A view from China: part IV (guest post)

Having read my book review of ‘Knowing our Times’, an individual picked up on the comment, ‘John contrasts this with the phenomenal growth of the gospel around the world in places such as China’. What follows is the fourth and final guest post by an individual based in that country. You can read Part I here, Part II here and Part III here.

Mr Zhu was a friend of my father in law; they had been at school together. He was about 5 years away from retirement, spoke fluent Japanese as a second language and worked in an off-road equipment sales company but had just been made redundant.

Mr Zhu had an unhappy situation at home with his wife, who had a stable job but low income. Suddenly, just 5 years from retirement, his redundancy came as a big financial and emotional shock. It would mean he would be ‘second’ to his wife in terms of earning power and he felt extremely uneasy about it. There would be no easy retirement and he was forced to search round for odd jobs to maintain the family lifestyle.

My father-in-law heard about his plight and invited him to come to church. In total, Mr Zhu came for just over a year. He was reasonably quiet and never said much. Nor did he ever engage a great deal with the sermons or many of the people at the church. Nonetheless, he always seemed to be listening intently. Culturally, due to the age gap, I never felt able to approach him and have deep conversations about his spiritual state. I left that role to my father-in-law who, I believed, discharged his responsibility honourably.

One month, it appeared Mr Zhu had stopped coming. This was around the same time as a middle-aged female member from church had also withdrawn. After a couple of weeks, my father-in-law received a phone call from Mr Zhu’s wife: ‘I can’t believe this what you Christians are like’, she cried down the phone. ‘Pardon?’ my father-in-law responded. It turned out, Mr Zhu had not even bothered to get a divorce from his wife and had already moved in with the soon-to-be-former member of our church. To this day they are still living together, he is not divorced from his wife but spiritually they seem further away than ever from the Lord. It turns out all along he never really seemed to be searching for the gospel at all.

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Mr Li was the brother of a high ranking party official in our city. He was 78 years old. We imagined he would have been rather well to do, lacking nothing materially. The reality was a strange mix of contradictions.

Despite speaking fluent English and being well connected, Mr Li had an extremely unkempt appearance. He always turned up unshaved, dishevelled and wearing dirty clothes. He went on international travel twice per year to destinations across EU and US and always took his £3000 Nikkon camera with him.

His hobby seemed to be photography and trawling local newspapers for cuttings he could pass on to me, always warning of the impending doom about to befall our country. ‘You need to get out of here; don’t hang around’, he would always tell me. He would also, from time to time, phone me up in the middle of the day with random pieces of nutritional advice for me and my children. ‘Eat a few grapes to avoid constipation’; ‘don’t let the kids eat ice cream; it’s bad for their stomach’, and so on. Before I could even say thank you, he had hung up and I was left speaking to crickets on the other end of the line.

On one occasion, Mr Li seemed to be struggling with some home repairs so we dropped in on him at his home to help. It was very spartan but full of newspaper clippings about the state of the nation. Throughout the 3-years he was present on Sundays and coming along to mid-week studies the only thing he ever seemed to want to talk about was politics and how bad the party was. Everything in the bible seemed to be related to this hobby-horse, which was a first for me!

At the end of his three-year period with us, a government clampdown on house churches was on the horizon. Every week, we warned everyone not to talk about politics, to pray for the leaders of our country and not to stir up unnecessary trouble by making lots of political ‘noise’. Soon after, he stopped coming. It seems he only wanted somewhere to go and voice his opinions to people he believed would be broadly supportive (or at least polite enough to listen). It seemed, however, he wasn’t seeking after the Lord of glory after all.

I share these stories not to discourage but to offer a dose of realism. China is often referenced as a paragon of Evangelical growth. Whilst there is no doubt growth going on in this place, it often feels as though the West views China through rose-tinted spectacles. The truth is, gospel growth is hard everywhere. The various superficial reasons people give for coming to church here are similar to those you often find in the UK. The statistics show a similar percentage of people coming to faith in China as you see in the UK. Please continue to pray for China because we need as much prayer for gospel advance as the West.