Serving a New Generation

Serving a New Generation
By Brent Fulton ⋅ Dec 27, 2017 ⋅ Topic: Serving  From the series Looking Back

Over the past few months we’ve been looking back at the 20 years since “ChinaSource” was founded. This trip down memory lane has reminded us how transformational these two decades have been for China. Urbanization, steady economic growth, the emergence of a middle class, and major advances in education, health, and infrastructure have accomplished in 20 years what has taken other nations 100 years or more.

This period has been transformational for China’s church as well. When “ChinaSource was launched, it was to serve primarily Western organizations as they sought ways to advance the gospel in China. For many this involved providing basic theological training for rural church leaders or serving in newly opened seminaries under the China Christian Council. Others taught English or other subjects on university campuses or sent development workers to ethnic minority areas where there were no known Christians.

In the decades since, a new generation of believers has emerged. Children of the rural church leaders who were some of the first recipients of training from outside have grown up and made their way to China’s cities. There they are serving as a bridge, planting new kinds of churches while still keeping one foot in the countryside. Curious students who came to Christ while in college have gone on to launch their careers, start families, and participate in starting fellowships that have developed into independent urban churches. New Christians from minority areas are now being mobilized to reach other ethnic groups with the gospel. Meanwhile, believers from both urban and rural backgrounds are joining hands to prepare and send missionaries from China to the nations.

Those who have been privileged to serve during these transformational decades can only marvel at God’s miraculous work in China. In many ways China is a different place, and the church we now serve is different as well.

The challenge going forward—“for ChinaSource and for hundreds of other organizations engaged in China“—is to rethink what it means to serve in this new era. China’s church is better resourced, has more opportunities, and is well positioned for influence in ways that couldn’t even have been imagined 20 years ago. Chinese believers are going global as they engage more routinely with organizations and institutions overseas. It is not uncommon to find Christians from China appearing in leadership positions in these international entities.

Serving remains a core value of “ChinaSource“, and we continue to strive to help others find ways to serve effectively in China. But, whatever role one plays, serving today must mean serving with the church in China. China’s Christians are the ones who are at the forefront of new approaches and new opportunities. Serving today means coming alongside this generation in a mutually supportive way. The challenge for the future is learning together how God will use his global church to further his transformational mission in and through China.

This is the final piece in the “Looking Back” series that we began in September to commemorate the 20th anniversary of “ChinaSource.” You can read the entire series here.

Brent Fulton
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of… View Full Bio


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Holding Up Half the Church

Holding Up Half the Church
By Joann Pittman ⋅ Dec 20, 2017 ⋅ Topic: Church Life

Quite a few of my friends in China are women serving in the church, either at the pastoral or lay leadership level. I remember asking a couple of them once what they thought was the percentage of women who served as pastors in China. Both answered “more than 50%.”

While it is only anecdotal, it does speak to a reality of the church in China today. No matter what one’s position is on the issue of women in church leadership, it is vital that those wanting to serve the church in China understand this reality and grapple with the issues surrounding it.

In this post, I would like to highlight some recent (and not-so-recent) articles on this important topic.

Christianity Today published an excellent article about the challenges faced by wives of pastors in China’s house churches. Highlighting some of those challenges, the author writes,

When Westerners think of these “house churches,” they often assume the biggest challenge is the political environment. While the legal issues surrounding the unregistered church are often tense and at times overwhelming, the ministry struggles are much more mundane and common. Like small church pastors in the States, Chinese pastors and their families experience significant pressure as they lead often-underfunded and understaffed churches.

A lot of that pressure is borne by the wives. The social, spiritual, and even physical struggles expressed by Chinese women are both familiar and foreign to their Western sisters.

As recent articles have highlighted, they face common challenges surrounding singlenesssuccessmarital infidelitydomestic abuse, and parenting. They also face issues particular to their context, including the former one-child policy and matters of filial piety.

Arguably, however, the challenge most often identified as an impediment to ministry and family life is the Chinese work ethic.

For Chinese pastors’ wives, it’s a quiet, subtle struggle that pervades family life. These women in ministry face spiritual difficulty not in dramatic showdowns with the government but rather in the same daily struggle to live according to God’s grace that most believers face around the world.

She goes on to the importance of ministering to the needs of not only pastor’s wives, but of Chinese women in general.

In the March 2011 edition of the ChinaSource Quarterly, we published a translation of an article from “ChurchChina” that took a look at the general problem of gender imbalance in Chinese urban churches. The author notes that

“today, the ratio of men to women in churches in China is often about 1:2. Sometimes it is even worse—one man for every three to five women. When these numbers are compared to the usual ratio of men to women in Chinese society, we see a stark and serious contrast.”

It is a long article, but worth reading for a deeper understanding of this important issue in the church in China.

In 2013, in our “Chinese Church Voices” column, we published a translation of an article in the mainland site Gospel Times about a “Pastor Mom.”  It is an interview with one of the pastors of the Beijing Gangwashi Church.[1]

In the Chinese church, there are more female believers than male believers. There are also more female students than male students in the seminaries, more female preachers than male preachers, and even more female senior pastors than male senior pastors. But have these female pastors in China who hold up half the sky received enough attention? And are people aware of the unique difficulties of being pastor, mother, and wife? Are they carrying a particularly heavy burden? And is the burden they are bearing too much?

Turning to the perspective of missionaries, Jackson Wu has been considering the role of women in missions in a series of three posts that he published on his blog at Patheos. Although the issues he touches on are broad and relevant to any mission field, he writes primarily from the perspective of China.

In the first post, ”Why Do We Have Missionary Wives But Not Missionary Husbands?”, Wu notes that many sending organizations place the same expectations on women as on men, in terms of ministry work, but often do not include them in conferences or exclude them from leadership positions. “These habits of speech,” he writes, “are indicative of a deeply rooted problem. Words matter. Organizations send a mixed message about women’s roles in missions ministry.”

He also highlights the conundrum for complementarians serving in China, where, as we have noted above, a disproportionate number of churches, both registered and unregistered, are led by women.

In his second and third posts on the subject, he compares the minimalist vs. maximalist interpretations of Scriptural injunctions against women serving as “teachers,” showing how and why a minimalist approach is applied at the seminary where he teaches in China:

“Since I take a take a minimalist view of the text, I have no problems teaching women in the seminary even though I don’t think the text endorses women pastors. One of the major misspeaks around occurs when people ask whether you affirm “women in ministry.” Of course, we should! However, “women in ministry” is far broader than saying “women in the pastorate.”

With respect of female pastors, our seminary is complementarian but welcomes female church leaders for two reasons.

First, we would rather train them than they not have sound teaching. We at least want their churches to flourish, even if we disagree about this one issue. Second, you can’t persuade those with whom you don’t teach or have a relationship.

Chairman Mao famously said that “women hold up half the sky.” They certainly make up more than half the church in China. How are we preparing ourselves and our people to work in this environment? It is a question the sending community needs to grapple with.

^ The church I attended when I lived in Beijing.
Image credit: Jacek Sniecikowski via Flickr.

Joann Pittman
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,… View Full Bio

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January 2018 Update

January is National “Thank You” month. We are thankful for your prayers, encouragements, emails, phone calls, notes, cards, text messages and generosity responding to our year end ask. You gave sacrificial and we are humbled and grateful to continue taking His message of hope to those who need to hear and receive His saving grace.

This is also the special time of the year between the western New Year on January 1 and the Chinese New Year which begins this year on February 16. For China this is a new era with leader Xi Jinping having laid out an aggressive set of goals and plans for “China 2050.” This is a new era where China is increasingly playing a global role in almost every area of activity.

China is embracing “mega-projects” at an unprecedented rate and will – over the course of a few decades – complete a phase of infrastructure that will rival what the United States has built in its entire history. We encourage you to watch the fascinating 22 minute video.

This is also a new era where the Party seeks to lead all segments of society. In summing up the speeches and policies of Chinese leader Xi Jinping over the past five years, a former Politburo member Wang Qishan pointed to one line from Xi’s speeches that has been recently added to the Party’s charter: “the Party, government, military, society, education, north, south, east, west—the Party leads everything.”

For us, this is the start of sixteen years of ministry in China. In 2017 we spent time praying and celebrating all that God has done in China and how he used us to play a part in supporting the efforts of our team members to reach thousands of people making the decision to follow Christ. We spent time reflecting on the changes in China, for the church in China and the lives of Chinese Christians.

We challenged ourselves to think about these changes and how we can continue to serve those mentoring in the local churches. In China this will be a year with great uncertainty for the church as new religious regulations are set to go into effect February 2018.  We want to continue to provide support that will enable our teams to work effectively for the unchurched and with Christians in China.

This will also be a year of transition and growth. We are developing and training additional leadership staff to help with operations, growth, and change. We have a unique ministry role to expand our work to keep up with the challenges and opportunities presented to us in China.

We want to thank each of our ministry friends, prayer partners and supporters for your journey with us into this new era of service to a growing and changing China.

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New Religion Regulations

New Religion Regulations to Take Effect in February
By Brent Fulton ⋅ Sep 13, 2017 ⋅ Topic: Church and State

The long-awaited revision of the draft religion regulations circulated last September was signed into law last month and will take effect February 1, 2018.

Last autumn’s draft evoked a groundswell of concern among Christians in China, many of whom had hoped the government would provide a path toward legal status for China’s unregistered churches. The final version retains the harsh language targeting unregistered religious activities, unofficial religious schools, unauthorized religious instruction, and religious believers going abroad for training, conferences, or other activities. In keeping with the times, the regulations require that religious information services on the Internet be registered with the religious affairs department at the provincial level or above.

An English translation of the regulations is available on the China Law Translate web site.

The new religion regulations are sweeping in scope and, if fully enforced, could mean major changes for China’s unregistered church, not only in its worship and meeting practices, but also engagement in areas such as Christian education, media, and interaction with the global church. Yet the nature of these activities and, indeed, of much religious practice throughout China, makes enforcement extremely problematic.

As Gareth Fisher pointed out in his 2014 study of lay Buddhist practices taking place in the courtyard of a prominent temple in Beijing,[1] much of China’s religious life occurs on “islands of religiosity” within the contested gray area between official and unofficial practices. How to define what constitutes “religious activity,” “religious sites,” or “religious content” depends ultimately on the subjective definition of officials charged with enforcing the regulations.

Whether officials at the local level will want to enforce the regulations is another question altogether. In recent years the most common way for local police to keep tabs on leaders of unregistered Christian groups has been by meeting regularly to “drink tea,” an arrangement that has served both parties well. Recently an unregistered church pastor told of a conversation in which a local policeman criticized the new regulations, complaining they would disrupt the cordial relationship they had enjoyed up until now.

Regulating China’s religious life using the myriad provisions contained in the new regulations seems a bit like trying to nail the proverbial Jell-O to the wall.

Having more nails in the toolkit does not make the task any easier.

^ Gareth Fisher, From Comrades to Bodhisattvas: Moral Dimensions of Lay Buddhist Practice in Contemporary China (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2014).

Image credit: P1020506 by Will Clayton via Flickr.

Brent Fulton
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of… View Full Bio

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Linfen Church Demolition

The Linfen Church Demolition
What We Know and What We Don’t Know
By Joann Pittman ⋅ Jan 15, 2018 ⋅ Topic: Church and State

Security officials demolished the Jindeng Tai Church building in the coal-mining city of Linfen, Shanxi province. It didn’t take long for the news and shocking pictures of the destruction to make its way into the news worldwide.

The Guardian posted a video of the demolition:

Here are some things we know and don’t know about the church and the incident.

What We Know

The name of the church that was demolished is Jindeng Tai (金灯台), which translates “Golden Lampstand.” It is an unregistered church, which means that it is not affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the China Christian Council. Being unregistered means that it has no legal status, even though it claims to have 50,000 members, or followers. It is led by husband/wife pastors Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli, who started the church in 1992.

This is not the first time the church has had a run-in with the authorities. Andrew Kaiser, in his book about the history of Christian missions in China, The Rushing on of the Purposes of God, writes:

“In the post-Olympic years, however, state resistance to the increasingly vocal and confident Christian community became more and more common.  The September 2009 detention and imprisonment of several pastors at Fushan and Golden Lampstand (Jin Dengtai) churches from the unregistered Linfen Church garnered international attention. The violence of the confrontations, with supposedly hundreds of thugs representing the security forces beating worshipers and destroying property at both sites, was particularly egregious. Nevertheless, the buildings had not received construction approval and the fifty-thousand member church was not legally registered, and so with little or no due process the church leaders received long sentences. (p. 251)”

Local authorities claim that demolition is part of a campaign against “illegal buildings,” and that the church never secured the necessary permits to build.

What We Don’t Know

We don’t know what triggered the incident at this time. Campaigns against illegal structures are common in China so it is certainly possible that this church and its building are caught up in that.

It is also possible that, given the tighter religious regulations that are scheduled to go into effect on February 1, officials (illegal structure campaign or not) felt emboldened to go after the church. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both.

While this may not be a popular thing to say, we probably won’t know which of those two contexts and factors is the main driver of this incident. I suspect it is a combination of both.

At “ChinaSource” we will continue to monitor the situation in China as these new regulations begin to take effect, and pray for our brothers and sisters there who face an increasingly tight environment.

Image credit: Screen shot of the video published by The Guardian supplied by ChinaAid.

Joann Pittman
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,… View Full Bio

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China’s Forced Abortions

Forced Abortions Continue in China Under “Two-Child Policy.”’

The Congressional Executive Commission on China has released its 2017 Report, which contains documentation of continued “forced abortion” under China’s Two-Child Policy.

“Chinese authorities continue to actively promote and implement coercive population planning policies that violate international standards,” the Congressional Report declares in its section titled “Population Control.”

The two-child policy regulations “include provisions that require couples to be married to have children and limit them to bearing two children,” with coercive population control at the heart of enforcement of the new regulations, it states.

“Officials continue to enforce compliance with population planning targets using methods including heavy fines, job termination, arbitrary detention, and coerced abortion,” the report states.

Some provincial-level Chinese population planning rules continue to explicitly instruct officials to carry out abortions, often referred to as “remedial measure” for “out-of-plan” illegal pregnancies, with some provinces urging functionaries to “use all means necessary” in enforcing the regulations.

When China announced that it was “abandoning” its draconian one-child policy in 2015, the claim was met with skepticism among critics, who contended that the move substantially changed nothing, since the communist government still asserts “absolute control” over families and will continue to “enforce” its will with coercion.

Critics such as Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, have said that the new Congressional Report vindicates their warnings at the time. Littlejohn told Breitbart News: “Under the Two-Child Policy, single women are still forcibly aborted, as are third children.”

Back in 2015, Littlejohn remarked that any mention of human rights was “noticeably absent” from the Communist party’s announcement. “Even though it will now allow all couples to have a second child, China has not promised to end forced abortion, forced sterilization, or forced contraception, she said.

The news media at the time bought into the story that China had “abandoned” or “scrapped” its One-Child Policy, a depiction that Littlejohn called “demonstrably false.”

The new report also states that the sex ratio at birth reported by the Chinese government themselves indicates that the selective abortion of “baby girls” continues unabated under the new policy.

Although Chinese authorities continue to officially frown on sex-selective abortion, “some people reportedly continue the practice in response to government imposed birth limits and in keeping with a traditional cultural preference for sons,” the report declares.

According to a National Bureau of Statistics Report, the sex ratio at birth in 2015 was 113.5 males born for every 100 females born, a disproportion that could only be achieved through “sex-selective” abortion.

Years of such sex-selective “favoring” of boys has resulted in an estimated 33 to 37 million more males living in China than females.

This imbalance is fueling sex trafficking from multiple nations into China “for forced marriage or commercial sexual exploitation” to help fill the gender gap.

“China’s Two-Child Policy continues the human rights abuses and gender-based violence of the One-Child Policy,” Littlejohn stated, while noting that “China remains firmly on the path to demographic disaster” due to its dangerously low birthrate.

China “should be offering incentives for couples to have babies, not forcibly aborting ‘illegal’ pregnancies,” Littlejohn added.

Chinese Mother Forced Into Abortion
Stop Forced Abortion! An Open Letter to Xi and Obama
The Consequences of Forced Abortions
Corpse Brides, Forced Abortions

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Year of the Fire Dog

A word of advice to progressives: when you see angels with trumpets…do not think “apocalypse.” Rather think “Hallelujah.”

It is , after all, the year of the TRUMP-et.

2018 is also the “Year of the Dog” in the Chinese New Year which begins on February. And guess who is a big “fire” Dog: Donald Trump! And that’s a good thing.

Chinese play tribute to The Donald in the Year of the Dog with this giant statue

Born in 1946, Donald Trump was born in the year of the Dog—the “Fire Dog” to be specific—according to the Chinese horoscope.

It is believed that the “Fire Dog” is naturally charismatic and easily attracts attention.

Ya’ think?

At the beginning of 2017 Chinese astrologers reading President Trump’s “Rooster Year Four Pillars” chart determined him to be an Earth person and predicted that he would be doing things differently.

As the Rooster carries a metal element which represents expression and creativity they also predicted that Trump, being an Earth persona, might have a year of “sharp” words.

Again, ya’ think?

As far as 2018 goes, the anniversary year of an individual’s “birth” sign is said to bring good “fortune so I predict a whole lot more WINNING! for Donald Trump and America.

All I can say is “Hallelujah!” And have a “blessed” Happy New Year.

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