What I Learned: Desperation, Urgency, Distraction, and What We Hope In

Editor’s note: At the end of each month, the editorial team shares a brief wrap-up of how that month’s content encouraged and challenged us as Western believers who do not live in China. This month, we invited a guest author to share his own reflections on what he is learning from the Chinese church.


“American Christians tend to pray that persecution will end. But that is not how we are praying in China. We are not praying it will end; we are praying that God would be glorified in our persecution. Will you pray that prayer for and with us?”

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“I was one of those American Christians whose prayers for the Chinese church were largely focused on asking God to bring an end to their persecution…Yes, those prayers were perhaps also advising God of a better strategy.

Seeing Things Differently

I heard the above exhortation early in my relationship with the China Partnership. I needed it. I was one of those American Christians whose prayers for the Chinese church were largely focused on asking God to bring an end to their persecution. To that end, I was praying that more people and more Party leaders would come to faith in Christ, such that there would be a shift in the balance of power. I prayed that God would allow messages and videos to slip past social media censorship, leading to a new Tiananmen Square protest, forcing an end to the persecution of Christians. Yes, those prayers were perhaps also advising God of a better strategy.

Reading and reflecting on this month’s blog posts have helped me continue to see things differently and more biblically with respect to my life, frustrations, worries, concerns, focus, and prayers as an American Christian and pastor.

It is not wrong to pray for the brutal persecution of God’s people in China to end. But it is hard and counter-intuitive for me to pray, not that persecution would end, but instead that God would be glorified in it. And yet, that is the more consistently biblical prayer. God’s Word has told us our status on this earth until he returns is that of exiles and strangers – those hated by the world. When Jesus spoke to his followers in the gospels about their persecution being the norm, he did not offer political strategies as solutions, nor promise that persecution would end before he returned. As good as democracy is, it is not the hope of the people of God.


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A Biblical Path

This month’s Prison Letter from Brother Bo to his parents both dismantled my previous perspectives and helped in continuing to reorientate me to a more biblical one on following Christ in the U.S.A. As Christians in America, we have lost much and continue to lose more. How have and will we respond to those losses? I believe God, through Brother Bo, points us to a more biblical path – a path that includes deeper joy and intimacy with God amidst persecution and alienation.

In both pastoral intern Shu Yan’s reflections on turning our sorrow into prayer and Muxi Zhang’s reflection on Psalm 42, I see a deeper and more biblical desperation for God than I often feel, a desperation that compels and chastens. What would I be willing to give to know this kind of spiritual hunger, vitality, and satisfaction?

Church planter Hu Yongjie pointed me to the grace of God that covers up all the shame I experience for my sin, distraction, and worldliness. He wrote, “The gospel does not give us a piece of cloth to cover up our sins as we come to meet God. The gospel pulls down the last veil and lets the light of God shine on and heal us completely.”

Lastly, as the blog post by Wang Yi, chastening his congregation about the consuming and distracting idol of social media reminds us, Chinese believers are not super-Christians. Just like us, many of them are tempted to spend more time on social media than in prayer, Bible study, or serving God.

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“I do not think God is being glorified in persecution here in the West as he should and could be. My Chinese brothers and sisters are helping me see that persecution has not yet burned away my false hopes… I am not urgent in prayer for his power to rejoice in persecution and suffering, because those things are bringing me closer to God.

God Is Their Only Refuge

In their insights and reflections, these Chinese believers display a deeper desperation for God and a greater urgency in their Christian walk than I feel and find in my own heart. I think that is because, currently, God is their only hope and comfort. He is their only refuge. I long for that intimacy and urgency in my spiritual life. But my default is to be angry, resentful, and outraged at the increased persecution, alienation, ridicule, and rejection I feel as a Christian here in the West. My longing is too much for “a good life” here on this earth, now; for worldly vindication and acceptance. My hope is too much in politics, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness.

I do not think God is being glorified in persecution here in the West as he should and could be. My Chinese brothers and sisters are helping me see that persecution has not yet burned away my false hopes and worldly longings. I am not as desperate for God’s sustaining presence as I ought to be. I am not urgent in prayer for his power to rejoice in persecution and suffering, because those things are bringing me closer to God. This month’s blog posts show an intimacy with God, an inspiring hope in him, and a deep joy for which I long. I need to keep asking, “What am I willing to give up, lose, change, or let go of in order to gain that?”

I think we, Christians in the West, have much to learn from the persecuted church.


Born and raised in Scotland, Ewan started out as a mechanical engineer before coming to the United States as an adult. He is married to Heather and has three sons, and has served as senior pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta since 2008.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Ask God to help you rejoice in and glorify him amidst the sorrows and difficulties of your own life and society.

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Further Reading

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Chengdu: Opportunities and Challenges
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Moses in the Wilderness: On the Run
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Chengdu: Relaxed, Comfortable, Leisurely
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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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Stories from Shenyang

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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Stories from Qingdao

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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Stories from Xiamen

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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Stories from Chongqing

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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Stories from Nanjing

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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Stories from Changchun

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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Stories from Guangzhou

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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Stories from Kunming

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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Stories from Shenzhen

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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Stories from Chengdu

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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Stories from Beijing

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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Stories from Shanghai

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