Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership.
Over the next couple of months, we will be posting reflections on our Reformation 500 conference in Hong Kong by several attendees. Our third reflection comes from Yang Mingdao, a seminary student who volunteered at and was a first-time participant in the conference.
This was my first Grace to City conference, and the trip reminds me of nothing so much as my own version of Lord of the Rings. I went to the conference and was cast into an entirely different world. Like the hobbits, before entering this new world, I was content with my life in Boston. I felt it was enough to focus on my home church, until my friend came and informed me of a much greater “battle” that is going on. And so, I joined the “fellowship of Grace to City,” not expecting much. By the end of the trip, my perspective had changed. I felt as though I had been through a great battle, and returned to Boston a different person. I had three main takeaways from my time at the conference: my perspective on the Chinese church expanded, I better understood the vision of Grace to City, and I was personally challenged by my own involvement in this story.
First, the Chinese church humbles me. It was awe-inspiring to see the depth and breadth of a uniquely Chinese theology. I was educated in a Western seminary and, up to this point in my life, believed the West defined evangelical positions across the world. However, at this conference I heard broad and deep theological messages from Chinese speakers on the spirit of the Reformation and its implications for the church today. I saw a revived and lively Chinese church, with its own voice in theological debates, and a passion for the gospel I don’t usually see in the West. I saw a church under direct pressure of persecution taking stances based on the conviction of Scripture. The conference kindled in me a greater fervor for the gospel, and allowed me to experience for myself a fervor that I had previously only heard about in lectures on the Reformation.
Second, after the conference I have a better understanding of the vision of Grace to City. Before, I had reservations regarding the “movement” aspect of many of today’s church planting networks. I echo their calls to return to the gospel and focus on the city, yet was concerned by the call to movement. I believed ministry should be as low-key as possible, and felt that it was enough to preach and minister with the Word. But movement? A word so grand and glorious felt more related to human ego and individual glory than the cause itself. As I participated in the conference, I realized I had misunderstood the meaning of movement in Grace to City. The point is not movement for its own sake, but rather movement for the sake of missions. Grace to City’s goal is to rekindle the fire for the gospel that Chinese churches had in many ways lost. In light of this we ask a simple, but profound question: how can the church in China reaffirm the gospel’s theological depth and Scriptural foundation, while maintaining relevance to today’s culture and society? The answer: understand grace in the context of modern cities.
Third, in the beginning of the Lord of the Rings, hobbits were the least useful of creatures: they were small, docile and unable to fight. But as the story progressed, they realized they could contribute uniquely to the battle. Similarly, as I worked with the conference team in Hong Kong, the way I saw myself changed. The team did not just preach the gospel, but practiced the gospel in their lives. Through their lens of grace, I saw how God had shaped and led me, and that I could also make a unique contribution. The team at Grace to City and China Partnership worked very hard during the week to make the conference happen. It was a high-pressure atmosphere, but through the process the team kept debriefing about repentance and how we could better practice grace in our work. As a result I think everyone, myself included, became less (not perfectly of course) self-conscious about our personal failings and mistakes, focusing instead on how we could each contribute to make the conference better with our own unique roles and gifts.
Now the conference is over and I’ve returned back to my home in Boston. I pray that the fire that was kindled within me at the conference will go on, and shine its small light and warmth here in Boston, and perhaps beyond. Thank God for this wonderfully gospel-centered conference and the team at Grace to City.