Way of the Cross, Way of Resurrection

Editor’s Note: Ryan is an assistant pastor at New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is translation manager for China Partnership. He was born in China and moved to the United States at the age of 12. In recognition of his language skills and deep connection to China, in 2019 Ryan’s church gave him one day a week to work as translation manager for China Partnership. Ryan shares about that work, and about how one of the most beautiful things the American church is doing is happening far beyond America’s shores.

Ryan first shared a version of this talk last winter at the Beautiful Orthodoxy conference in New Orleans, La.


The name “house church” can be misleading, because it invokes images of Christians huddling in small, dark basements, worshiping in secret and avoiding government detection. Really it is just a term used to describe a church that is not registered with the Chinese government. Many house churches meet in hotel conference rooms, office buildings, outdoor spaces, or private homes. 

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“Out of the ashes of ancient value systems and moral bankruptcy, the Chinese church sees an opportunity to build up the kingdom of God to bless their cities and their neighbors.

I work with a team of translators and editors to create opportunities for Western churches to pray, support, encourage, and learn from the house churches in China. This is not only because they are going through persecution and we need to pray for them, but also because we believe the church in China will very soon become a leading voice in the global church. I want to share a few things I have been learning from our brothers and sisters in China. We gather sermons, articles, and writings from house church leaders and translate them into English, and you can find these materials on our websites and books.

China has not had a large Christian presence. But at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Chinese people did something they had never done in 3,000 years of history. In the face of external imperialism and internal corruption, China got rid of its emperor and Confucian feudal society. China briefly experimented with democracy, but eventually the Communists took over. The Cultural Revolution was about wiping out Confucianism from Chinese society and replacing it with communism. That revolution ended in economic and societal disasters. People lost their ancient values, but they were also disillusioned with the Communists.


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For the last 40 years, the Chinese Communist Party has done something very un-communist: they tell people, “Make money, get rich!” Materialism has taken over. At this cross-roads of post-Confucianism, post-communism, and materialism, there is a rising sense of loss and moral bankruptcy. At this cross-roads, a gospel movement is speaking new life to souls in China. Even under heavy persecution over the last four years, believers remain faithful to this calling. I have been learning from them in four major areas:

First, the Chinese church is modeling how to love their city, even though some of their neighbors actively persecute them. 

Chinese pastors regularly share the gospel with police officers who harass them. Many have used time in jail to share the gospel with fellow prisoners, and some of those prisoners have joined their church and became Christians. They do this because they know everyone in the Chinese society is lost in a world of materialism and moral bankruptcy. One Chinese pastor often says, “the church is the scaffolding of the new heavens and the new earth.”

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“Although they know Christ is with them now, they still live under a grim reality. They are still marginalized, still face police harassment, some of them may still go to jail….What sustains them in China is not just knowing Christ suffers with them, but knowing they suffer in Christ.

Out of the ashes of ancient value systems and moral bankruptcy, the Chinese church sees an opportunity to build up the kingdom of God to bless their cities and their neighbors. My colleague in China Partnership often says that if we want to see revival in America, we should learn from those being revived. Along the same lines, if we are concerned about deconstruction here, we should learn from those who have actually gone through cultural revolutions.

Second, they love their church family.

The Chinese cultural and social order is rooted in traditional family values, but some of the most enduring pictures in my mind are Chinese believers gathering outside police stations and prisons with flowers to welcome their pastors or elders when they are released from prison. It is as if these leaders just won some kind of award. When the pastors and elders of one church were arrested by the police, leaders from other parts of the country traveled overnight to help stabilize the church. They do this at the risk of getting in trouble themselves, because now they are known accomplices.

Third, Chinese Christians are teaching us how to love church family around the globe.

When a change in American foreign policy last year put churches in one Middle Eastern country in severe danger of persecution and death, many of us watched in horror on TV.  But in the weeks after that, over 20 pastors in China began writing letters of encouragement to house churches in that Middle Eastern country.  These letters were written in Chinese, translated into English, then we worked with a group to translate them into local languages and delivered them to churches in that country. We know they have been disseminated and read by brothers and sisters there.

The situation in this Middle Eastern country is much worse than the situation in China, but one persecuted church is writing to another to tell them: “We suffer with you, and we hope with you. Press on.” In those letters, Chinese pastors highlighted over and over again the hope they have in Christ.

Finally, Chinese brothers and sisters teach me what it means to be an Easter people.

It is fair to say that in the West, we are naturally more of a Christmas people. You may be able to relate on this: we like to focus on Christ being with us and suffering with us. We comfort people with the peace of Christ and the presence of Christ, Immanuel. That is all true. 

But Chinese brothers and sisters remind me of something even better. Although they know Christ is with them now, they still live under a grim reality. They are still marginalized, still face police harassment, some of them may still go to jail. How do they do it? Why not just leave? Some could have moved to America.

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“My heart is filled with surprising peace….I have temporarily lost my life of freedom, but I have not lost my freedom of thought; I have temporarily lost Sunday worship, but I have not lost my faith; although I am imprisoned, there is a bigger prison out there.

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” What sustains them in China is not just knowing Christ suffers with them, but knowing that they suffer in Christ. As one pastor in Shanghai said, “they suffer the suffering of Christ, in Christ.” If they are united with Christ in his suffering, they will be united with him in his resurrection. This way of the cross is the way of resurrection. To them this world is not worthy. They are seeking a kingdom that cannot be shaken. 

I want to close by reading a short letter from a Chinese brother who is now facing a several-year prison sentence. He recently wrote this:

Mom and Dad,

Be strong, be joyful, and live each day well. These days, my heart is filled with surprising peace. What have I lost in the past years? I have temporarily lost time with my family, but I have not lost the love of my family; I have temporarily lost my life of freedom, but I have not lost my freedom of thought; I have temporarily lost Sunday worship, but I have not lost my faith; although I am imprisoned, there is a bigger prison out there.

I find this saying very true: he who has faith can lose nothing; he can turn hell into heaven; he can sleep peacefully in the midst of the storm; he can sing gratefully in prison; he can become a dancer with chains. He who has no faith can have nothing, and will only turn heaven into hell.

We are truly free and can lose nothing compared to those who have been enslaved all their lives by the fear of death. Mom and Dad, you are losing me just like Abraham lost Isaac, Jacob lost Joseph and Benjamin, and the father lost the prodigal son. But they were all lost and found, and so will yours be also. If it is more blessed to give than to receive, it can also be said that it is more blessed to lose than to gain; for it is only by losing that we can gain more beauty.


Ryan moved from Guangzhou, China, to Ohio at the age of 12. He is the pastor for neighborhood ministries at New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and also serves as the translation manager for China Partnership.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Chinese Christians to continue loving their city, their church family, and the global church. Pray for them as they suffer in Christ as an “Easter people.”

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Further Reading

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The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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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 Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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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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