May 2017 Update

We hear and read about persecution, arrests and churches and crosses being taken down by the Chinese government. When it comes to Christianity in China one can get very lost trying to figure it out. A lot depends on where you are with what is “allowed.” And what is now can change at any time.

China is officially an atheist government but it says it guarantees religious freedom; in practice religious activities are tightly controlled. All churches have to be approved by the state and authorities keep a close eye on their activities to contain their influence. The Communist Party once tried to destroy religion all together. It failed. There are estimates that today there are more Christians in China then Communist Party members – maybe close to 100 million (but there are over 1 billion people in China, so that means many lost souls that still haven’t heard!)  Because of the control of the government is why many choose to join “underground churches.” These unregistered churches of course pose a real threat to the control of the Communist party and therefore are not legal.

Rolf is now going to a fairly new, very large government sanctioned church that seats around 6,000 worshipers. It is a mixed congregation with a lot of younger people – although per the government they do have to be over 18 to attend. With his students translating for him it appears to be a pretty solid Bible teaching church. They have a contemporary type service with a choir and a band. After the service the people are invited to stay for another hour of singing and praising.

He was amazed and delighted when he saw and learned that every week the pastor asks first time attendees to come to the front. He prays over them and then asks if they want to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life. He then has them all immediately paired up with someone from the church to give them a Bible and to follow up. No messing around, he cuts right for the chase!!

Praise God all of Rolf’s “Faith or Fiction” class are now attending church! After church whoever is available will meet for lunch at a local restaurant where they can get to know each other better, ask questions and just enjoy each other’s company. Some weeks there are few and some weeks as many as 18 that will be able to join for lunch.

All is going well but what Rolf is doing is not “government sanctioned”!  He still must be a missionary disguised as a teacher so please continue to PRAY for safety and protection for him, the school and students. There are still far too many lost souls that have never even heard of the name of Jesus let alone who He is and what He has done for them.

“But thanks be to God! For through what Christ has done, he has triumphed over us so that now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Gospel like a sweet perfume”  II Corinthians 2:14.

 It is the ultimate high to see these Chinese come to faith and become brothers and sisters in Christ. We are so grateful you are on this journey and can share this joy with us!

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March 2017 Update

After a 14 hour flight and long evening wait in Beijing for his next flight Rolf finally arrived at midnight in Dalian, tired but safe. His wait in Beijing was made a little more enjoyable with Michael, a former student there to greet him with his wife and daughter and also to help him and his luggage get over to the faraway terminal for his plane to Dalian. It took the first week back to get acclimated to time and schedule but he is back and going strong.

He has a full teaching schedule this semester. On Monday through Thursday he has 4 afternoon classes teaching primarily young adults going for their English certification to obtain their MBA’s and PhD’s. Then on Tuesday and Thursday evenings he also has 2 adult business classes. When he is not teaching and preparing for his classes he spends a lot of time socializing and establishing relationships with the students usually over a meal.

“Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples”  I Chronicles16:23,24.

The “Faith or Fiction” class has already started with 18 students. Eight of the students are from his regular classes and 10 were recruited by his 2 leaders. His one leader that last semester was under house arrest for a few weeks is now back. She and Rolf had a long talk about the need for caution and the possible consequences not only for her, but for Rolf and the school if she is not more careful. PRAY for continued protection for him and his students and that God’s Word will continue to go forth and change lives.

On the home front: God is definitely working in our moving situation! Before Rolf left a couple put letters in mailboxes in our townhouse complex looking for those that might be interested in selling. Rolf contacted them and they are more than interested in buying ours! We love the couple, they would fit in perfectly with our friends, our neighbors here. Please keep PRAYING for where we will go. We are really counting on getting into the affordable senior apartments that are being built nearby. We are trusting God has that worked out for us also but PRAY we are doing our part to make it happen.

We get asked a lot when is Rolf going to stop going to China?  How can we stop when we see so many lives changed and coming to Christ!!  As long as God keeps that door open we will be there! It is such a privilege to get to do this and we hope you feel as privileged to be a part of this because without you on this team we couldn’t do it.

Thank you for partnering with us!

My home church in China.

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February 2017 Update

Time goes by quickly enough but it really seemed to fly by even faster with Rolf only home for 2 months!

We just returned from an enjoyable and restful 2 weeks in Florida – in spite of the fact when we left Sherri was being treated for bronchitis and then while there she had to visit Urgent Care with some breathing issues! We enjoyed some warm weather and the warm hospitality of Sherri’s sister-in-law in Gainesville and friends in Bradenton and The Villages. Sherri also met a friend in Ocala for their “annual lunch” date. The drive down and back was just like we like it – uneventful – no issues and no bad weather!! Thanks for your prayers!

Monday, January 27th Rolf will be returning to China. He will be starting a new 12 week “Faith or Fiction” class when he gets back. His leaders are now carefully recruiting new members. PRAY for God’s hand on those they recruit and for their hearts to be prepared for receiving God’s Good News!

It became apparent a while ago that in the future we would need to find more affordable housing. After thinking and praying and praying and thinking we realize the future has arrived. This has been a very difficult decision especially for Sherri. God had placed us in a very special neighborhood where neighbors have become friends that socialize and really care for each other. It has been a very safe and secure place for Sherri and of course that makes it hard to leave.

We were encouraged when we found that affordable senior apartments are being built practically in our backyard. They are scheduled to be completed February/March of 2018. We have already contacted the property managers and have our name down to be sent an application which we should expect sometime near the end of the year. Meanwhile we will be on the lookout for what else might be available. Please PRAY for the right move for us.

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:19

As long as we have been doing this it never gets easier to say goodbye. Rolf won’t be back home until June 29th. We cannot tell you enough how thankful and grateful we are for you to be on this journey with us. We could not do this without you. You are a blessing and pray God is blessing you in return.

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January 2017 Update

2016 is now in the history books and we wish you a New Year of immeasurable blessings and joy. Rolf arrived home on December 29th without incident – no flight delays, no bad weather and he has already applied for his visa to return. He needs to be back by March 1st to start his classes.

“Then He said to them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 NKJV

It has been an exciting year! Rolf finished up the last lesson of his “Faith or Fiction” class the Saturday before he left.  All 21 one of these students are now Christ followers and going to church! What great joy to look around on Sundays in church and see so many of his students there. Usually after he and some of them will get together and meet at a restaurant for lunch. It is very rewarding to be a part of what God is doing and to see how these classes have grown and how some of the students are now teaching and/or reaching out to others.

A little while before Rolf left he did get a “wake up call” and reminder of the caution needed when he got the news one of his student leaders was arrested and placed under house arrest. What was her crime – bringing children under 18 to church! He had to ask her to stay away for a while as a safety precaution for himself and the others. As we rejoice in what God is doing there we must be mindful that caution and awareness is necessary! PRAY for protection and safety for Rolf, his students and the school where he teaches and also holds his “Faith or Fiction” classes.

Sherri is glad to put 2016 behind her – at least the end of it. November brought on a lot of respiratory illnesses for many, Sherri ended up being no exception. After being treated for sinusitis and bronchitis and not getting better she ended up in the hospital for 4 days with pneumonia. Not the way she planned on celebrating Thanksgiving especially when it was to be at our house!  The family came and stayed anyway and when it was learned she wasn’t going to be released on Thanksgiving Day like thought without skipping a beat they just went back to our house, cooked the dinner, packed it up and brought it to the hospital for us to make a memory and enjoy dinner together in her hospital room!  We are so blessed and grateful for all the care and phone calls, texts, visits, gifts and meals she received during this time from our wonderful family, neighbors and friends.

We are heading to Florida for 2 weeks the beginning of February. We look forward every year to this time to spend with Sherri’s sister-in-law, Debbie and with various friends. As much as we look forward to our visit with Debbie it will be bittersweet with Sherri’s brother Art no longer being there too. PRAY for quality time and for safe travel as we travel by car at a time of year when weather could be unpredictable.

We couldn’t do this without your prayers and support. We need you and we are grateful and thankful that you team up with us to be a part of bringing the Light of Jesus to those living in darkness in China. The end of year giving did however fall short and we would ask you to prayerfully consider if there is any way you can help us in making up the deficit so we can continue unhindered this coming year.

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Year End Update 2016

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

Every November, after Thanksgiving but before the commotion of Christmas and New Year activities, we take time aside to pray and seek the Lord, to ask Him to speak to us about the direction of International Ambassadors for Christ for the next year. As we prayed and asked the Lord Jesus to reveal His direction we believe He wants us to persevere, and as the above verse says, “to let nothing move you.” Perseverance is a key to bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

The Bible reminds us: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9. Serving the Lord often is adventurous, but as we look back over the years we see how God brought much growth in our work as we kept on doing the challenging everyday tasks He called us to do.

Many of those we serve with in the neglected mission fields of China have also been called to stand and persevere in 2016. We write these words from the heart of Chinese people we have been meeting with, the various project leaders we have been teaching and praying with, and the exciting new strategies in the coming year to advance the gospel even more through the local Church. Because of your sacrificial giving, we were able to provide long-term assistance to local servants of God who were called to faithfully persevere as they continue carrying the light of the gospel into the hearts of unbelievers.

Many people there are under great pressure in various ways. Some struggling with converting from one religion to another. Others are feeling pressure from Islamic fundamentalism, as growing numbers of young Muslims are attracted to the warped ideologies of the ISIS death cult. Many Chinese Christians struggle to overcome the temptations and trappings of rampant materialism and consumerism, while retaining their passion for the Word of God.

We try to operate with as few overhead expenses as possible, so that resources get to the hands of the front line workers of God’s kingdom—the many Chinese Christians we are honored to assist and serve. We are thankful for each person who prayed for and supported our work last year. Without your vital partnership none of these things would be possible. Like many ministries, the “provisions” are low and need to be replenished and we are trusting God will meet all our needs.

It has been a great privilege to serve the Lord in China for another year, and we are blessed to be a link in a chain that has resulted in many people coming to know Him. As we end 2016, we want to thank you for your prayers, encouragement and support throughout the year. We pray the risen Jesus Christ will truly be part of the Christmas Season for you and your family. Next year we hope, by God’s grace, to continue serving the people in China and we not only invite you but need you to partner with us to see this happen. God bless you abundantly!

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Jesus Crucifixion

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This is the best “crucifixion” scene of Jesus, and the view count speaks for itself.

I could rattle off a heap of “quotes” about Jesus Christ to try and convince the world what he did for us, but the best we can do is let this video stir your “heart” and let the Holy Spirit speak to you where you are sitting and watching this, if you open your heart.

All I can say is you will never know the love and power of Jesus unless you seek him and search for him, then he will open the door and answer you.

When you get a “revelation” of him, then you will know that he is “your” Savior. Don’t wait till it’s too late.

You can “pray” right where you are and “talk” to him right now.

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Thirty Years in China

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Thirty Years in China; Four Observed Trends
By: Joann Pittman

Thirty years ago, I set off for what I thought would be a “one-year” teaching stint in China. Twenty-eight years later, I moved back to the States. Either I’m really bad at math or that was one very long year.

I worked in three different cities: Zhengzhou, Changchun, and Beijing. I wore many different hats: English teacher, Chinese language student, Chinese language program director, English teaching program director, cross-cultural trainer. I learned lots, and of course, made many mistakes.

I count myself privileged to have had a front row seat to watch China transform itself from a country on the brink of social and economic collapse to the world’s second largest economy.

My connections to China actually predate 1984, though. I grew up in Pakistan in the 1960s during a time when Pakistan was one of China’s only friends. My mom drove us to school every morning, and along the way we passed the Chinese Consulate, with its imposing portrait of Chairman Mao. As kids, we had a nickname for him, but it’s probably better left unspoken. It was from Pakistan that Henry Kissinger made his secret trip into China that laid the ground for Nixon’s visit in 1972. When I was in junior high school, there was even talk of a class trip to China; unfortunately the Chinese government. decided it was not in their interest to have a couple dozen American 8th graders roaming around their country.

My first actual visit to China came in 1979, the first year that China “opened up” to American tourists. I was doing a summer internship in Hong Kong, and when the opportunity to do a three-day tour to Guangzhou with a group of American college students came up, I took it. What I saw was a country unlike anything I had ever seen (and I had seen a couple dozen countries already). China was just three years out from the end of the Cultural Revolution, and the exhaustion and oppression was palpable. I remember thinking that if it continued to open-up, it might be interesting to work there someday. As I look back over three decades in China, these are some of the trends that I have witnessed.

1. Ration coupons to Wal-Mart
When I arrived in China, ration coupons were still in use. The political campaigns of the 60s and 70s had brought scarcity (and even famine), so essential foodstuffs were rationed: meat, flour, sugar, and eggs. As foreigners, we could not get the required ration coupons, which meant that we could not purchase any of those items. However, our school was given extra ration coupons so they could feed us. The ration coupons remained in use until the end of the 1980s.In China today, there is no shortage of food or consumer goods available to those with purchasing power. Every major city has a Wal-Mart or some other big box store with food and other items stacked floor to ceiling. Sometimes when I see older people wandering around in these stores, the ones who experienced the famines of the 60s, I wonder what they are thinking.

2. Isolated to Engaged
In the 1980s the world of a Chinese citizen was quite small, existing primarily of family and the work unit. It was difficult to travel within China, and almost impossible to travel outside of China. The students that I taught knew almost nothing of the outside world, and I was the first non-Chinese they had ever seen. I remember one of my students telling me that he had secretly learned English from VOA broadcasts while hiding under the bed. Today the nation of China is fully engaged on the world stage. Its economy is integrated with the global economy and China is seeking to establish itself as a major world power, a second superpower to act as a counterweight to the United States. Chines citizens are traveling and living and working abroad in record numbers as passports and visas are easier to get. In the 1980s I worked hard to explain what a “hamburger stand” was (it was a lesson in the textbook we used), but today kids often ask me if we have McDonald’s in America too.

3. Conformity to Self-expression
One of the enduring images in my mind of China in the 1980’s is the uniform drabness of it all. In addition to the sky and the buildings all being various shades of grey, everyone was still wearing the same dark blue or green “Mao suits” (Chinese call them Sun Yat-sen suits, by the way). Everyone dressed alike and thought alike. The political and social system had no room or tolerance for self-expression. Today, one only occasionally sees Mao suits worn by peasants or construction workers, and everything from fashion to architecture seems to scream out “LOOK AT ME!” The post-90s generation is all about individual self-expression and their own (as opposed to state-mandated) social connections.

4. The Church: Hidden to Visible
In the 1980s the church was in survival mode, having just come through the Cultural Revolution during which religions were banished from Chinese society. Churches were slowly beginning to reopen and pastors were being let out of prison and back into their pulpits. By and large, the church was invisible to society around it. Throughout the 90s and 2000s the church moved into the shadows it was visible, but not very. As it became more visible, it found ways to serve the needs of society. And today, there is even the beginning of a sending movement, with missionaries leaving China to go to other countries. To go from survival to sending in the space of 30 years is an amazing testament of God’s grace and the power of the gospel.

It will be interesting to watch what happens in China over the next thirty years. To quote Rob Gifford, author of China Road: Journey into the Future of a Rising Power, “the next thirty years cannot and will not be like the last thirty years.”

See my personal blog “Outside In” for more China stories.

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Joann Pittman is Senior Vice President of ChinaSource. She is the editor of ZGBriefs and Chinese Church Voices, as well as a regular contributor to ChinaSource publications. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and most recently, cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has previously taught Chinese at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN), and is currently a guest instructor at Wheaton College and Taylor University (IN), teaching Chinese culture and communication. Joann has a BA in social sciences from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN), and an MA in teaching from the University of St. Thomas (MN). She is the author of Survival Chinese Lessons, published by Dawson Media. Her personal blog, “Outside-In” can be found at joannpittman.com, where she writes on China and issues related to “living well where you don’t belong.” You can find her on Twitter @jkpittman.com.

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