It’s been a wonderfully encouraging week in this vast and rapidly changing land. I completed my first week of two weeks of classes at Jiangsu Seminary in the city of Nanjing. I have over 70 students in the Spiritual Theology class I am teaching, with every seat full. The graduating class is taking the class for credit and a number of other students are auditing. Every day they are in their seats hungry to learn. They are all bundled up against the cold, but their faith is on fire. They know their Bibles well and are attentive learners. I gave them an assignment to go to a crowded place in this city and spend an hour-and-a-half observing and listening to the people around them. They then are to answer a number of questions in their five-minute oral report to the class. “What are people hungry for?” Where do you see truth and where do you see that which his not true?” Where is God’s Kingdom breaking out?” I’ve been impressed by their ability to see their own world with new eyes.
I’ve also had the opportunity to hear several of the students’ faith stories, and it is a great encouragement to hear how God has been at work and continues to guide them in their preparation for ministry. All of them will graduate in July and return to their home churches to serve. The greatest need of the Chinese Church today is theologically trained leaders. So, these graduates will be vital for the continued maturation of the church here.
Friday after class I joined two Chinese church leaders to drive about four hours north of Nanjing to a more rural area near the coast. The highway was not overly crowded, and I watched the sun go down over the fields and homes of farmers along the highway. Much of the rural land is being developed into high-rise apartments. It is dramatic how quickly the old is being torn down the new is being built.
We were greeted by several of the church leaders from Bin Hai, the area where I am preaching. They hosted a wonderful Chinese dinner for us around a large banquet table. The seat of honor is very important to the Chinese, so it’s interesting to watch the “dance” as they seek to give the honored seat to another. There are 166 churches in this county. There are only ten pastors in Bin Hai County, so each church leader (pastor, evangelist, or elder) has other church workers who carry on much of the work at each congregation. This area has a tradition of Presbyterian mission and one tenth of the population of this county is Christian. Each year 3,000-4,000 new believers are baptized in this county alone. Jiangsu province, where I am teaching, has 2,000,000 registered Christians and that population is increasing by about 5% each year. So, the church here is exploding.
This morning, Saturday, we had an early breakfast and then drove to a fairly newly built church building. It seats 5,000 and when we got to the church around 7:45, it was already packed. They have four worship services each weekend, Saturday and Sunday morning at 8AM and Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2 PM. They need these services in order that everyone who wants to come and worship is able to. By the time I began preaching, not only was every seat taken, but every possible space was full of folks sitting on the floor or standing and many were outside in the cold looking in the windows or doors or listening over the loud speaker. Altogether, I preached to about 7,000 people on a cold Saturday morning.
The pastor told me last night that my sermon should be an hour, so I had to make a number of additions. Looking out on that many faces, I wanted to focus on different people in each section, so that I could keep a personal touch. Most of the worshipers were taking notes. I would ask them questions about what I had just said, and they would roar back with a response. The hunger for God’s Word was palpable in that sanctuary.
After worship people flocked to me to ask me for laying on of hands and prayer. One woman has cancer. Another young man feels called ministry. A young mother brought her daughter for a prayer of blessing. Another mother asked me to pray for her high school senior son who will soon be taking the very competitive exam for university entrance. There were so many people, with so many needs. It seems very much like the New Testament Church. There are millions in China seeking Christ and the full life which Christ offers them.
We left that church and drove to a rural church which has also just built another huge sanctuary in the middle of fields. The local government gave them the land and the members have made offerings to build the building. The leader of that church has not yet been ordained, but is preaching to several thousand each weekend. We sat in a meeting room and they offered us fruit and hot tea, which was very welcome since there was no heat inside. We listened to the stories of these rural folks who are now living near the track for the high speed rail from Shanghai to Nanjing. Their faces told of hard work, but their eyes and smiles sparkled with the love of God.
What a joy to see the way God is at work in this varied land. What a privilege to experience the thirst of the Chinese people for the living water which only Christ can give. They say it is the golden age of the Church in China and certainly the Holy Spirit is at work here in tremendously exciting ways. The challenges are also great, but the Christians here seem ready to face the challenges and accept the opportunities.