Jim Wood, pastor at the Vineyard Church in Paxton, recently returned from a 10-day missions trip to China and has written the following article about his experiences there. Wood will also be sharing stories, photos and answering questions about his trip at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12, at the Vineyard Church. The event is free and open to anyone who is interested. For more information, contact Wood at 778-2858.
By JIMM WOOD
For the Paxton Record
China is a country of seemingly contradictory, coexisting values. Freedom vs. control. Hi-tech vs. primitive. Modern practices vs. ancient traditions.
Western culture — entertainment, fashion and autos — is readily embraced, while the principles that define the West are suppressed. The fact that I started writing this in a Starbucks coffee shop located less than a 10-minute walk from Tiananmen Square, the site of the infamous 1989 massacre, seems to reinforce this dissonance.
The Vineyard Church in Paxton is part of a partnership of churches that supports Christian missions in China. I, along with three other Vineyard Church pastors, spent 10 days in early September teaching, preaching and encouraging pastors and leaders throughout China.
While it’s technically not illegal to be a Christian in China, meeting in large groups to worship without permission from the government is. Enforcement of these laws varies from city to city and really depends on the favor the churches have with the local officials. Usually, if the church is deemed to be beneficial to the area, the local government doesn’t interfere too much. If there is little favor or if the officials see the church as a threat, then the government will make it difficult to meet or even persecute the church.
The majority of Chinese Christians meet in house churches. The name is descriptive more of an underground feel and practice rather than actual locations. Some of these churches do meet in homes and apartments, but there are many churches that are quite large and have full church facilities.
In one city, we spent two days with a group of 150-plus senior pastors who are part of a vast house church network. This network has an estimated 30,000 members who make up their churches. It was humbling to see their devotion and commitment to Jesus. They are full of excitement and eager to learn as a large percentage of them are first-generation Christians. It’s common for individuals to be forsaken by their friends and family when they begin to follow Christ. To become a Christian in China often means you literally give up everything you know to follow Jesus.
We met at one of their church facilities in a very rural area outside of one of China’s bigger cities. This again was a mix of co-existing values. The worship center was very modern, while the connecting yard had live chickens running around and very primitive restroom facilities. Our hosts transported us somewhat covertly from the city to the country every day and were very conscientious about getting us in and out of the facility very quickly so that we didn’t draw unwanted attention from the locals.
At the Vineyard Church, we believe that God is still in the business of doing miracles, and we love to pray for people. Sometimes we see him do amazing things! We call this the Kingdom of God breaking into the present. Often, Westerners have difficulty believing that God will supernaturally move, but in China, they have no supernatural hurdles to jump over. While we were there, we prayed for many people and saw many miraculous healings. Probably most memorable for me was when I prayed for one woman who was deaf in one ear and saw her regain full hearing in the formerly deaf ear!
In another city, we worked with an established church to help their music ministry grow in leading worship. This church of approximately 200 people meets in a very large office building. It is common for house churches to exist under the cover of a secular business. In this case, the business is a real entity that makes money, and the owner of the business is connected to the church. The church facilities, complete with a large worship space and many classrooms for children, are surrounded by the business offices.
One highlight of the trip and certainly a high-water mark in my life was that I had the privilege of preaching on a Sunday morning at this church. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in China preaching the Gospel. Truly a blessing and a memory I’ll hold forever.
The trip wouldn’t have been complete without getting to see some of the amazing sites that China has to offer — The Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum and the Forbidden City, just to name a few. In America, we get excited about buildings and documents that are a little more than 200 years old. Getting to stand next to and on structures that would be spectacular if they were built today, much less more than 2,000 years ago, certainly gives me perspective.
The fact that God continues to work in hearts all around the world makes me marvel. Knowing that he loves all people — regardless of nationality or geographic boundaries — with an unconditional, relentless kind of love makes me want to love like He loves even more.
I am grateful to have had yet another once-in-a-lifetime trip to China. As I sat in the Beijing airport, waiting to board my flight home, I had the overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t wait to get back here. I guess that’s a good sign.