Notwithstanding a few amusing typos in the PowerPoint slides (“Yes, Lord, yes, ahem!”) the service was much like you’d see at any contemporary service in the States. I was particularly moved during the singing of “Salvation Belongs to Our God,” in which the lyrics went:
And we the redeemed shall be strong
In purpose and unity
Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks
Honor and power and strength
Be to our God forever and ever
Be to our God forever and ever
Be to our God forever and ever, Amen
These words took on new significance as I realized just how powerful a declaration this really is. We, the redeemed Christian believers living in Beijing, China, shall be strong. Despite governmental regulations and restrictions, we shall declare aloud praises to the one true God. Stirring stuff. And to give a sense of the kind of ministry impact this church has, I’ll just share one prayer request from this week’s bulletin that you can pray yourself:
Pray for every new international family that will come to Beijing this fall. Pray that God’s grace would bless them as they seek to adjust to a new culture. Pray against family stress as marriages and parent-child relationships are strained by this new city. Pray that God would provide ways for the BICF to reach out to these families and minister the love of Christ in powerful, practical ways.
Then this afternoon we visited the Temple of Heaven, which traces back several thousand years to a time when China was monotheistic, long before the advent of Buddhism and Confucianism and communist Marxist-Leninism. There are hints that ancient Chinese culture connected to the Old Testament story somehow. For example, the pictograph for “boat” incorporates the number eight, which some think may have been an allusion to the eight people on Noah’s ark. The word for “righteousness” possibly involves a sacrificial lamb. We can surmise that God has placed eternity in the hearts of all peoples and cultures, and there are elements of Chinese history and culture that point to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some members of our group have a relative who is working as a teacher in an international school about an hour and a half away from Beijing. She’s a graduate of a Christian college in the States and has been in China for three or four years. I asked her if she has a community of twentysomething expat Christians to hang out with, and she said yes, many of the foreigners in her area are Christians – basically only people with kingdom purposes would choose to come to that particular place to work. She said that it tends to be an adventurous crowd that say, “Hey, let’s go to Tibet for the weekend! Let’s go to the market and get hepatitis on a stick!”
We met and heard about many Americans who are what have traditionally been called tentmakers, folks whose day jobs give them legal reason to be in Beijing, but then also spend much of the rest of their time doing ministry work of some form or another. Some work with children, one has a street ministry and feeds the homeless, others do direct church planting. Our guide could not go into detail about what exactly they were doing, but we understood that these are the real reasons they’re here in Beijing. At another level of scale, we also met a business professional who has started a number of what are known as Great Commission companies, which are entrepreneurial profit-making enterprises that are strategically located in limited access areas, providing economic development and jobs as well as opportunities for Bible studies and church planting.
I’m thrilled to hear about these kinds of efforts because it means that the options for mission work can be as creative and varied as the entire range of business and vocation. When I was in college, I got the vibe that the only “real” ways to do missions were either church planting or Bible translation. But Christians are doing kingdom work through international business, relief and development work, education and health care, and yes, book publishing. It’s very exciting to see how we and other people can contribute to God’s global mission in ways that align with our vocational experience and skills.
If you want to read more about these kinds of models, read IVP’s books Penetrating Missions’ Final Frontier by Tetsunao Yamamori and Great Commission Companies by Steve Rundle and Tom Steffen. I was the acquiring and developmental editor for Great Commission Companies a few years ago, and here on this trip I just made the connection that one of the case studies in the book is the (disguised) story of the business entrepreneur we met here this week. When I get back I need to re-read that chapter!
Some of our group went to a Three-Self church evening service, but Ellen and I couldn’t go because we had dinner at the home of a publisher that Ellen works with. After becoming a Christian in university he met his wife through church. (A tangent and a bit of a reality check: We showed our hosts some pictures of our family, and they reacted with slight surprise and then said somewhat wistfully, “Look, they have two children.” We completely take for granted the freedom to have multiple children in the United States, something that is generally not possible [legally] in China.)
He now leads a Bible study group and is part of a house church that has some five hundred people, though they are shuffling their meeting groups because of some challenges. We asked him if he has any estimate of how many house churches meet in Beijing, and he said he has no idea, but that it must be very, very many.
He said that things have been getting much better in recent years. The whole field of Christian studies is growing in the Chinese academy, and many of the professors and scholars who teach Christian studies are themselves Christians. He has been able to publish a number of Christian books through his press, and they have sold quite well. It’s exciting to think that the church in China is now getting some excellent published resources to help them grow and mature in the faith.
It has been such an honor to meet all the Christians who are faithfully living out their commitment to Christ in Beijing, whether foreigners or Chinese nationals. They are truly an inspiration and heroes to me. They’re doing amazing things in very challenging environments. Please pray for them.