeah, and I didn’t speak Mandarin!

But God…

After prayer and counsel, I hesitantly accepted the invitation and began enlisting faithful prayer support for this endeavor.

After a hesitant but encouraging start, the next day I returned to the training session with renewed excitement for God to work deeply among us. And then, unexpectedly, we were all taken by surprise. We had been discussing the meaning of the gospel. I summarized what had been said and then proffered a definition from Romans and Galatians. It was at that moment I realized the translation into Mandarin wasn’t matching what I had just said in English. I turned to the translator to figure it out.   

Suddenly the room got quiet as the participants listened to us interact. Just as quickly it exploded into a cacophony of voices.  How could I, whose only knowledge of Mandarin was “ni hao,” know the translation wasn’t the same as what I had said in English? My only explanation was Spirit-given discernment. These women were living under a burden, and my words were being interpreted to support their belief that they needed to add their good deeds to Christ’s work on the cross. But the Spirit intervened that day to turn that false belief on its head. Understanding that there is nothing we can add to what Christ has already done for us and living in that truth daily is the foundation of Christianity, separating it from all other religions. We get the smile of God before our performance.  Just like I do over and over again, my Chinese sisters had fallen back into relying on what they could be and do for Christ rather than what Christ had already done for them!  

It wasn’t until the next day, however, that we began to experience just how deeply the Spirit of God was at work.  The women were divided into groups for sharing early childhood stories. Using the paradigm of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration, they were asked to only focus on “the Fall” as they shared a story from their lives. This is a hard exercise on many levels, especially for those of us in full-time ministry. I’ve seen and modeled the sharing of redemption stories, but often we only dip our toes into our broken pasts. I was nervous. But when the women returned to the main meeting room after group time, there was a complete shift in the atmosphere. Tears streaming, hugging, laughing, smiling. Everyone talking at once. And even the quietest person was wanting to share what the experience had meant to them. For the majority this was the first time they had ever spoken of deep hurts from the past.

As we continued to debrief, something powerful began taking place. It was clearly the Spirit of God. The Holy One was meeting us in a way I had rarely experienced. I pulled up a chair, sat down, and told the women I had no idea what to do next.  To be honest, I think the group was a bit shocked by my confession. The “expert” always knew what to do. The group quieted down expectantly. Soon one woman started praying. Another began singing, others picked up where one person left off. Singing, praising, dancing, praying.  Before long we were singing so loudly that the men in a training session below sent someone up to check on us.

In our unexpected revival, the layer between teacher and learner melted away, making way for deeper transformation for all of us.

Earlier, I explained to those who invited me that it would take time to fully prepare women to become certified trainers. They responded that I might be surprised by how fast it would happen in China. Little did I know!

In next to no time, English-speaking Chinese were invited to further training, mentored virtually, and assessed for leadership. The course work was translated and women began training and mentoring others in their own language.

The crux of this story is that God knew what these women needed and would ensure they got it! God can work in us, through us, in spite of us and even without us! It can be done whether we’re willing, hesitant, or downright contrary. Nothing will thwart the plans of God. But for a life of true joy, freedom, and even adventure, come before God with open hands and a willing heart. We will not be disappointed.  

Share This Story

Further Reading

Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
Read More
Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
Read More
Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
Read More


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.


  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



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.


Stories from Shenyang

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.


Stories from Qingdao

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.


Stories from Xiamen

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.


Stories from Chongqing

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.


Stories from Nanjing

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.


Stories from Changchun

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.


Stories from Guangzhou

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.


Stories from Kunming

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.


Stories from Shenzhen

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. 


Stories from Chengdu

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.


Stories from Beijing

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.


Stories from Shanghai


A short message about partnering with us.