My Dear Family,
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.” So begins Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, yet the famous opening line could quite fittingly be used to describe modern-day China. Or maybe I’m being too dramatic. In any case, I think what is going on in China is far too complex and diverse to describe without my making sweeping generalizations such as these. Most certainly Jesus Christ is faithfully and powerfully building and defending His Church in China – He is seeking out the lost, bringing back the scattered, binding up the broken and strengthening the sick, just as He has promised. At the same time the Church is also being severely persecuted – experiencing mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment, they are tempted, put to death, they are afflicted and ill-treated, men and women of whom the world is not worthy. On one hand it seems that China is entering an era of global influence and power, economic growth and ideological enlightenment, and on the other hand China seems to be simultaneously destroying itself from within. Christianity is growing at an almost unbelievable rate, yet the vast majority of the Chinese populace with whom I spoke seem to have almost lost their ability to even reason about reality, choosing instead to be blissfully entertained by the dancing shadows of propaganda which have been cast upon the cave wall. I believe in this seemingly contradictory situation and present evil age, that if the church in China had a voice of its own, perhaps it would echo that of Hudson Taylor’s in saying, “the battle is the Lord’s, and He will conquer. We may fail-do fail continually-but He never fails. Still, I need your prayers more than ever.”
And I thank you for your prayers for me this summer. It really was a wonderful and fruitful trip, and though crisis typically finds a more attentive audience than good news, I have found myself this summer to be more far more impressed by the latter. And though it will likely be that most questions about my experiences this summer will revolve around seven rather unremarkable hours under the care of Chinese police, for me, it really is hardly the story of the summer. No, that honor belongs to that story of the remarkable christian brothers and sisters I met this summer, and what the Lord is doing among them.
Eric and I arrived in Beijing three months ago, really not knowing what to expect. We were greeted by our translator and soon found ourselves on a train to a nearby province, where we met and taught a group of evangelists for 10 days -about 7 hours of lecture each day, briefly covering basic doctrines such as Covenant Theology, the Work of Christ, Biblical Theology, and overviews of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Church History. I’ve never met people as attentive and thankful for biblical teaching as the evangelists Eric and I taught this summer. For someone like me who hopes to be a pastor one day, it was almost the perfect missions trip – honestly! They weren’t the most reformed group I’ve ever been around, but rather the most teachable, and anyway, if they had been the former, I wouldn’t have needed to be there. Not to say that they weren’t hoping to be reformed, they simply hadn’t the teaching. When I walked into the classroom the first day, I was greeted by 45 or so smiling students and a room adorned with pictures of characters they had painted from church history – Polycarp, Jerome, Athanasius, Augustine, Wcyliffe, Hus, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, along with many paintings of Hudson Taylor and other missionaries to China. I soon found out that they really didn’t know much about reformed theology though, nor the people they had painted, but they never stopped asking about them. “Tell us about Athanasius” is something I normally don’t expect to hear, but that’s the sort of thing they were quite interested in, and it is certainly an encouragement to me as a seminary student – someone who has the privilege of having more information at one’s fingertips than could ever be read – to be diligent in my studies for the sake of those who have so little. It was also an encouragement to me as a missionary, for after I asked them about why they had such an interest in missionaries to China, they replied, “because if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have the bible, and we wouldn’t know Jesus.” Fair enough!
Beyond that, I would also say that they were the most hospitable, selfless, zealous, and happy group of people I’ve ever seen. I would estimate that every meal Eric and I were given consisted of somewhere between 10-15 different dishes, not to mention some of the most ornate fruit carvings I’ve ever seen for snacks between meals. They would sacrifice so much – against our will – just to make us more comfortable. Every morning before classes would start (that is, at 9:00) they would pray for three hours – with tears – and pray for one hour before bed each night, after sitting in class for seven hours and after having spent some time reading their bibles and copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith. “What are they praying about? I’m not sure I could pray for three hours,” I would think to myself, though I would also recall that Luther would regularly spend his best three hours of the day in prayer – somehow. I began to better understand their zeal when I found out that about half of them at already been arrested – some tortured – at least once, and they personally had friends who are currently being persecuted and in prison. In fact, this denomination of 100,000 that I was with is (I’m told by others outside the denomination) the most severely persecuted denomination in China. Another thing for which they would pray was for teachers to be sent to them, and sad to say, Eric and I are the only foreigners (they told us) that have ever come to teach them. And so I realized that the great gratitude they felt towards Hudson Taylor and other missionaries – whom they have never been able to thank – was directed to the two undeserving American seminary students who had found their way into their midst. All this being said, it wasn’t hard for me to find myself endeared to them, and I’m not sure if they learned more from us or I learned more from them.
That was the first of four such groups that we taught, three of which were from the first denomination, one from a second. All in all, we were able to teach about half of the 300 full-time evangelists in the denomination, about 80% of whom are women, typically between the ages of 16 and 40, most of whom have no home, no possessions to speak of, no personal ambition for future gain, haven’t seen their families in years (would be arrested if they even went home), and who move around about every three days in groups of two from family to family in the church, who take care of them. The fifth and final group we were hoping to teach will have to wait, as our meeting was postponed, compliments of Red China.
Eric and I were arrested/detained for seven hours after a raid on our meeting in a believer’s house in Hubei province, and then released, after which we traveled to Beijing to speak with the US embassy about the situation. That was pretty much the end of our work in China – this time, anyway – seeing as the police stole our bibles, notebooks, my copy of Robert Shaw’s Exposition of the Westminster Confession, and Eric’s copy of the Valley of Vision, and took down our passport info, effectively reducing us to bait to capture more Chinese. Perhaps there is nothing remarkable about our arrest besides how unremarkable it was in comparison to the arrest of the 42 Chinese evangelists, some of whom were held for days, some for weeks, and two of whom are still being held – Mrs. Ren Daoyun, aged 60, and Miss Gu Junqing, 38. Mrs. Daoyun was the owner of the home in which we were arrested, and has been repeatedly beaten, including having her head beat against the wall by a prison chair. Her home was also ransacked and her money and books confiscated. Miss Junqing has faced similar circumstances, save for having her possessions taken, seeing as she had none. The others who were arrested were also beaten, and tortured by various means, including having their faces and arms burnt with cigarettes, needles stuck in their wrists, and an adorable friend of mine, “Jane,” was beaten with specially-designed bamboo rods. Please remember them – as well as their persecutors – in your prayers, as if you were in chains with them.
Persecution is something that these evangelists expect – in China, it’s just a matter of time before you get arrested. No one wants it, but we consider it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ Jesus. The road to heaven cannot bypass the cross, and indeed it was necessary that even the Christ should suffer before entering into His glory (Lk. 24:26, Heb 2:10). We simply take up our crosses daily and follow Him (Mk. 8:34-35). Though the suffering of the the Christ is a mystery into which even angels long to look (1 Pet. 1:10-12), the Apostle Peter reminds us to “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing” (1 Pet. 4:12-13). For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us, and God causes even suffering to work together for good to those who love God. As Dostoevsky wrote in the Brothers Karamazov, “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
Even in the midst of these persecutions, especially in the midst of these persecutions, Jesus is protecting and providing for His people better then ever any human government ever cared for their own. He is faithful, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, who gave Himself up for us. And as we love Him whom we have never seen, it is my prayer that we would also love His persecuted ones whom we have not seen.
Thank you again for your prayers for me – I have been amazed at the prayer that was mobilized for Eric and me during our trip, and I thank God that He has given me so great a cloud of witnesses here as well as there. One last note: I met with some of the brothers and sisters in Beijing who had been released from prison and who had traveled North to visit us. I suffered not one bruise. They had been repeatedly tortured. And yet there were tears in their eyes as they apologized, “we are so sorry you were arrested. Forgive us for not taking care for you well enough.” They also said that they were worried that Eric and I would not return, or bring other teachers with us, since they need teaching so much.
I would like to return, hopefully next summer for a week or two, and I ask that you would be in prayer that God would raise up many teachers – and better teachers than me – to continue the work in China. Thank you for sending me, and thank you for prayers and support to help me go to seminary, so that I may serve Jesus’ precious and beloved Church. Please remember our brothers and sisters in China. They need your prayers now more than ever.