Editor’s note: Despite rising pressure, God’s command to “go and make disciples” still stands, and he continues to build and grow his church amidst the storms of culture and politics.
How are the churches responding to the increasing pressure and persecution of the Chinese situation?
Initially, from mid-2018 to mid-2019, the narrative of the churches was that they are the suffering party, persecuted by the unrighteous and evil government. We heard that for about one year, through prayer requests and everything.
Then, the leaders started to have a different narrative. In mid-2019, I met a group of pastors to plan for the years ahead. I asked them what the situation was. I was prepared to listen to the same story: they are persecuted, and it is sad. However, to my surprise, they changed the narrative. These pastors said: “God is using persecution to discipline, refine, and purify his church.” I was surprised, and asked why.
One leader said, “Under persecution, we recognize our own heart. We are lovers of the world. We love the world more than we love the Lord. We do not want to bear the cross; we love the middle class life. We were converted and learned Christianity with missionaries from South Korea and the U.S. Now, we realize that we deeply desired the lifestyle of those missionaries. Under persecution, we do not want to bear the cross for the Lord. The way of the cross of our older generation is now truly our path. We need to follow our fathers and our grandfathers in this way. We need to become followers of Christ by his cross. We need to repent; leaders as well as congregations.”
These pastors talked about repentance and following Christ. They also talked about their heart. They said: “We are leaders. Now we realize our desire for power, for people’s recognition. We repent. Not giving in to persecution or to the government is nothing to boast about. That is only the bottom line. The non-negotiable mission is to continue to evangelize, to do discipleship, and to train full-time workers and plant churches. That is what we are called to do; that is our mission. We are going to thrive in these circumstances, not merely survive.”
These churches try their best not to stop Sunday worship, because they know the church is called to worship the Lord. They try all kinds of creative ways. When a church is shut down and guarded twenty-four seven, they find another place to rent. They go to hotels and restaurants, and continuously do Sunday worship. I have a video of one church doing Sunday worship inside, while police with rubber shields were waiting outside. The church shared it with us because they thought it was fun. After they finished worship, they ran out, and the policemen didn’t know what to do with them.
They not only continue with Sunday worship, they also try their best to evangelize and share the gospel. Last year during Christmas, a commercial mall invited a group of pastors to have a Christmas performance. In past years things were more lenient and they could do these performances, but last year was so bad. The mall owner, though, did not know this, and he invited the church back. The church said, “Well, he invited us. Why not just do it?” They went to the mall on Christmas Eve, they sang Christmas songs and tried to share the gospel. About thirty minutes after they started, the police came and took them to the station. After questioning them for one hour, they were released. The church group took a photo as a memory. They are trying their best to share the gospel, to do leadership training and equip themselves to become better servants, to raise people to follow Christ.
A young couple in their twenties started a church last summer. The reason they started the church is that their mother church was persecuted, and had to split into five meeting places. The police and the government were very harsh on them. Eventually, the mother church said: “Okay, we will become five churches.”
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So, this young man became a church planter. His wife is a wonderful artist, and decorated their meeting space beautifully with flowers everywhere for their first Sunday worship service. They poured their heart into this art preparation. They can be kicked out of this place at any time, but still, they did their best to decorate and worship together on Sunday. Church planting is still going on; this one mother church planted five new churches just last year.
We have been praying Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 3 with and for the Chinese people. This has become true in their lives: “According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
KL2020, a large Christian convention, happened at the end of January 2020, right before the pandemic. Before it started, the pandemic broke out. A brother came to the convention determined to plant a new church right after. The challenge was: after COVID-19, can he still do this? Two weeks later, he started with his first, in-person Sunday worship. Less than twenty people came to faithfully start a new church. A year later, their church is one year old, and they have nearly a hundred people regularly coming to Sunday worship. Almost half of them are becoming members; the church just had a baptism. God has been with them; Christ has strengthened them.
In the harsh winter, you feel the spring breeze, you see flowers coming up from the ground. God is faithful. He is with his people.
Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership. This lecture has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.