Chongyi Church

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Communist officials have “arrested and jailed” Gu Yuese (Joseph), the pastor of the 10,000-member “Chongyi Church” in Hangzhou which is China’s first Christian “mega” church.

Police have reportedly sent Gu to a “black jail,” a detention facility outside of the country’s established “penal” system.

As a member of China’s “state-approved” Protestant denomination, the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” (TSPM), Gu was a pastor in “good standing” with the Communist Party until he began publicly “protesting” the government-sponsored campaign to “remove and demolish” crosses in the Zhejiang province in 2014.

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Though the pastor is ostensibly being held under charges of “embezzlement of funds,” Gu’s detention is actually “political revenge” for Gu’s disloyalty to the Chinese Communist Party’s religious policy” according to Bob Fu, president of the US-based Christian human rights group “China Aid.”

“In the past two weeks 18 crosses were removed and destroyed,” Fu said, adding that in total “at least 1,800 crosses of churches were demolished since the campaign started.”

Zhejiang, a province located in the south east of China, is home to many churches, particularly in the city of Wenzhou and Gu’s Chongyi Church is in the province’s capital city of Hangzhou.

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Fu called the arrest an “escalation” in China’s crackdown on Christians, which has mostly targeted “house” churches, saying that it sends a signal “to silence any potential future dissenting voices from within the church. It tells everyone to shut up.”

Gu and his wife, Zhou Lian Mei, who has also been taken “prisoner” and is being held in a separate facility, prepared a statement for members of their congregation, asking for “prayers” and urging members to stay “strong in the face of trials.”

Chongyi Church is experiencing “unprecedented, chilling trials,” they wrote. “Everyone must equally rely on the Lord’s grace to confront [this hardship] and triumph over it.”

The couple also wrote that the ordeal “will refine every impurity in our ministry team to the greatest extent and compel us to love the Lord and people more purely. People in Chongyi Church will worship the only true God!”

David Ro, international deputy director for East Asia of the Lausanne Movement, has suggested that the Communist Party’s “clampdown” on Christian churches may reflect a campaign to “indigenize” Christianity, removing traces of its “ties” with the West.

“Three-Self churches with huge buildings and highly visible red crosses appear to resemble Western cathedrals, in contrast to the less visible ‘indigenous’ house church Christianity which some officials may feel is more appropriate for China,” Ro wrote.

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Ro also cited “internal” politics as well as an “emerging leftist movement with nostalgia for Mao” among possible factors behind the “persecution.”

China’s “crusade” against the Christian cross has continued “unabated” since 2014 and reflects a particular “animus” toward the central symbol of the “Christian” faith.

“The authorities have attached great importance to this religious symbol,” said Zheng Leguo, a pastor from the Zhejiang province who now lives in the United States. “This means no more prominent manifestation of Christianity in the public sphere.”

Last October, the Chinese Communist party announced its intentions to “intensify” restrictions on Christian churches, following on a series of government measures meant to “intimidate” Chinese Christians, such as arbitrary “detention” of Christian clergy and the “closing” of churches.

According to a Reuters report, under President Xi Jinping, China is “conducting” the worst domestic crackdown on “human rights” in two decades and much of this is “against” Christians. Nearly 1,000 rights activists were “detained” last year alone—almost as many as in the previous two years combined.

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In late August, police “arrested” China’s most prominent Christian lawyer, Zhang Kai, who defended and gave “legal” counsel to a number of “Christian” churches throughout the country, especially against the government’s “cross-removal” campaign.

Zhang and his intern Liu Peng were “arrested” the night before he was to “meet” with US ambassador-at-large for “international religious freedom,” David Saperstein.

China’s increasing “hostility” toward Christianity may also reflect an awareness and growing “frustration” with the religion’s continued growth in the officially “atheist” nation.

Though the Chinese Communist Party is the largest “explicitly” atheist organization in the world, with 85 million official members, it is now “overshadowed” by an estimated 100 million Christians in China.

Christianity is “growing” so fast in China that some predict that it will be the most Christian nation in the world in only another 15 years. By far, the greatest growth is coming “outside” the official state-sanctioned churches, which are considered “subservient” to the Communist Party. Numbers are increasing mostly in unofficial Protestant “house churches” and in the “underground” Catholic church.

China began forcefully “demolishing” crosses from churches since 2014. Crucifixes being a prominent “Christian” sign, serve as an “integral” part of every church building across the “world” but due to China’s policies, religious freedom is in “danger” and Christians feel “unsafe, insecure and deprived” of their rights.

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Build a Church Without Walls

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January 2016 Update

Rolf arrived home safely but very tired on a cold, snowy, icy December 29th! Sherri was very grateful for her friend, Denise who drove her to the airport to pick him up! Rolf left Dalian and flew to Beijing and had lunch with a former student before finding out his connection to Chicago would be departing 2 hours late! Once he finally arrived in Chicago they sat on the runway for over an hour waiting for a gate. Next was the wait in line to go through customs. He has security clearance but the scanner could not read his fingerprint. He was told probably because he had sat on the runway too long and his fingertips became too dry! After being up for 24 hours he was so ready to be out of that airport and home! Denise and I were, too. We had sat in the cell phone parking lot for over 2 hours waiting!

After spending some time with family and friends catching up and enjoying some holiday time together New Year’s Day we got the sad news that Sherri’s brother, Art had passed away. He had battled with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for many years and in fact was declared in remission last February. But this past July it reoccurred only this time very aggressively and this time treatments did not work.

As Debbie, his wife and we grieve he will also be missed by many. He was an accomplished musician; music was his passion and his life. He had retired after 30 years as a music professor at the University of Florida, his music had taken him all over the world and he was highly esteemed for his talent and his caring for his family, students and friends. Please PRAY especially for Debbie that she will find comfort and peace in all the memories of their life together and in all those who care and love her.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” II Corinthians 1:3,4a.

In February we are taking off for 2 weeks on our annual trip to Florida. This time will be very different without Art there. In celebration of his life there will be a memorial musical tribute for him – something we are sure he would really like as a remembrance of him. We will also take some time to visit and stay with friends in Ocala and Bradenton. Please PRAY for safety and good weather driving there and back. This time of year weather can cause some undesirable driving conditions.

Rolf will leave to go back to China soon after we return from Florida, probably the next week. Exciting things have been happening there. God has been moving and stirring hearts! Rolf has 3 more lessons in his “Faith or Fiction” class and all 6 of those students have accepted Christ and are going to church with him. Fourteen more students from the classes he teaches for the school are seeking and or curious and also attending church. From that 14, four have already signed up for the next “Faith or Fiction” class. PRAY for protection for Rolf, and that God continues to move and we follow His lead.

We are humbled, grateful and thankful how God provides through his people. We couldn’t do it without you behind us and with us! You are loved and appreciated!!

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Cheap Grace and Gratitude

Cheap Grace and Gratitude 00Cheap Grace and Gratitude
by Jordan Ballor

We celebrate the “Thanksgiving” holiday this week in the United States, and it’s therefore an appropriate time to ponder the gifts we have been given and the “gratitude” we ought to have for them. It’s easy to do these things at this time of year, but it is also appropriate to note that we ought to think about the gifts of God’s grace throughout the year. That is, even as we acknowledge and are thankful for things this week, we should also come to a greater recognition of the divine origin of all good gifts all the time.

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Fallen (and perhaps particularly fallen and redeemed) human beings have a way of cheapening grace. The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer opened his classic work on Christian discipleship with an incisive analysis of what he called “cheap grace,” the idea that God’s saving work could simply be assumed and that it required no substantive response from or transformation of human beings. If Christ’s atoning work was infinitely sufficient to cover all of our sins, such thinking goes, why not go on sinning that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1)? Or at least, why worry so much about doing any good works, since they aren’t all that “good” in the first place, and aren’t the basis for our salvation in any case? As Bonhoeffer puts it, “Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs.”

Bonhoeffer had in mind what is often called special or saving grace in his indictment of cheap grace, and he had in mind the costliness of Christ’s sacrifice and the call to follow him. But there’s an analogous error when it comes to the gifts of common grace. If special grace involves the application of the atoning work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners, common grace involves the recognition of the gifts that are given to everyone regardless of righteousness or piety. In Matthew 5:45 we read that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Natural goods like sun and rain are examples of common grace, but as the Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper describes the idea, common grace also involves social and cultural realities, like the love of familial relationships, the goods and services provided by businesses, and justice and order protected and preserved by governments.

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For Bonhoeffer, Christians tend to view special “grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry.” Cheap common grace would likewise view these general gifts of God to humanity as the world’s “inexhaustible pantry.” Where do we find this view of common grace as cheap? There are some basic underlying assumptions that can help us to recognize cheap common grace.

For instance, when we simply assume that whatever goods and services we need will always be there, as if by magic rather than by the work of divine providence, we take God’s grace for granted. When we do not recognize that God provides the food we eat, the drinks we drink, the houses we live in, and the cars we drive through the service of other people, we take for granted the stunning graciousness of our entire existence. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” the psalmist declares (Ps. 24:1), and thus everything we have comes from him. He has deigned to include human beings in his general plan for provision, and this too is gracious. God could provide for our material needs directly through miraculous and mighty works. But instead he has set up a world in which we depend upon one another for meeting our material, emotional, and spiritual needs.

We see a posture toward common grace as cheap when we gratefully receive the gifts of today but cease to be thankful tomorrow. So often today’s privileges become tomorrow’s rights, and the gratuitous offerings we receive today become the entitlements of tomorrow. We also cheapen common grace when we unduly concern ourselves with these goods; when we worry about how we will be provided for, we detach the provision of these things we need from their divine source.

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How then, having recognized the natural human tendency to cheapen grace, can we combat it? There are at least three basic ways of addressing the cheapening of grace, whether special or common: “prayer, priorities, and thanksgiving.”First, as the Lord taught us to pray “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), we recognize that the bread we receive comes to us, by God’s gracious ordination, through the work and service of our neighbors. Second, as we are tempted to worry whether God will continue to provide for us in these ways, Christ instructs us to seek first of God “his kingdom and his righteousness” and then assures us that all these temporal things we need “will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). And finally, through prayer and the proper ordering of our priorities, we can truly be thankful for all that God has done for us, from creation and preservation to redemption and consummation.

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We can thus recognize that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (Jas. 1:17) and gratefully proclaim: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1).

The Price of Costly Grace
The Cost of Discipleship
Radical Integrity

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Year End Update 2015

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“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12

Another year of mission work is coming to a close. Providing God’s Word to the curious and eager to listen and learn people in China has been the cornerstone of our ministry since we started in 2002. We still remember how nervous Rolf felt the very first time he approached the X-ray scanner at the Beijing airport with four heavy boxes full of Bibles labeled “teaching material.” God graciously allowed us to get all the Bibles through that day, and on dozens subsequent occasions.

For the last two years Rolf has been able to teach in an affluent coastal city in the north of China. Even though the Chinese government keeps a close watch on churches, Christianity is flourishing and growing exponentially. We are so excited to be a part of that! Being blessed with a Christian school owner he has been able to use a classroom with video capabilities for his very powerful “Faith or Fiction” curriculum which has resulted in fifteen students coming to a personal relationship with Christ.

Since returning early October he has been able to reconnect with most of his disciples, joining them going to Church and resuming his ongoing fellowship. He also has started a new 12-week “Faith or Fiction” class with five new students. One is Bob the student Rolf started mentoring and one is a friend of Bob’s that Bob wanted to join with him. The class will be interrupted with Rolf’s return home the end of December when he needs to have his visa renewed. Pray there will be no red tape to get this new visa.

The desire for the lost in China to know Christ and His love for them has never left us, although over the years the methods for us achieving that goal have changed dramatically thanks to the Internet and social media. Today Rolf can communicate through various social apps with his students and the people he comes daily in contact with. It allows him to send God’s words and scripture in both, English and Chinese, thereby easing the language barrier.

Please consider prayerfully how you can help us to spread the love of Christ in China in this coming year. This is a team effort and we can’t do it without God’s provision through the prayers and support of many. At the end of the year, like many other ministries, the “provisions” are low and need to be replenished and we are trusting God will meet our needs.

Thank you for coming along side us. We praise God for you and are grateful beyond words.

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Underground Church

Underground Church 01

Last weekend was the “International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church,” an annual day to put special emphasis on “praying” for the persecuted Church.

Remembering the “persecuted” church around the globe should be a “continual” effort for all Christians. We need to continually “remind” ourselves that our brothers and sisters are “beaten, jailed, or even killed” for their faith.

One “group” in particular that we need to remember to pray for is the “underground church” in China.

In this brief video by Deidox Films, Li Yang provides a “glimpse” into an underground home church.

In this short addendum, Li Yang answers the question, “Is Christianity legal or illegal in China?”

He explains why the question is “difficult” to answer and how the Chinese government “protects” its Communist ideology from the perceived “threat” of Christianity.

Comment by Todd Johnson:

We as Americans have NO sense of what persecution truly is. We view it from afar, in videos and on the nightly news as something others endure as we live in our religious oasis. While we fight to retain the gift of religious freedoms granted in our constitutional republic, we can never forget that our ‘plight’ pales compared to those across the globe. How many of us would endure torture for Christ and not give up our fellow Christians?

Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me.”
I only pray that this crucible of persecution, which the Church and Christians are experiencing in China, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, is strengthening His disciples as the foundation for the growth there yet to come.

Each of us, safe in our church communities, must view minor challenges against faith as gifts, for our prideful demonstrations in our strength of faith, simply mask the weakness within and He knows we cannot endure more.

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October 2015 Update

Rolf made it safely back to China. Before going on to Dalian he spent 4 days in Beijing visiting friends and 2 of his former students. He is now finding his way around his new location in Dalian which he says is beautiful and he is getting acclimated to the new school.

He found an apartment online. The conversation telling Sherri about it went like this – Rolf: I have a room in an office. Sherri: What do you mean in an office? Rolf: It is a room in an office. There is a kitchen and a bathroom and 6 cubicles. Sherri: You have a kitchen and bathroom in your room? Rolf: No, I have a room in an office with a kitchen and a bathroom. Sherri: You mean the kitchen and the bathroom are in the office? Are they just for you? Rolf: No. Sherri: ????? So you are sharing the kitchen and the bathroom with the office? Rolf: Yes! Sherri: So you have to go through the office to get to the kitchen and bathroom? Rolf: Yes! Sherri: That’s awkward!! Rolf: I’m looking for a new apartment!

When he moved in to this place it was on a weekend when no one was working. A few days later Sherri got an email from him that said “No joking, it is pretty awkward to stomp through the office every time I come and go.” Shortly after that he found a new apartment through a former student. Now he has his privacy but unfortunately there is a frustratingly slow and weak Internet connection in this building. Video Skyping for us has been a “nightmare” as we are spending most of our time with constantly getting cut off and trying to reconnect again.

Also, the Chinese government blocks most all foreign websites. Rolf had a program to be able to circumvent “The Great Firewall of China” which now the government has blocked. PRAY he can find another program where he can get access to what he needs and not worry about being monitored.

But now moving on to the exciting news – Rolf is already mentoring one of his new students! Bob likes to dominate classroom discussions and Rolf thought he might find out what’s up with this guy and maybe get to know him better. So he invited him to breakfast. Rolf turned the conversation to spiritual matters and Bob said he knew his grandmother was a Christian but he didn’t know anything about what that meant. Rolf asked him if he would like to know more and Bob said “yes”. He gave him the book “An Anchor for the Soul” and suggested they meet to discuss it further to which Bob agreed. Now after a couple of meetings Bob comes with questions and interest to know more. Through this book and the discussions that follow PRAY Bob will understand and make a decision to follow Jesus.

Rolf went back to his old church and had a great reunion with 7 of the 9 students from his discipleship class from the old school. One of the students has since moved to Shanghai and is attending church there; the other was out of town. After they enjoyed catching up over lunch, happy to be together again!

We are so grateful that God protected us and has allowed Rolf to return to China to tell of Jesus’ love for them. And we are so grateful for YOU who make it possible to be there through your love, prayers and support. Thank you team!!

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September 2015 Update

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” Psalm 16:1
The date is set – September 28th Rolf returns to China. He will now be working at the Tiger Beach Academy in Dalian, about an hour away from where he was before. This is another school owned by the same owner of the school he worked at previously. Even though this will be in a different location he is somewhat nervous having Rolf return and has cautioned him to be “careful!”

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3
We thank God that there was nothing serious that came from what happened when Rolf handed out the VCD’s of the Jesus film last December. Although Rolf was not able to return until now, he was not expelled from China and the school did not get in any trouble. And we know God can make good out of any situation. We had a wonderful summer traveling, being with family and friends and just being able to spend time together. Even though it wasn’t pleasant Rolf ended up needing to have shoulder surgery and time to recover and rehab from it. And the last doctor report was very good. Rolf is recovering ahead of schedule and he said he could even (carefully) play golf again! He will need to continue doing exercises until the end of the year for a complete recovery. We are grateful.

And while he has been gone his students continue to go to church. In fact one boldly put a picture on a social network site of a group of his students leading worship at their church and wrote the following: “Without divine guidance in life, flourishing in the world, and following Jesus in this life will wash away my sins and cleanse my soul. You are my Lord, who took up the cross, and lead me for the rest of my life, my beloved. I don’t deviate from your side.” Praise God for changed lives and the privilege to be able to be a part of what He is doing in China! We are thankful for YOU being on this team with us!

“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:7,8
This would be our prayer that we always seek His guidance and counsel in all we do.

Please PRAY
For safe travel and good health
For boldness with caution – always seeking God’s direction first
Rolf become acclimated quickly to the new location and school
To establish good relationships with his new students
Open hearts to hear the Good News
Wisdom on when and where to start his discipleship class and which students to ask to join
For Sherri taking care of things at home
God’s provision for our dwindling finances

Please also continue to pray for Sherri’s brother, Art and his wife Debbie. He is doing a pretty aggressive chemo and it has been pretty rough. Pray for his strength to endure and healing.

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