My Prayer for China

Ryan moved to the United States from Guangzhou, China at the age of twelve, and has lived in three U.S. cities and two different continents since then. Ryan received his Master of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently serving as a church planting resident at New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH, his US hometown. Before moving to Boston for seminary, Ryan lived in Washington D.C. for seven years, first as a student at Georgetown University and later working for a law firm. It was during his time in D.C. that Ryan met his wife, Abigail, who shares his love for history and classical music. In his free time, Ryan likes to watch Chinese dramas, cook, swim, and listen to Beethoven.

One of my systematic theology professors from Gordon-Conwell once asked us to do an exercise.  He asked us to hold our breath and see how long we could survive. Of course, none of us could sustain it for more than a couple of minutes. Then he said, “That is what happens when we don’t pray. Prayer is like breathing spiritual oxygen; our faith cannot survive if we don’t breathe.” I was very convicted that my faith had always been operating on varying degrees of spiritual suffocation. Probably most of us would agree that we do not pray nearly enough to sustain a healthy spiritual life. I suspect that one reason for this is that we are often overwhelmed by the number of things that need prayer. Just confessing my own sins would take me more than a day and half, not to mention praying for my family, my conversations with non-believers, my church, and my neighbor’s aunt’s estranged third cousin. 

With so many items on our prayer list, why should we pray for churches and Christians in other countries? For one, they are members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12). The whole body of God is infinitely impoverished if believers from another country are weakened. Conversely, the whole body of God will benefit if believers in another country thrive. Case in point, the international missionary movements of the 19th and early 20th century were born out of great revivals taking place in England and America. For all their flaws, the global landscape of Christianity would be vastly different today if missionaries from the West had not made the sacrifices to bring the gospel to Asia and Africa. As Christianity in the West declines in the 21st century and the epicenter of the church shifts to Asia and the Global South, we stand to reap the benefits of their growth for decades to come. Another reason we should be praying for the churches and Christians in other countries is that it is the least we can do. Our prayers for their success are a concrete way for us to demonstrate our support for their labors. 

Naturally for me, my home country China is never far from my prayers. The one thing that I would ask for the people of China is connection to one good Christian family member or friend.  In Chinese, we use the same character 信for both believe and trust. There is certainly a spiritual lesson for non-Chinese speakers here: our beliefs determine what we trust. I believe there is also an evangelism lesson as well: what we believe depends on whom we trust. Most of us came to faith because someone we trust led us to Christ, whether parent, relative, or friend.

The same goes for the people of China. I believe there are several reasons why this personal connection and trust are even more important for the growth and health of the Chinese church.

1. Chinese society runs on 关系 (“guanxi,” relationships). China is a densely populated and complex country. With so many people living in limited space, competition is fierce and scams are rampant. My daily Wechat feed (the Chinese equivalent of Facebook) with my relatives is filled with warnings about the latest fake news or schemes. This puts a lot of people in a skeptical and defensive posture automatically. This also means we rely a lot more on personal relationships for help and information. This is especially true if we are asked to believe and trust in something strange and new. The presence of a trusted Christian family member or friend would go a long way in leading someone to Christ.

2. There is no social baggage associated with Christianity. While Christianity in China is not new, it has never been at the center of social or political power the way it has, at times, in the West. There are no town centers built around church buildings to remind people of Christianity; Biblical stories like David v. Goliath are not well-known to Chinese school children; very few people name their kids after a Biblical character. In a lot of ways this is very refreshing. It means that there is little cultural baggage associated with Christianity. Chinese people do not share Western secular society’s distrust of Christian institutions, they are not overly sensitive to being proselytized, and thankfully they don’t have memories of Christian leaders abusing their position and power. What people do know about Christianity comes largely through the words and witness of family and friends. Many Chinese students and scholars I’ve met through the years actually welcome the invitation to come to church because they are keenly aware of the need for a spiritual and moral fabric in their materialistic society and personal lives. They may be in the US to study medicine or political science or engineering, but they often also want to figure out what is missing in China – what is making their society so corrupt and broken. Very often the first place they turn to for an answer is Christianity.

3.  Distrust of political authority makes genuine faith more appealing. From the beginning of the first grade, we were taught to love and respect our political leaders. Our textbooks were filled with stories about the frugal habits of Chairman Mao and the brave military campaigns of Deng Xiaoping. Even now, Chinese national celebrations and the evening news are still sprinkled with not-so-subtle propaganda slogans. The late Czech dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel wrote about a grocer displaying a political banner in his store window just so that the authorities would leave him alone, paying absolutely no interest in what the banner actually said. That struck me as a fitting description of many Chinese citizens as well. Average citizens have grown so desensitized to these messages that they half-heartedly swear allegiance to the Party and wear party symbols on their school uniforms without asking what they mean. They just don’t want to be bothered. But what if a dear friend or family member suddenly refuses to simply comply with the authorities because of their religious belief? Their faith in the gospel compels them to live for the Truth instead of hiding behind what is convenient. Instead of being desensitized, their passion for the Truth actually places them in trouble with the law. How powerful will their testimonies be to those who trust them?

To bring this to more personal terms, a couple years ago I reconnected with some elementary school friends in China via Wechat, and I found out that one of them had become a Christian. I asked her how that came about, and she said that a good friend led her to Christ after a difficult breakup. Later on when I was telling my other elementary school friends about this, none of them were surprised. Some of them distinctly remember that even back in 6th grade they had mutual friends who were Christians. Some of their co-workers are Christians, and that is just a normal thing to them. We may have the assumption that Chinese Christians are only secretly meeting in house churches late in the evening, but that is just not true at all. Thanks be to God, personal relationships with Christians in China are more common than we think. They live, play, and work among other people. The lack of a historic Christian sub-culture in China actually pushes believers out into society. They are being faithful witnesses for God at work and in school. Perhaps they do face the possibility of being arrested or harassed by the police, but they are just normal people in different levels and places of society. They are somebody’s daughter, son, husband, wife, colleague, classmate, and friend. I am praying that there will be more and more of them, each sharing the gospel with people around them in their day-to-day lives.    


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Further Reading

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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.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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