China (MNN) — [A first-hand report from MNN’s Ruth Kramer on location in China:] As we got out of the Bibles for China van, we heard what sounded like church bells ringing, but in reality it was the noise of construction on a high-rise building next door. It was an interesting picture of what the rural church in certain areas of China faces these days.
In this part of northern China, the clash of the urban/rural fringe is strong. The government has been moving forward on building a new city and expanding growth since 2010. Most of the time, as the growth spreads outward, it takes over farmland.
Those who work those farms are without jobs, lending a hand to the city migration numbers. Our first stop was a church that sits in the shadow of what will be luxury high-rise apartments. This church is 17 years old and has a body of roughly 700-800.
The government gave the church notice that it needed their land and offered to relocate the church to another piece of land. However, the tenants there refused to leave. For two years, the church was caught in limbo between government pressure to grow and not having a place to build a new facility.
Eventually, the tenants vacated the property, and the church began construction on its new facility. The pastor of this church notes that the delay was obviously God’s timing. It gave the church body time to unite as they prayed for change. In essence, “God built our faith before He built our church.”
Anticipating younger people, the church has launched many evangelistic programs that encourage participation. In facing the challenges of a fast-growing Gospel movement mixed with urban sprawl, churches are seeing a need for more trained pastors and church leaders than ever before. Plans for a new 2,000 seat facility (relocated from farmland) means they’re preparing to meet the challenges of the transition from rural to urban.
In a land of 1.33 billion people (approximately 1/5th of the world’s population), there is a growing evangelical movement–presently consisting of an estimated 40 million believers. In other words, it’s normal to have one pastor overseeing one district in which there are nine churches and nearly 4,000 believers, as it is in the case of the pastor we interviewed for this story.
God is using theological schools, training centers, and churches in China to train current and future Chinese Christian leaders with needed ministry insights and methods.
In this specific Northern Province, a Bible school opened four years ago. It is responsible for discipleship and pastoral training for the whole region. The pastor we interviewed says, “We are hoping that we can exchange our teachers to other universities of the Word to further their study so we can have a better generation to be trained.”
They now have a body of 275 students who are training for leadership and discipleship roles in the Church. Many of these students are from the rural areas and are on the edge of poverty. The Bible School is looking for help subsidizing their education because it is increasingly clear that there is a shortage of trained leaders in the rural areas. The danger of having untrained leaders at the head of a rural church: cults. The poor, rural areas of China are rife with them as well as susceptible to them.
Between that danger and the obvious transition coming between the rural/urban fringe, there is a sense of growing urgency among the existing Chinese Church leadership. Not only that, but these transition churches are finding ways to meet needs that are very specific–either through music, worship leaders, or other physical needs. The Bible School, mentioned earlier, tackles all of them. In addition, “We have a class for disabled students who can learn. After they graduate, they can take care of the needs of the disabled believers.”
Bibles For China plays a big role in getting these leaders the tools they need to lead: Bibles. On the last day, our team distributed roughly 900 Bibles among three rural churches facing the same issues with urbanization. Despite the millions of Bibles printed in China through Amity Press, and the work of Bibles For China getting them into the hands of believers in the rural areas, it’s just not keeping pace with the growth.
Recognizing this, Bibles For China offers two solutions. One is immediate: $5 puts two Bibles into the hands of the rural Church. Two, BFC is looking into partnering with other ministries in China that specialize in pastor and leader training, discipleship training, seminaries, and English camps. Keep praying that these doors will open for cooperative efforts.