Over the past several weeks I have witnessed some of the most intense pressure I have ever personally been a part of in my entire 35 years of being a Christian. On May 12 Early Rain Covenant Church, a church I have worked with closely for the past 8 years since arriving in Chengdu, planned to hold a worship service commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan that claimed the lives or approximately 70,000 people. Scores of others were never found.
This event shaped the consciousness of the community I live in here in Chengdu. The Christian community was an integral part of the relief efforts 10 years ago and originally the local authorities had promised to allow a joint Easter worship service the following year. That service never happened.
On May 12, 2018 my friend and colleague Wang Yi had intended to gather with his congregation to remember this event and pray for the nation. Instead, on the morning of May 12, outside the office building where the church meets, two large buses pulled up and hauled 200 people away and detained many for the better part of the day.
The New York Times, the US Consulate in Chengdu and countless netizens were sending messages out commenting and condemning this action. Those among whom I minister and serve with were praying and sending out requests for others to pray with us.
I was outside the country at the time, worrying about my friend Wang Yi, his wife and his son. We heard news from her from time to time and after some time he was released. Some of the brothers and sisters in the church in the church were physically roughed up a bit but most of the 200 returned home without bruises.
I reflected on the church in my country, America. What does it say when a church is willing to be, at the very least, inconvenienced and at the most, beaten up for their faith. It says a lot. I came here to teach theology, help start a seminary that now serves over 20 provinces and administrative zones in China, help the church develop governance and order but I have learned a great deal from my colleagues and friends like Wang Yi. They are far from perfect and we do them no favor to romanticize their lives and their struggles. Church life here is messy but if I had to choose between a messy church that is growing and full of life in the Spirit and a church that looks like a polished, well-oiled machine but is stagnant and void of the Spirit, I’ll choose the former any day of the week.