This is the third excerpt CP has published from that interview (parts one and two were previously posted). In this final section, Chinese pastors consider how important it is to visit, encourage, and listen to the experiences of believers who have recently been released from jail. These freed believers may be weak, and need much care and love as they recover. The pastors also talked about how a persecuted church can, through small group ministry, continue to reach out to seekers and unbelievers.
This excerpt has been edited and condensed for both clarity and length.
Caring for Persecuted Believers
Editor: When persecution is ongoing, there are a few special groups the church needs to carefully consider. First, we need to think about how to care for weak members and those who fall away from the faith. Second, we need to offer long-term, ongoing care to those who are being persecuted. (Sometimes persecution is followed by a period of persistent physical and psychological pain, which can lead to challenges in faith.) Finally, the church must care for new converts, young believers, and seekers who are just beginning to attend church.
Pastor Fang: So far, our church hasn’t had anyone like this. But we did have one person, who is not yet a church member, who studied theology before returning to his hometown. He was investigated for some reason, probably related to his theological studies before he came to our church. He was quite weak. When he returned from his studies, he was afraid, and did not dare to go to church much. But when the police sought and found him, we stayed with him. As a result, he was actually strengthened through being investigated. We are helping him face his challenges, not avoid them.
It is true: those who do not sing or share the gospel while in prison generally come out of prison weakened. Although our church has been persecuted for half a year now, we have not yet had anyone go to prison. Although we do not know if our members will be weak if they are jailed, 20 years ago, I myself was persecuted. While in prison I was strong, but when I was released, I was very weak. I became fearful. It was very real, and it took me almost a year to recover. There was no one to shepherd me; I recovered, little by little, by the grace of the Lord.
Emotional and Spiritual Needs of Freed Believers
Pastor Chen: It is very important we visit believers who have just been released from jail. Those released from criminal detention are released for education: they may still be surveilled for another year. Most of these people live in fear, and don’t talk much when they get out. Those released from administrative detention may do a bit better.
It is important for us to encourage them, listen to them, and help them to return to the church. Although a few are beaten, for most people the hurt is not physical, but emotional and spiritual. For instance, you might have gotten “special treatment” and been interrogated for six hours. The church currently does not have an effective way to care for people with this kind of psychological damage. The only thing we can do is visit them. We need professionally trained people who can help them recover, but right now we just rely on the communal life of the church to help them live in God’s presence.
Some co-workers specialize in ministering to persecuted churches. They have very good strategies, using specific methods to help those who were imprisoned recover while still protecting the church. These ministries have trained people who can talk with the releasees, understand what they have been through, and accept them in the Lord. They also protect the privacy of anyone mentioned in these conversations.
One worker who specializes in this ministry shared with me that, if police continue to search out a specific person to get more information, they even help that person re-locate. This is done to protect him or her as well, as other laborers. I do not know how this could be applied in local churches, but the methods are good.
Seekers who are just starting to come to church and encounter persecution like this may just stop coming altogether. Other seekers may continue to show up, but it is not easy to discern how they are doing. For seekers, the most important thing is the influence of the Word and shepherding them with Scripture.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
The Priority of Presence
Pastor Yang: In the face of persecution, brothers and sisters need to be together to overcome fear. Bringing believers together is, therefore, a pastoral priority. Once I talked with Pastor Wang Yi about this. He said we should do everything we can to bring the congregation together: weddings, funerals, even baby full-moon celebrations. [This is a traditional Chinese celebration following the baby’s first month of life.] We need to do everything we can to bring brothers and sisters together physically. Visitation and prayer meetings are very important; these ministries should be even stronger than other ministries.
When times were difficult for those in the generations before us, our elders met in small groups of 20 or 30. The number of small groups kept increasing. By the time things relaxed, the church had grown into many small groups. The gospel can be spread through loving, caring relations among these groups. Through these groups, we can continue the church’s prophetic duties; can keep preaching the truth of the Bible; keep connecting with God; keep fellowshipping with other brothers and sisters. Small groups are particularly effective in evangelism and mercy ministry while facing the pressures of persecution.
Editor: In Acts 4-7, when the apostles faced persecution, or when they were released from prison, they went back to their own people. They had a home and a community. When they gathered, they shared their experiences, including their fears. There are three elements in this: gathering; the sharing of experience; and prayerfully bringing everything to God.
When the apostles and believers came together as a community to bring their experiences before God, they remembered that their true Lord is not an earthly authority. They see what is spoken of in Scripture. They remember that it is natural that what happened to Christ should now happen to them. Because of this, they ask God for the boldness they need to preach the gospel.
This is exactly what all of you have just shared.
Pastors Fang, Peng, and Yang are urban Chinese house church pastors. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray that churches will wisely care for persecuted believers in their midst. Pray also for persecuted churches as they continue to share the gospel with seekers and unbelievers.