The last two evenings have been spent in two of the urban house churches I described in a previous post. Monday evening was group of 14 young people including 2 couples. Last night there were 10 women, all in their twenties, led by a young couple. The husband was an architect who was leading this new, month-old church. I spoke on God’s rest in the second group. Peggy spoke on balancing faith, work and family in both churches.
We had a Q&A session in the first church that was really fun. The more I get to know the Chinese believers, the more I am amazed at how similar their questions are to young people in America and how similar their issues are. One of the husbands whose name means “Little Bear” (to the left of the cross in a blue t-shirt) asked the two main questions of the evening. The first was a confession of feeling great pressure to be successful and make a lot of money. The Chinese men certainly feel this pressure, either from their society in general or specifically from potential mates. In last Saturday’s workshop I spent some time in a conversation with a single woman who had just been asked by a man to be his girlfriend. She had said yes but was confessing to me her doubts because he did not make a very large income as an elementary school teacher.
Peggy confirmed that the women here put a lot of pressure on men to succeed. A master’s degree is not enough; they have to have a Ph.D. The pressure on women is also great. Plastic surgery is often performed on women’s faces and breasts in order to attract the attention of successful men or to gain a good job. The ideals of beauty are a big issue and the “western” look is highly valued here.
Little Bear’s second question was even more surprising though related to the first. He asked what men should do if their wives make more money than they. It appears that the struggle with insecurity and relationships is universal, or at least common to consumer-driven societies. Capitalism is certainly having an impact in Beijing. I walk around the city or have a wild ride in a taxi through rush hour traffic, and I see young men and women who would fit easily in the Portland cityscape. What’s new to Chinese Christians is the tension of finding jobs and supporting themselves in the city where housing is so expensive, and yet walking faithfully and obediently to Christ.
Last night, Jeremiah, the architect/church leader, gave me an example. He said that the Chinese do not wait patiently in lines nor do they follow rules. They like to make their own rules. So any attempt to form lines do not work because inevitably many will rush to the front and try to get in first. But as a Christian who is taught to respect the rules and be courteous and patient in lines, this creates a dilemma. You would never get in. ^_^ (This is a Chinese version of a smiley face!)
My encounter with Jeremiah (back row, first on left) with the second house church was a new experience. First of all the location was in the outskirts of Beijing. I rode my first subway, a brand new line that reminded me of Portland’s MAX trains. Jeremiah treated us to a wonderful noodle restaurant that was a fraction of the cost compared to where the hotel is located. People stared at us more because foreigners are rare there. Second Jeremiah did some preaching in his church, but they also used videos of well-known preachers. I wonder if China will someday develop satellite churches in order to spread the resources.
Lastly it was great to get to know Jeremiah (he's modeling a knit hat that he won in a drawing - a stateside group called the KnitWits knits shawls and hats for Peggy to give to the Chinese people). Only 26 yrs old, he was very grounded in Bible and theology. A professor from the university he graduated from (who also went to his church) did a fantastic job of mentoring and discipling Christian leaders. The church supported his training by giving the young leaders a platform for developing leadership skills including leading Bible studies, doing evangelism, and preaching. He moved to Beijing and found a job with an engineering company and so did some of his friends from the university. They kept meeting together and then started growing in numbers until they officially started the house church a month ago.
This was my first real observation of how significant it is to train leaders in China. The need for biblically, theologically trained leaders is huge as the church here experiences such phenomenal growth. The need is even more keenly felt in the cities. With expansion of freedom in the cities, this open door for ministry is an exciting one.
I spent the morning yesterday preparing a new topic (discipleship and mentoring) while Peggy was away speaking to a group of 30 Mary Kay consultants. Peggy had been a director for many years before retiring. She returned to the hotel blessed by the honest responses to God’s truth and excited that 2 women had received Christ as Savior. You can read her blog on the link I have posted on my page.
Then in the afternoon, a woman came to our hotel room for personal counsel. I had met her Saturday and had connected with her when she identified with my story of feeling abandoned by God. We listened and learned more about her story, and as I shared more about my own story, she identified with the deep questions of the heart that I had had during those dark years. Her story is not much different than ones we would hear in America – busy schedule with young children, lonely days while children are in school (non-working housewives are a small minority here), a non-believing husband who is not easy to live with, and frustrations with feeling worth and having something important to do.
We prayed with her, gave her words of encouragement, especially to re-engage herself in a church community, and suggested some practical things towards seeking Christ in relationship. One was to pray through the Psalms rewriting the words into her own prayer in a journal. I then thought of a devotional I had brought, Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, and gave it to her. BTW, she spoke excellent English and would be able to read the devotional on her own.
I was so grateful to God for the opportunity to see Christ calling this woman back to him. I was grateful for my own story, as painful as it has been at times, that connected with hers. And I was reminded that any transformation of the heart is a work of the Holy Spirit. All I am to do is faithfully tell God’s story and my own, then trust him for his work of transformation in another, especially since I don’t know if I’ll be back to Beijing.
Tonight (Wed. 4-6 a.m. PST) Peggy and I will be doing a joint presentation on discipleship and mentoring. Thanks for your prayers!