Sa Zhong Zi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American living in China assisting with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church.
The title of this piece is meant to sound provocative but the fact is that the recent policy changes in China that have now begun to be implemented have had a dramatic effect on both the Chinese church (mostly the house church) as well as the foreign missionary community in Mainland China. Scores of missionaries have left China or have been forced out through revoked visas and boarder entry refusals, sometimes accompanied by interrogation and even detainment. For our Chinese brothers and sisters in the house church, many have seen their meeting venues for Sunday worship forcibly blocked which has caused a large number of churches to break up into smaller home gatherings.
Reports are mixed with respect to how people are weathering these storms. Some are doing better than others but everyone is on the lookout for what will happen next.
I would like to recognize that this is not universal. Some cities and towns report relatively little repression while other cities have seen heavy handed activity with church leaders in detention for up to ten months without a court trial, as in the case with Pastor Wang Yi, the pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. Even in the cities where repression is heavier, not all churches experience the same level of pressure. I have heard from pastors in Chengdu that have experienced relatively little in the way of repression.
Nonetheless, large scale persecution and repression has become the new norm in China and it cannot be denied. While the church may not be defined solely by this narrative of suffering, it is clearly the case that it is alive, well, and quite real. It is still a factor in how the house church identifies and defines herself. It is not my goal is this small piece to argue this case in particular but rather to acknowledge it in the face of those attempts to downplay this important element.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Acknowledging this fact, I would like to simply ask a question. Since we believe that God is sovereign, what is his plan and how will he use President Xi’s recent troubling changes?
From the human perspective we can only guess, but it seems likely that things will unfold and become clearer over time. However, for now it is painful to walk with our friends from a distance (for many of us) who are going through difficulties. Many of us have been forcibly removed from both relationships with our expat co-workers, Chinese church partners, and even our possessions.
God, what are you doing?
While answers may not be entirely clear, we know at least one thing for sure. In redemptive history and in the history of the church, when God’s people are forcibly scattered, the ultimate result is church growth.
In 2012 John Micklethwait, then the editor of The Economist, described why he believed China would become the world’s biggest Christian country within a few years. In his commentary he described the reasons for the growth of Christianity in China which included the dispersing of larger gatherings into smaller groups. One can’t help but think about Acts 8:1, “And Saul was there, giving approval to [Stephen’s] death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Luke follows up this statement in Acts 8:4 by noting that those who were scattered began preaching wherever they went.
Both in the dispersed community of foreign workers (many that had formerly served in China are relocating to other countries to continue their service) and among China’s local house churches, who are forming small groups, we see the potential for a greater impact for the kingdom. This was not any one person’s particular plan. But isn’t that how we see God working throughout history time and time again?