Editor’s note: The first week of October, Christians from around southeast Asia and the globe came together for a time of encouragement and fellowship at the Jakarta 2023 conference in Indonesia. Dr. Ben Chen, who was one the conference’s organizers, reflects on the gathering, on why the conference was focused on Jesus’s reign, and on how the time together encouraged those who participated.
China Partnership: What were some of the highlights of the time in Jakarta?
Ben Chen: God is really gracious. When we were trying to choose a theme, we couldn’t decide on one thing – until we started to focus on the theme of Christ’s rule over all nations.
CP: Why did you choose to focus on the reign of Christ for this gathering?
Chen: We were thinking about persecution in China, the pandemic, and war. [When we were planning] there was already war between Russia and Ukraine, and now of course there is war in Israel. We don’t know if war between China and Taiwan, or war in the Pacific, or even war between the U.S. and China, might happen. These things made us think: what is the church’s greatest hope? Have we lost hope because of the increasing threat?
We often talk about God’s eternal reign, which continues from the beginning and has never changed. But Jesus is the Son, and he is reigning right now as a human being. He has been reigning for the past 2,000 years. This is not in the past; it is now. That grabbed us.
What is the church’s greatest hope? Have we lost that hope because of the increasing threat? We often talk about God’s eternal reign…but Jesus is the Son, and he is reigning right now as a human being…This is not in the past; it is now.
We also thought about Christ’s reign over all nations. In the past, we have spent a lot of time thinking about the heavenly church on earth. Now, we turn from the church to the King himself, and his work, from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
CP: What kind of feedback did you get, particularly from Chinese participants, about this focus?
Chen: Many of the Chinese pastors have read a lot of theological books and have a conceptual idea of these things. However, when they came to this conference, they saw a large Chinese diaspora church in the world’s most populous Muslim country, which is manifesting God’s glory. Andrew Katay was the pastor and theologian who gave three plenary talks on the theme of Christ’s reign. His teaching made everything very understandable and showed that heaven is not really far away. Through the conference, I think people were able to see that Christ’s reign is a reality.
CP: Where did the impetus for a pre-conference gathering focused on “Christ Over Education” come from?
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Chen: We realized this is a big topic, and very important for the global church, not just the Chinese church. Over the past years, Chinese Christians have been developing homeschools and church schools. They have already burned their bridges and have to continue to go this way; they cannot go to the state university.
In our travels to Thailand, to Hong Kong, and everywhere, we went we met new Chinese immigrants who have come out of China. The primary reason for their immigration, whether Christian or non-Christian, was because of their children’s education. When we saw that, we wanted to do a conference to focus on that.
God Can Do Anything
CP: There were many challenges in coordinating this conference. What did you learn from some of these difficulties?
Chen: There was difficulty from China because people were afraid. If pastors said something that led their people to go to the conference, and then something happened to those who attended, the pastors would feel burdened. The two years of Covid made fear dominant in China. And also, maybe people felt their needs are different right now.
One meaningful feedback we heard from people from the church in China was that it gave them a new perspective to see the team from Stephen Tong’s church serving them in the conference. The Indonesian people were really humble, and taught the Chinese good lessons. Everyone talked about how they were served by the volunteers.
The second thing was seeing so many teenagers coming forward to volunteer to serve in ministry. That was very encouraging to them.
The gospel starts in weak spots… God’s ways are truly paradoxical.
The last thing was a reflection from one pastor. That pastor said he was encouraged to see that the gospel is not always manifest in the most “possible” places. It seems as though it would be impossible to have a really large church in Indonesia – not just the building – but preaching and evangelism are happening in the world’s most populated Muslim country. This shows God can do anything, things beyond our imagination. It humbles us. The gospel starts in weak spots. The pastor also observed that he has seen similar things happen in China. You would think the gospel would flourish and make a big impact in Zhejiang, or Wenzhou, or maybe Shanghai or Beijing. But actually, in the last ten years, God raised up Wang Yi, in Chengdu. God always raises his army in the humble place, not necessarily in the strongest place.
I thought that was a good observation – God’s ways are truly paradoxical.
 Families whose children do not attend public upper schools are unable to test into Chinese universities. If their children want higher education, they must go to university overseas.
Ben Chen is the Regional Director of East and Southeast Asia and the former Director of Chinese Language at Third Millennium Ministries. He was the senior pastor of Orlando Chinese Evangelical Christian Church from 2004 to 2015.
Pray that Chinese Christians will remember that God can do anything, and will rest in the reality of his rule and reign.