Editor’s note: This article was originally published, in its entirety, in the September 2020 issue of the Church China magazine, not long after COVID-19 began to wreak havoc across Wuhan and then the world. As the global church has wrestled with how it ought to respond to the pandemic, the Chinese church has often seen it as an opportunity to share their faith with a scared and hurting world. This excerpt from the Church China article explains how Chinese believers boldly moved forward to share their faith in a time of special difficulty and distress.
Even as we look back to the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the Omicron variant is currently spreading across the world. China and other “zero COVID” countries, which have managed to avoid widespread contagion within their own borders to this point, are especially threatened by the highly contagious variant.
This selection has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Earlier this year [i.e. 2020], the pandemic came as a shock. After Wuhan was completely locked down and the pandemic broke out across the world, human history entered a new era. Some political and economic scholars are even dividing history into pre- and post-COVID. The pandemic is having a far-reaching impact on the church today, reminding us of the eschatological judgment prophesied in the Bible, and urgently calling us to see that the day of the Lord is near. In the meantime, in 2017, Chinese house churches suffered a major situational depression; a number of churches experienced anger, frustration, and anxiety. Though many faithful servants have remained unfailingly loving in Christ and are holding fast to the faith, believers have still been thrown off their guard.
Confronted with these very real challenges and the more than one billion unsaved people in China, do we really have no fear or anxiety? Can we see that God still has a path of revival for the church in China?
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In the Center of the Outbreak
Our church was in the center of the initial outbreak. We always knew the situation would come to no good end – but we only realized the true severity of the situation when the city was shut down. However, despite the danger of the pandemic, brothers and sisters began to go out, one after another, to preach the gospel. Many other churches also joined in support. Despite the devastation, we were safe and secure, and even felt a freedom we had never felt before. Since the church started emphasizing one-on-one evangelism a decade ago, about 10 million people in this city have heard the good news or received our tracts. Many responded with politeness, but many more felt antipathy against us and despised the gospel we preached as a “foreign religion.”
Once the city was completely shut down, people who used to make money and be merry but refused to hear the gospel were overwhelmed by the burden of sin and the fear of the pandemic. Frightened, they refused to go out. In the past, we could only preach the gospel on weekends or during our commute to work; but after the pandemic began, people spent more than 70 days away from work. Brothers and sisters in our church used this time to devote themselves to preaching the gospel.
At a time when local citizens were especially short of pandemic prevention supplies, we were able to distribute masks and evangelize at the same time. God provided us with three pandemic prevention permitted vehicles and, through the support of church members, sufficient supplies to share. At a time masks were almost unavailable, brothers and sisters risked their lives to go out nearly every day, and were able to distribute nearly half a million masks in both the city and in countryside villages. Later, a [Communist] Party county secretary met brothers from our church and said, “You were truly our benefactors. Although the surrounding villages all have infections, our village does not, thanks to the masks you delivered.” For the first time in ten years of preaching the gospel, we saw a change in the attitude of citizens toward our evangelistic efforts.
Everyone Shares the Gospel
The plague is deadly. Everyone says, “It is man’s glory to die for the gospel.” But does everyone really see it that way? In our evangelistic team, some people were indeed fearful (according to the trend around us) while others were really not afraid at all, taking even their children and families along with them to preach the gospel. (Although the church never suggested they should take children.) We saw the glory of God’s victory, and his mercy and protection, as so many people went out during the pandemic, and none of them were infected. Even some hospital experts and professors, with the best protective gear, were still infected. Only one sister from our church was infected, and that was while she was staying home. Even so, God gave her an opportunity to share the gospel in the hospital where she was treated.
After local neighborhoods had been locked down for about 50 days, brothers and sisters took the initiative to set up evangelistic “mask groups” on social media. As they distributed protective equipment, they were able to draw people into these groups. Although the groups started with only a few dozen people, some grew to as large as 300 or 400. Through these social media groups, about 2,000 people have come to participate in online Bible reading, prayer, and small group meetings.
In addition to these “loving heart support groups” that we established at the beginning of the pandemic, many from other cities all over the country asked brothers and sisters to serve in their cities. During [the initial phase of] the pandemic, we were very busy, yet exceedingly joyful; we worked hard, but it was very meaningful. Later in the course of the pandemic, other churches wanted to do the same thing as we had done. However, they were not able to, because so few people volunteered. Our church, on the other hand, had more than a hundred people involved in evangelism and handing out masks.
When going out to do evangelism, one is bound to face various obstacles. How can one overcome them? The whole church must be a church on mission, and everyone must do evangelism. Ten years ago we began a movement with the vision that “everyone shares the gospel.” Even in the face of the pandemic, this vision has not ceased; in the future, this vision will not stop. It is the normal state of our church.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Christians in China to stand out as bearers of hope and healing in the midst of the Omicron COVID wave.