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The Church in China: Calling on God instead of ourselves
May 8, 2009
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — A thirteen hour flight from Toronto to Beijing launched an eye-opening tour of the church in China for three Mennonite Church Canada pastors.
From March 11 to 26, with Witness worker Jeanette Hanson as their guide, Jim Loepp Thiessen from the Gathering Church (Kitchener, Ont.) and Barb and Wilmer Froese, co-pastors of Rosthern MC (Sask.) explored the work of MC Canada Witness in urban and rural areas. It gave them the opportunity to see China through a broader lens than the one provided by evening newscasts.
“We think of China as a mass of 1.3 billion people [and wonder], can they be a threat to us? These are the images we have, but they’re wonderful people, eager to know and understand us…they want to have peace with the world,” Wilmer says. He spoke with one medical student who said that between the destruction China experienced during WWII and the current “one child” policy, no one wants war. Parents don’t want to lose their only offspring.
Loepp Thiessen embarked on the journey with a desire to connect with the vibrancy of Chinese church culture – “And that’s exactly what happened,” he says. He was struck by Anabaptist influence, describing the Chinese approach to “the priesthood of all believers” as a breath of fresh air. He found encouragement in church leaders who appreciate that concept and are attracted to the Anabaptist emphasis on peace. “Anabaptism empowers them where they are, instead of imposing something on them.”
Chinese believers are clearly committed. The Canadian pastors found “standing room only” when they arrived for a Sunday service in a Anqing church. The congregation had already been singing and praying for two hours – after many of them had endured a two hour walk to arrive.
Foreigners cannot proselytize in China, but the Chinese can, and as a result, the church is growing and vibrant. “They are witnessing to their friends and neighbours all the time, just not on the street,” Barb Froese says.
A Nanchong pastor told his Canadian visitors that people were drawn from the street to his church by its peaceful spirit, and they would stay.
To Loepp Thiessen, this shows how the church in China is empowered by the Holy Spirit, a reflection of the early church in Acts 2. “That kind of spirit needs to be recaptured in the church in North America,” he suggests. “Calling on God, instead of ourselves.”
And call on God, people did. The pastors heard story after story of miraculous cures and responses to prayer that brought people to faith. A seriously ill child who could not have surgery because of a high fever is prayed for by her Christian mother, a pastor; the fever abates. Her father is soon baptised, saying, “I cannot deny the power and presence of God in the healing of my daughter.”
Another man coughs up blood despite ample medicine – until he is prayed for by a Christian.
A man with stomach cancer receives healing Christian prayer and becomes a pastor.
Yet another man is healed of alcoholism and praises God for his release.
In China, church resources are scarce and needs are high. At a Christian bookstore in Chengdu, Rosthern MC and the Gathering Church purchased resources for rural congregations in Anqing and Sichuan.
“One has to realize that these churches are new, with new Christians,” Wilmer Froese says. “These [churches] are five or ten or at the most 20 years old, without the same exposure to scriptures.”
It was evident to him that Chinese pastors carry far more responsibility than those in North America. “We do more networking here, we work together, share ideas and resources. Pastors in China are more isolated and individually responsible for hundreds or thousands of people.”
He referred to Pastor Timothy in Anqing as an example. While there are 700 people in his congregation for any given worship service, he is responsible for 150,000 Christians. “It’s an enormous job and he feels alone.”
Though Jeanette Hanson has lived and worked in China for years (she currently resides in Canada while her husband Todd studies), the trip benefited her as well. In a prayer letter following the trip she wrote, “I have come away with a renewed sense of the global church and renewed energy to connect believers from various parts of the world. God’s Spirit works as we meet together.”
Witness workers Jeanette Hanson and her husband Todd lived in China from 1994 to 2008. The family is currently on a two year leave to Canada while Todd furthers his studies at Simon Fraser University. Jeanette continues to work for Witness, enhancing connections between congregations and drawing support for the Mennonite pastors and churches of China.