Interview with Two Church Lay Leaders from Shenyang: The Challenges of Following Christ for China’s Busy Academics

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Editor’s note: Over the past year we have been praying for the Chinese church in a new city each month – providing videos, interviews, and prayer requests directly from the churches with whom we work. We hope this helps you better understand the needs of the Chinese church and commit more fervently to stand in prayer with our brothers and sisters.    

This month we continue the project with Shenyang. We’re excited to bring you this interview with two church lay leaders in the city! We hope you will check out the Shenyang page for additional content and to sign up to partner with us in prayer

CP: Can you briefly tell us about your church? 

Sister: We are from a house church in Shenyang. Our church has been around for about 7 or 8 years. It began as a small group, so it is difficult to pinpoint when our church officially started. In the beginning a visiting scholar couple from the US helped us lead the group. After they left, the person who later became our pastor came. He was graduating and had just become a Christian then. That was in 2007. But our church is not that old. When the visiting scholars left, most people who came with the goal to learn English also left as well. Only a few remained. They were the real seekers. I guess that our church slowly began to form then.  

CP: When did you start committing to serving this church? 


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Brother: We went from our hometowns to Shenyang to study about 5 years ago, and we have stayed at this church since. The pastor almost saw us as staff. We could sit in some church administrative meetings and we could share our suggestions. It has been about 5 years. 

CP: What are some of the current challenges that your church faces? 

Brother: I think we could do better in the area of evangelism. Since most in our church are working professionals and the rest are studying in graduate school, some getting our PhDs, we are all quite busy and have little time to connect and fellowship with one another. Because of pressure from our work or our studies, our challenge is mainly how to better fellowship with one another, and also how to spare effort on discipling others and sharing the gospel with people. We have no time for these things, and they have become pretty exhausting to do. In the same way, when we share the gospel on our campuses, those we try to outreach are all very busy people. It takes a lot of work to invite them to a meal or to any activity. At times it feels very difficult to be involved in these ministries because we are always so pressed for time. 

CP: Do you have someone in mind then with whom you would like to share the gospel? 

Brother: Mostly my former schoolmates, people I try to stay in touch with. I have been sharing the gospel with them, but most of the time they respond by saying that they believe in science, because we all went to the same science institute. They would say that they respect what I believe. But we are still continuing and developing these friendships.  

Sister: Right. Actually ever since we joined our church, we have had many gospel activities. Every year in the past few years we have held Christmas and Easter events, and we would invite our former schoolmates, those we have known since our first year in grad school. We have kept developing our friendship with them, hoping to lead them to Christ, but the road is long. So our focus now is mainly on maintaining and building relationships. Actually when we share the gospel, more often than not we get rejected, so we can only take it slow and do our work little by little.

CP: Have you succeeded at all? Have you seen anyone come to Christ so far? 

Brother: Not anyone from our research institute. There have been ones who approached us on their own and have become Christians. She (referring to the sister) is a success story.

Sister: Right. I sought out the church on my own. God was leading me to seek him when I first got here, and I came to this church almost at the same time I became a believer. However, among those we have evangelized, so far none has come to faith and become a serious disciple.

CP: It sounds like you have been tilling hard soil. Can you share more about your context? What kind of research institute are you at? What is your field? 

Sister: We are under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It is not like a regular university, where there is a large student body and where students have relatively more free time for activities after school. We are either Master’s or PhD students at the institute. One thing about our school is that every one is really stressed out. It is generally very difficult to invite people to any social activity.

CP: What hinders this group of people from accepting the gospel? What about the gospel that is difficult for them to comprehend or accept? 

Brother: People mainly cannot accept the gospel, that there exists one God, or that Jesus is God. They cannot understand these things from a scientific perspective, making these [beliefs] very difficult to accept. They think that because they are scientific researchers their religion is science. To them, science can explain everything. That makes is hard for them to accept our faith. Where we are (I should give you some context), our church is relatively small, but more than half of our church members are graduates from our research institute, now working and under a lot of pressure. Those we’d like to reach out to are very similar—they are also very busy and under a lot of pressure. Some seek out the church voluntarily because they feel empty inside. They feel really lost because they are under a lot of stress. Some are actually on the verge of being depressed or having anxiety disorders. When they see Christians, they see that we are joyful and that we care for them, and so they keep coming [to church]. But they just can’t [accept Christianity] from the point of view of reason. This is a major hurdle for them. She (referring to the sister) had the same struggle.

Sister: True. It was quite unusual with me though. I had been seeking God since I was in college, and then when I got here after college God gave me very clear leading. He is very gracious to me. I came to Christ just two months after I started grad school here. But among my schoolmates, there are many who find it very difficult to believe in a supernatural God. It is very difficult for us to believe in the miracles mentioned in the Bible or that God created the world. 

Let me give you an example. My former roommate, who is now graduated, used to discuss the Bible with me a lot. She knows all the core beliefs of Christianity: why we need a Savior, how men have sinned, and how we can obtain salvation. She even praises our faith. When we were rooming together, I was still not a believer, and she could see that I am a very anxious person, that I get nervous easily in a new environment. But after I came to Christ, she noticed that I changed a lot, and she marveled that my faith can really bring about change in my life. Even before she left (she graduated before me), she told me that my faith is great and that if we ended up working in the same city she would visit church with me. But she said that she still could not accept [Christianity] just yet and acknowledged that faith is very different from the things we learn, things that we can just memorize and believe. It is not like 1 plus 1 equals 2. She simply could not believe in a supernatural God. That is a major obstacle for her.

CP: Are any of your parents opposed to your belief? 

Sister: My parents reacted very strongly to the news that I became a Christian. I told them about it when I went home the first winter break after I came to Christ. Then over the past few years, every time I visited them I would find time to chat with them about it, and slowly, just very slowly, they are not as against it as before. 

CP: What was the reason for their opposition? 

Sister: They cannot accept that I study science and yet it seems like I am superstitious. Also, I feel that those in their generation (they are in their 50s) are particularly strict with their lives. They would tell me that my faith does not bring me money or make me a better student. They told me that I should focus on doing well at school and not let my belief affect my responsibilities as a student.

CP: How do you generally spend time with God? 

Brother: I usually read the Bible when I get up, and I also read some devotional materials to help me do quiet time. Because of work I can only keep my quiet time in the morning. If I miss it before I get caught up work, then I will usually miss quiet time all together, since I get really tired at night. 

Sister: I read the Bible when I get up, and then I pray when I wash up. It is a 15-minute walk from my dorm to my office, so I usually pray while I walk to work. I also read a little bit of Bible and pray fairly regularly before I go to bed. We have a Bible-reading plan that I follow. My current roommate is also a believer, and she and I sometimes pray together for each other and for our church before we sleep. 

CP: Thank you for answering my questions. Thank you for your time.  

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Further Reading

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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

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