China and the Gospel

This summer, I went to China to do evangelism on a university campus with a group of college students from the Great Lakes region. For six weeks, I was immersed into a culture entirely different from anything I had ever experienced. The smells, food, cleanliness standards, language, and tremendous number of people reminded me daily that I was no longer living in the comfort of West Michigan. These things made the time spent a memorable experience. However, it was the people, the conversations, and the religious life I saw that clearly engrained those six weeks into my mind in a way I pray I never forget.
To say living in China is a different experience from living in America would be an understatement. The first days of my journal record some of the surprising things, and I could go on for a while about the many differences. Sure, there may have been hair on the plate, it may have taken me three weeks to walk on the carpet with bare feet, and I will spare the details on the state of the toilets. In my opinion, the tofu I ate was awful, but the black fungus was just fine. I also got used to being in physical contact with strangers everywhere I went because personal space does not exist in China. It was a relief, though, to land in an airport and find soap in a public bathroom for the first time in weeks.
If that was all I told, it would not touch on what this experience meant to me as a member of the family of God and the body of Christ. God showed me glimpses of the story of his redemptive work in China. In that story, I saw the fruit of the work of missions and of God bringing the Chinese to know and understand the truth and embrace Christianity, not as a western religion, but truly as a part of themselves. I met believers living in China who told their stories of coming to faith and explained the work they were now doing to spread the gospel. I attended a worship service in Mandarin Chinese and watched brothers and sisters praise my God. I could not understand, but God could. I saw a beautiful church network through the country, specifically when someone helped connect my friend, a returning Chinese international student who was a new believer, to a faithful underground church in another city.
Through the beauty of this, I also saw brokenness and hardship. I saw the cost of the gospel going out to the nations. I saw Chinese believers count the cost and take up their crosses to follow Jesus. The believers I met also told of the rejection they receive from their families and the security measures they take for safety. The house church I attended was shut down by the government two months after I attended; now the hundreds of members who attended the various services on Sunday are harassed by the police and told they must recant their faith. The beautifully connected church stays connected for strength and encouragement as they are again being forced “underground” by tightening restrictions. My heart breaks for my friend, only a baby in the faith, as he tries to grow spiritually in a desert land.
It took only one week of being in China to learn these things and change my perspective on China and the world; over the next four, I experienced more personally the effects of a world with no gospel. We spent four weeks in a city in western China, where many Tibetan and Muslim students attend university. Even as I write, my stomach turns at the memories of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery compound we visited. They were places so full of spiritual darkness that it affected us physically. The chanting got louder, the smell of incense and altars got stronger, and the idols got bigger. We wept as we watched thousands of men, women, and children give themselves over to a lifetime of meaninglessness, a lifetime of trying to earn merit they could never earn. Nearly none of these people had ever heard the gospel or more than that Christianity is only a western religion.
As we spent time with Hui Muslims, Buddhist Tibetans, and atheistic Han Chinese, our hearts grew in love for them and simultaneously broke because of the emptiness for which they live. Our love motivated us to say with Paul, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1). Our love and desire motivated us to put all our effort into taking conversations deeper and turning the discussion towards God and his gospel. God blessed us with their friendships, indications of curiosity about the Bible, and the knowledge that we were faithful witnesses in the place God put us this summer. Many of our new friends will leave college having heard the name of Jesus. For the part we played, God says it is enough. We can plant the seeds, but God will give the increase where he will.
In a few short weeks, God showed me things about his story than I never could have learned here in the United States. I saw the beauty of the gospel spreading through China. I saw that beauty mixed with pain as the devil and the wicked world oppose God with everything they have and are. Clearly, God is redeeming his people in China, and he allowed me to glimpse what that looks like. God gave me the opportunity to be a faithful and obedient witness amidst a wicked world by sending me to China for a time. I was not to be their savior, but his instrument. I was constantly reminded of this verse from Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.”