by Mary Shepard Wong
This February I attended a symposium in Pasadena sponsored by Christian Leadership Exchange, which sought to bring together Christians in China and the West to discuss and pray about ways to improve communication and understanding between Western evangelicals and members of China’s official church.
This February I attended a symposium in Pasadena sponsored by Christian Leadership Exchange, which sought to bring together Christians in China and the West to discuss and pray about ways to improve communication and understanding between Western evangelicals and members of China’s official church. Participating were members of the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and a number of Chinese and Caucasian U.S. church leaders.
The Chinese delegation demonstrated the growth and vitality of the Chinese church, but what transpired in discussion sessions indicated to me that some Western evangelicals regarded the official Chinese church as suspect and in need of Western assistance. Rev. Deng Fu Gun, Vice Chairman and Secretary General of TSPM and the current president of CCC, was asked to respond to sensitive issues such as the demolition of churches, dismissal of faculty and students from seminaries, and persecution of house church leaders. Earlier I had had the opportunity to talk and pray with Rev.Deng and perceived him to be a servant of God. As I watched Rev. Deng placed in a defensive position, asked to explain each controversy and answer each accusation, I was uncomfortable with the process, my position, and the assumptions the questions carried.
That night I read a book to my six-year-old son called The Lost Horse by Ed Young, which is based on an old Chinese fable. Sai had a great horse, it begins. His friends told him he was blessed to have such a steed, but he replied, "This might not be such a good thing." Later his horse ran away and his friends came to comfort him, but Sai replied, "Perhaps this is not such a bad thing." Soon the horse returned with another horse as beautiful and strong as the first. Sai’s friends came and congratulated him, and as before, Sai said, "This might not be such a good thing."
One day when Sai’s son was riding the new horse, he fell and broke his leg. Again Sai’s friends came to console Sai and again Sai said, "Perhaps this is not such a bad thing." Later that year hostile nomads invaded the land and all able-bodied men were sent to fight and many did not return, but due to his injury, Sai’s son was spared. Sai’s son had learned from his father to trust in the ever-changing fortunes of life. When I finished, my son asked, "What does it mean?" I thought a minute-how to explain Chinese fatalism to a six-year-old? I said, "Sai and his son thought that they were powerless to control things, so they just trusted in fate." My son smiled and replied, "Like we trust in Cod?"
As I reflected on the China symposium, this fable, and my son’s reply, I was struck with an image of Rev. Deng playing the part of Sai in an on-stage production set in China in 1940. Sai is being told that he, as a Chinese pastor, is blessed to have such generous financial support and guidance from the West. But Sai, considering how the gospel is regarded as foreign to many Chinese and how the control of the church is still largely in Western hands, replies, "This might not be such a good thing." Ten years pass and the stage changes to a war-torn field of ruble in 1950. Sai’s friends run in and say, "It is terrible! The last missionaries have left, and a new China has been established, one in which the church will surely be tested." Sai looks up and says, "Perhaps this might not be such a bad thing." Decades pass by and scenes of persecution, beatings, denials, and chaos are depicted. The fall of the Gang of Four, the death of Mao, the era of Deng all parade across the stage. Then there are scenes of Christians reuniting, people being baptized, and churches being built. Sai, sweeping the entrance of his reopened church in 1980, is told several Western teachers have come to establish an underground church. Sai sighs and says, "This might not be such a good thing." Two more decades pass marked by the failure of numerous cults to establish significant strongholds and unparalleled growth in the official church. Sai, an old man, reflects on God’s hand in the ever-changing fortunes of the church in China and realizes that it is his Father who has taught him to trust in Him.
The official church in China is alive and well. God did not come nor leave with the missionaries. In a spirit of humility let us set aside our agendas, suspend judgment, and embrace the Chinese Church trusting God to work in and through his servants.
Mary Shepard Wong is director of the MA/TESOL Partnership Programs Department of Global Studies and Sociology, Azusa Pacific University.
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