Without cross-cultural relationships, following Jesus is more difficult. After spending close to three weeks in China over the course of three months, what I found is that it is hard to see how Jesus has saved me in my culture until I see how Jesus has saved people in other cultures. Working with our global partner, the China Partnership, has made following Jesus easier for me. There are many reasons this is true, some shallow, some profound.
First, the shallow.
Eating Chinese food makes it easier to believe in God. I am not joking. Most of my time spent in China was in the Yunnan province, in the city of Kunming, which is famous for two things: its rice noodles and tea (called Pu’er Tea). It was amazing to see what the people of China could do with rice, grinding it into flour and mixing it with water to produce a noodle. A noodle so good I ate it three times a day and still craved more.
Experiencing the food and drink in China was a reminder of the creative capacity human beings have, all of us made in the image of God. It may sound shallow, but eating with my brothers and sisters in China strengthened my faith. It is much easier to follow Jesus when you have cross-cultural relationships.
Food is one reason; here is another.
In my two trips to China, I was lucky enough to be able to worship in a house church. I use the word “lucky” intentionally. Most house churches do not open their doors to westerners for fear of persecution. Having a white person attend church attracts the attention of the government, so typically westerners do not visit house churches.
This does not mean fear of persecution is not still present. It is. My church hosts asked that I wear a hat as I walked into church because there was a government building with cameras that I would walk by as I entered the church. (I was not confident that a hat alone would disguise this 6’1”, thick-bearded white man from attention, but I went with it.) And when I entered that church and spoke with my Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ, one thing became clear.
They knew the price they may have to pay to follow Jesus.
What they were doing, worshiping in an unregistered church, is still illegal in China. Yet, they opened the windows to this church and sang loud enough for anyone to hear on the street. They are committed to multiplying and planting more churches. Watching these Christians follow Jesus made me want to follow Jesus. This is interesting because, in 1949, many people in the West thought the future of the Church in China was over.
In 1949, the Communist party expelled all Western missionaries and cracked down on Christianity, which made many lament the future of the Church in China. Instead, what happened is that Chinese leaders were now able to lead the church in China, and despite persecution and intense opposition from the Chinese government, the Church has exploded in growth.
What God has done is amazing. In May I attended a conference with 3,500 Chinese Christians, listened to Chinese pastors preach the gospel, and found my faith strengthened. After two trips to China, and working with the China Partnership and its leaders, I believe more than ever in our mission as a church, and our call as individual Christians to obey the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I had always thought Jesus commanded us to take the gospel into all the world because the world needs the gospel. This is certainly true, but something else is true here. Jesus commands us to take the gospel into all the world also because we need the world.
When the Scriptures talk about heaven, it always speaks of heaven as a place of all tribes, all tongues, all nations. Because God created those cultures, those people, they are made in His image and are good. And if we are going to be the Church Jesus wants us to be, we need those cultures. If you do not believe that with all your heart, you have clearly never eaten rice noodles in Yunnan.
Learning from Chinese Christians has produced at least one change in me. A change I hope these words produce in you.
Because of my time in China, I pray with more confidence in what God can do.
Government power and cultural rejection cannot snuff out the Spirit of God at work in His world. Chinese Christians are proof of this. God does not need earthly power to further His mission, which is why the Chinese Church prays with such faith. And, if you ask the Chinese Church what we in the West can do to partner with them, the first answer they give is pray for us.
That feels like the best place to end. Stop reading right now, and go pray. Pray with China in mind, with the story of what God has done there, what He has accomplished in growing His Church despite persecution, threats, and cultural pressure. Pray with confidence like our brothers and sisters in China.