Editor’s note: This letter to his congregation was written in 2017 by Wang Yi (a Chengdu pastor who was imprisoned in 2018). In this letter, Wang Yi urges the church to understand the age in which they live. He reminds them that suffering for Christ is better than a comfortable yet purposeless existence.
The pastoral letter was recently shared again by his congregation—which remains under intense governmental pressure—in order to exhort members to remain focused on making disciples, planting churches, and intentionally engaging in mission work for the sake of Christ and his church.
This letter has been edited for clarity and length.
This week, I read a report about the status of global Christianity, released by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. This is an era of big data; I was excited by the statistics about the church around the world.
People don’t usually pay much attention to the suffering or achievements that happen in a distant place. The number of roads built in an African country last year seems to have nothing to do with your life. What does a world of 7 billion people have to do with you?
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Christians are the only people in humanity who truly have an international perspective. If there is no concrete relationship between the world at large and your life, then the meaning of your life is false.
Master of the Whole Universe
If the God you believe in is only the God of Chengdu, then he is a tribal god. As for Lhasa or Cape of Good Hope—places you will never visit—they exist outside the meaning of your life. If the God you believe in is only god of the construction industry, then he is an industry god. Only the construction industry and industries related to it are relevant to you.
However, the church does not worship tribal or industry gods, but rather “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.”
If your master is master of the whole universe, then the whole universe is related to your life’s meaning. The whole universe is your sphere of operation. Although you live, move, and exist in only one corner of the universe, unless every part is meaningful, your corner can never be meaningful. Colossians 1 says that Christ created all things, holds all things together, and is the head of his body, the church.
Many people who work in multinational corporations like to think that they belong to a corporation with branches all over the world. This gives the whole world a concrete meaning. Although they serve only one city, they know and care about the company’s global performance and trends.
When I was a child, politics motivated people to care about the country and the world. I loved history and geography. By the time I graduated from elementary school, I knew by heart the famous mountains and rivers, historical figures, and the genealogies of Chinese emperors. By the time I graduated from junior high school, I had memorized the full list of every Communist general. I also memorized every Olympic champion and collected every set of commemorative stamps issued after 1949. I was familiar with every firearm used by the Communist Army, and every model of the ships in the Navy. I even drew my own map, listing every city on the Chinese border, as if it was my duty to guard the border.
But later, all 1.3 billion people in China said “Ugh,” one after another. They turned their heads and lived individualistic lives. In contemporary China, it is not politics but business that drives people to care about distant places and the world at large. Unless economic interests were concerned, why should they care about distant places?
Do Not Pray for a Peaceful Life
Before you came to faith, most of you were deeply influenced by the spirit of this age and were individualistic in regard to life’s meaning and to the world at large. After coming to faith, this individualistic indifference to the kingdom followed with us. Although we praise Jesus as Lord of all things and King of kings, we are so numb to Jesus’s sovereignty—to the global operations of our own “company”—that we still think: “What does this have to do with my life of hard work?
Yet Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Great Commission means that the church has been given authority to expand its spiritual “business” throughout the world.
In 2004, I went to a large mountain on the border of Hubei and Chongqing to observe an underground house church there. At the 5 a.m. prayer meeting, elderly sisters who had rarely visited even the main town in their own county were in tears praying for China, for the leaders of China, and for Heilongjiang, Xinjiang, and Tibet. I was shocked. Prayer tied humble and difficult private life in a small mountain village to the well-being of a vast world.
Brothers and sisters, if the gospel of Jesus does not make us look up and see the vastness of the world again, then the Lord’s Great Commission will turn into a “great disobedience” in our daily life. When we think of Jesus’s kingdom, power and glory worldwide, we are conditioned to say that we must bury our fathers; say farewell to our families; and see to our business interests.
If this is the case, our lives are nothing more than bustling about for personal gain. If we are not excited about the great things Jesus did in distant places and sorrowful about the bondage of our distant and strange relatives, our dreams are no more than a struggle to move to a better ZIP code. Brothers and sisters, I love you and pray for you, not for food, clothing, nor a peaceful life. I pray that none of you fall into the traps of this life and end up more pathetic than those of the world. That would be like owning the sky but dying in the mud. We have a Father who rules the universe, but you turn him into a tribal and industry god.
The Worldwide Kingdom of the Lord
Last, I’d like to share two exciting and shocking statistics about the kingdom of the Lord worldwide. The first is that the average number of martyrs per year, worldwide, from 2006 to 2016 is 90,000. This is greater than during the Middle Ages and the Boxer Rebellion. We are in a time of war, not of peace. Just because we happen to live in a relatively safe corner of the world does not mean that animosity toward Christ has disappeared. If we become impatient with Communist rule and the lack of religious freedom, we should not pray that the Lord would send us to America or Canada, but that he would send us to a more dangerous and difficult place to be with the 90,000 brothers and sisters who have died in the streets.
The second statistic is that the Christian urban population accounts for thirty-eight percent of the global urban population. Yes, that number is also shockingly large to me. If only two percent of the population of our city, Chengdu, is Christian, then I see meaning and purpose in you and I and our offspring continuing to live in this city. Whether by giving birth, by raising children, or by evangelism, the kingdom of the Lord will be expanded in this city—for a hundred years, for two hundred years, until Christ comes again.
A brother who wants to see the vastness of the world with you,
Wang Yi is a Chengdu pastor who was arrested on December 9, 2018, as part of a crackdown focused on his church, Early Rain. He was sentenced to nine years in December of 2019, and is currently in prison.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese believers to remain focused on the mission of the church—making disciples—in the midst of their own private and corporate difficulties.