I live just outside the border of Monterey Park, within walking distance of a dance studio where, last weekend, a 72-year-old gunman shot and killed 11 people and wounded nine others. Usually, when I sit down to write a monthly “how I prayed” piece, China is the forefront of my mind. But this week, it is hard to tear my thoughts away from my own community, which is in shock after the tragic shooting.
The shooting happened late Saturday night, in the aftermath of a citywide Lunar New Year festival. The next morning was Sunday, and my husband, a local pastor, told me what happened in the early hours as we prepared for church. Not many details were available at that time, and the gunman was unknown and still at large. Once we got to church, further details filtered in: a congregant found out in the midst of service that they knew a victim; the gunman’s ethnicity was released; and eventually the news came that the shooter had committed suicide. Lunar New Year is usually a joyful day in our community, which is multi-ethnic but predominantly Chinese-American. But that day, there was little rejoicing. How ought we respond when terror strikes?
This promise of God’s faithfulness has resounded in my head this past week. I do not understand. But, in a time of trial or distress, I am more aware than usual that I cannot make it on my own. We all need help that comes from outside ourselves. We need to “draw near” to God, and we need him to come close to us.
This year, China Partnership’s prayers for China are based on Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” All believers – house church Christians in Mainland China and suburban American Christians – desperately need to hold fast to Jesus, because we know his promises are true. That has been my hope and comfort this past week.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Jesus does not mince words; not all his promises are comforting. He promised his disciples that “in the world you will have trouble.” But he followed by saying, “take heart! I have overcome the world.” A lot of our society is organized around trying to avoid pain, discomfort, or even death. But when something like a mass shooting happens in your own backyard – or when society is torn apart for years by a deadly disease – we are reminded of our frail human state. Just as we pray for Chinese Christians to “hold fast,” so we also need to pray the same for ourselves and our own society. In fact, when we spoke with Chinese believers about how to pray for them in 2023, they were quick to say they also wanted to intentionally pray for believers in America.
Although I’ve just written many words about tragedy in the U.S., China is also in difficult days. The country recently gave up on containing Covid, and the disease is rampaging across China. Some believe 8 in 10 Chinese have caught Covid since prevention measures were relaxed in December. Although official estimates of the death toll are low, unofficial tallies say one million have died in the last month and a half. Crematories are full, and many loved ones will be missing from Spring Festival gatherings this year.
And that’s just Covid. China is roiled by discussion about whether it is time to vote with their feet and leave – I personally know many who, in the last year, have made the difficult decision to emigrate. I recently came across an essay in which the writer said it seems the only options Chinese face these days are to “run, roll, or lie,” referring to recent viral discussions on the Chinese web about leaving the country or just giving up on life. Other young Chinese have decided “we are the last generation.” In quiet protest, they have simply decided bringing children into such a broken society is too painful. All of this does not even mention the extra challenges Chinese Christians face, as many look at the future and see increasing pressure and even outright persecution. Do they dare to raise their families in a society that virulently opposes them?
I write all this to simply say: China is broken. America is broken, too. Most if not all of the victims of last Saturday’s shooting were immigrants, who left their countries to seek life in America. Yet their hopes for a bright future ended in death. I don’t have answers. In fact, right now all I can do is “weep with those who weep” as Monterey Park and our surrounding communities mourn what happened this Lunar New Year.
Friends from around the nation and even the world have texted me this last week or so, wondering how our community is doing. Most friends I have spoken with here are struggling to make sense of things: some are weighed down with sadness, others are angry, a few are numb. There is not much any one of us can do to fix the wound in our community. But each of us, as individuals and collectively as believers, can cling to Jesus. We can “hold fast,” like a child riding piggyback on her father.
One friend in China wrote to check on my family this week after she saw the news. She said that, in this festival season, many Chinese celebrate the New Year by bowing before idols. But God, in his mysterious ways, can bring life even in the midst of death. She wrote, “I hope the gospel will be the good news of the sorrowful and [will] become their comfort.”
Another friend reminded me that, as Christians, we continue by “simply trusting in the Lord’s grace to prevail.”
In the end, that is where I sit as I mourn for Monterey Park. That is also where our hopes for China sit. No matter what, we are not without hope; the brokenness of this world is not the final story.
Come, Lord Jesus.
E.F. Gregory is a mom of three young children. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley on the border of East Los Angeles, where her husband is a P.C.A. church planter.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for the families of those who lost loved ones in mass shootings this past week.