One of the great joys of our ministry is the seminary that we were able to be a part of starting here in our city at the beginning of 2012. We currently are training over 160 house church leaders from all around China (roughly 16 different provinces). In the short time we’ve been blessed to conduct classes, we have been further blessed by a wide-ranging respect, a good reputation. Many Christians in China know about our seminary and think highly of it.
In addition we have had the support of the local church such that we are not dependent upon outside finances. About 97% of our classes are conducted in Chinese with only the occasional teacher needing translation into Chinese. All the text books, syllabi, and communication is conducted in Chinese. Students study for their MDiv or Bachelor’s under teachers who know the kinds of issues that face pastors in this context, and who are able to help the students grapple with the implications of the gospel in their native environment.
These are all tremendous blessings but one thing that often does not get publicized is the unspoken stories. The people who are impacted through our seminary who are NOT students is what I mean. Mostly through the constant presence of our staff, specifically our administrative staff, we are able to see God using our seminary in some unconventional ways. It’s wonderful to see students lives changed and their ministries enhanced through the training they receive but when we see God use our seminary in unexpected ways it is a special blessing. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Just last week I went in to talk to our administrative manager, Grace, and have lunch with one of the other pastors. As we prepared to have lunch our administrative manager took me and the other pastor aside to have a word with us. “The cook just prayed to receive Christ,” she told us. “She’d like you two pastors to pray for her.” This middle-aged woman, Mrs Tan, who had been making meals for our seminary instructors for over half a year, had just prayed a few days prior and wanted to talk to us. As we sat down for our lunch we began to ask questions. “I’ve seen the love you all have for one another. It’s different and I’d like to be part of it,” said Mrs Tan. She sat there and told us about her husband and her college aged daughter. Her daughter just came back from France where she studied and obtained her bachelor’s degree. She wanted to go on and study for a Master’s degree but had to come back because Mrs Tan could not afford tuition. Her husband was a classic dead beat husband who had a long history of cheating on Mrs Tan and abusing her. She want desperate and Jesus met her in her desperation.
Mrs Tan didn’t want money, or favors, she just wanted Jesus and his body, his church. “I don’t know much. I’m reading the bible but I don’t always understand,” she told us. Pastor Chen and I gave her some advice and prayed for her. She thanked us and than went back to work cleaning up the dishes from lunch. What a blessing to see God use our seminary in such an unexpected way.
Another similar thing occurred last year in a long-standing relationship we’ve had with the elderly landlady of our male student dorm. When we began to rent the dorm in 2012 we were nervous about telling the landlady, Mrs Zhang, that we wanted to use her apartment to house our male seminary students. Our administrative manager, Grace, and my wife tried explaining who we were and why we wanted the apartment without using the word “Christian” since we felt she might be unwilling to rent to us. After 15-20 minutes of trying to explain who we were the landlady still looked confused. Finally Grace blurted out, “we are Christians and we are training church leaders.” Mrs Zhang’s eyes opened up, “why didn’t you say so. Christians are good people. I’m sure the men will make good tenants.”
Later Mrs Zhang became ill and several of our administrative staff went to hospital to pray for her. She prayed to receive Christ and was baptized in hospital by one of the local house church pastors. When our administrative manager, Grace, told me about this I couldn’t help but smile and think about how God’s is doing something far beyond the ministry we have in the seminary classroom. This organic ministry of God using his people where they are, in these natural relationships brings to mind the early church. God’s people being used as salt and light to bless people they interact with on a daily basis, both educated and uneducated, both rich and poor, both the influential and those with little influence.
Please keep praying for our seminary, that God would use all of us, teachers, students, administrative staff and the cook and landlady, to lift up his name in this city.