China (MNN) – It’s no secret that things are changing in China. Tensions in Hong Kong, crackdowns on kids programs, and pressure on foreign visitors all act as snapshots into the increased difficulties facing Chinese locals, especially when it comes to the Church.
Yes, things are changing, and if anything is certain, it’s that the Church needs to rely on God and look to its leaders.
That’s what makes the work of ministries like China Partner so important. They’re supporting and training young Christian leaders in China so they can help the local Church establish its identity. These leaders want to prove they can be good Chinese citizens and faithful Christians; the two are not at odds.
Touring the Chinese Church
During a recent October trip to China, China Partner’s Erik Burklin saw firsthand some of the ongoing accomplishments of the local Church.
With 30 million people, Chongqing is the largest municipality in China – and was the first stop on Burkin’s tour. Local believers had just established a brand new Bible school, and ‘the leadership there invited us to come and share with the students during the first part of our trip.”
Their next visit was the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. “They have just opened up a brand new seminary facility in that city,” reports Burklin. “They’ve been ministering to seminary and Bible school students for many, many years in an old facility, and they just finished a brand new facility in Wuhan… We were invited to visit that new facility and it’s fantastic to see they have capacity for up to 700 students in that particular school.”
When it’s completed, the Wuhan facility will be one of the largest seminaries in China.
The next stop was Chengdu in Sichuan, where they met with newly elected Church leaders from the area.
“Since its new leadership, they didn’t really know our history very well, or the China Partner history, and so we were able to introduce ourselves to them,” Burklin says. They explained to the leaders “the perspective of why we exist, who we are, what we do, what we believe in, and that we exist to serve the church in China, not to demand anything of the Church.”
Finally, they visited Nanjing and “the largest Bible printing company in the world,” Burklin reports. “They print more Bibles in that particular facility than any other printing press around the world, so that was fantastic… There is one Bible per second that comes off their presses. So in one minute, they print 60 Bibles.”
On November 11, the press printed its 200 millionth Bible. Those hundreds of millions of Bibles go not only to Chinese Christians but to believers in 90 different nations around the world.
“That’s a miraculous story of God’s story, and we’re so pleased to be able to partner with the Church in China,” Burklin says.
So what happens when forward-moving efforts of the Chinese Church meet tightening tensions from local officials? The first step, Burklin says, is to understand the Chinese context.
“China is run by a Communist regime, and Communism in its core values is anti-God; they’re actually atheists by nature,” Burklin explains. “They have in their constitution what they consider their own religious freedoms that they protect, and yet everything is very, very much controlled. The Protestant Church and the people that we deal with obviously and the Christian leaders in China, they just adjust to that.”
One of the biggest challenges for Chinese believers right now is the identity question. Local officials are concerned that Christians won’t be “Chinese” enough, while the Church argues following Jesus and being respectful citizens are not mutually exclusive.
“Many of the church leadership there reminded us that they love China, but at the same time they love God and Jesus more. And so to be good citizens, to be good Chinese – that’s how they put it – is to be a good Christian,” Burklin says.
It’s a balance between showing respect to the government and laws of the land, putting trust in God’s provision, and rendering to each what is due.
“That’s a tremendous testimony to who they are and how they operate in China,” Burklin says. “They know that everything is somewhat restrictive, and it’s very frustrating for the church leadership in China to operate that way, especially those believers and church leaders who are working within the unregistered churches that have not been legally registered with the government.
“But yet, they have faith in God. They believe that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.”
The bottom line, Burklin says, is that the Church is going to expand.
“The Church… will continue to grow no matter what the current regime
will put on them because we know that under persecution, churches usually grow very strongly and believers come to faith because they see the faith that the believers have in Jesus in the midst of trial and tribulation.”
Burklin believes it’s a good reminder for believers in other countries, too.
“The Church leadership and the Christians in China understand that they are really part of a Jesus culture, not just a Chinese culture. You know, obviously, they identify as Chinese… but our higher calling is that we don’t belong to this world, right? This is just temporary.”
At the end of the day, the Christian perspective is a global one and an eternal one.
“You go beyond the culture that you’re living in. And that perspective is so heartwarming and really a challenge for us,” Burklin says. “We see this lived out every time we go there and that encourages us, when we return back to United States, to also live our lives that way, to understand that we’re not just American citizens, but we belong to Jesus Christ and that our ultimate home is in Heaven with Him.
“In the meantime, though, we try to still be good citizens, we try to be a good witness to our neighbors, to our friends, to be difference-makers right where God has placed us, and the Chinese Christians feel exactly the same way.”
Pray for Chinese believers to show courage and discernment in the face of change. Consider supporting China Partner’s work in leadership training and Church encouragement right here.
Header photo courtesy of Unsplash.