From a country whose religious ecosystem is as complex as it is misunderstood, TWS is honored to publish accounts from two sisters who recently returned from a mission trip to China and were emboldened by the power of the Gospel moving through the country.
An (brief) overview of Christianity in China:
While the official stance of the Communist Party is atheistic, there are five approved religions within the country of China: Buddhism, Taoism, Protestant Christianity, Islam, Modified Catholicism. Due to the complex nature of organized religion in China, accurate figures are difficult to gauge, but ballpark figures estimate that there are ~50-70 million Christians in China out of its 1.3B+ population.
Religious activities are monitored and must be registered and approved by the government. Due to the limitations and challenges this imposes, many Christians bodies choose to operate as unregistered, illegal ‘house churches’, free of censorship, but subject to persecution and punishment upon discovery including arrest, expulsion of foreign missionaries, and reports of violence against house churches. In February 2018 the government passed regulation imposing harsher consequences on unregistered churches, yet the Chinese people continue to persevere in their faith and pray unceasingly for the future of their country.
Source: Gospel Coalition
If I’m being honest, I never really wanted to go on a mission trip.
The cynic in me believed mission trips were for those ‘holier-than-thou Christians’, and plus I didn’t want to spend half of my precious vacation days sharing the Gospel in a foreign country. I barely did that in America, why would I travel halfway across the world to share the Gospel?
Out of all the places in the world to travel to for missions, China was, ironically, last on the list. As a first generation Chinese American I had visited China a handful of times in my youth and had little desire to go back. Growing up in a predominantly white suburb in the Midwest, I desperately wanted to blend in and spent years pushing my Chinese identity aside. I finally began to reconcile my identity in college but even then, I only came to accept my Chinese American identity. Though I would never admit it, I didn’t want anything to do with people who were native Chinese, this deep-seated prejudice continued to permeate subconsciously in my present-day life.
Though I’d grown up in the church, I had made a deliberate decision to abandon my faith in college. Yet despite my willful disobedience and brokenness, God called me back to Him and has been patiently softening my heart and teaching me to be more obedient to His calling ever since. As a result, I began to pour my heart into my church community in Chicago, serving faithfully in ministries and as a small group leader with my husband. I was feeling pretty content with life when God called us to China.
The previous year, our former small group leaders had gone to China on a mission trip with our church and returned completely transformed by God. My husband and I were in awe as they shared their experiences and I felt God calling us to go the following year. There have only been a handful of times when I’ve strongly felt God’s calling in my life, and when I chose to disobey in those situations, let’s just say it did not turn out well for me (see story of Jonah). The call to China filled us simultaneously with dread and excitement, and we reluctantly agreed to go if only out of faithful obedience to that calling. Unbeknownst to us God had His plans and we were totally unprepared for the glory He was to reveal to us in China.
I could fill pages with everything we witnessed from the supernatural to the mundane, but what we experienced most of all was God’s deep love for us and the people of China. In America, Christianity is an accepted norm, but in China there are millions who have never contemplated the existence of God or have even heard of Jesus. We witnessed the Gospel through a new lens, and saw it for the Good News it truly is: That we were created by a loving God, whom we rejected, creating an unbridgeable void. We were destined to eternal suffering and separation from God but because of His great love for us, He sacrificed His only son, Jesus, so that we could be with Him forever. This is the love God promises to us all through Christ.
Personally, one of the greatest blessings took place on a chilly afternoon in Beijing. We had just finished lunch with a group of local college students and decided to go on a prayer walk. Prior to this trip, I had never gone on a prayer walk much less prayed for consecutive hours, but we had a firm no complaining rule so I tried to embrace the seemingly daunting task with a good attitude. I ended up walking with Rachel, who happened to be the only local Chinese member on our team. We had not crossed paths in Chicago but through our prayer walk, I learned about her life growing up in Beijing, her incredible story of meeting Christ in college, and coming to the U.S. for postgraduate studies.
After praying for the native college students we’d just met, I was surprised by how at ease I was with them, and by a strange affection I felt towards them, especially considering my deep-seated prejudices from childhood against the Chinese people. In that moment I felt God calling me to confess my prejudice to Rachel and I was suddenly overwhelmed with fear. I didn’t know her well, and I was sure she would think less of me, but God’s persistent nudging continued, and after a few moments of silence, I shared everything.
I told her how much I hated being Chinese growing up, how I sought to avoid Chinese people, how even leading up to the trip I had harbored deep fear and anxiety about whether I would even be able to love the people I met there. To my utter surprise, Rachel immediately thanked me for sharing with her and began to pray, praising God for revealing this to me and freeing me from my prejudice. This immediate grace and kindness – this is the power of the Gospel.
In that moment, God redeemed me, reminding me that my identity was not in my ethnicity, but lay first and foremost in the Gospel. Because Rachel’s identity was also rooted in the Gospel she was able to extend this kind of undeserved forgiveness to me easily. My eyes were opened to how much God loved the people of China, and I began to develop a deep affection for the people I was meeting, a love only possible through the love of Christ. In the short time we spent together, I came to love Rachel dearly. We would have been lost in China without her tirelessly serving the team in translating conversations, answering our questions, and patiently guiding us. Even on the last day, she asked that when we returned to the states we not mention how she had served the team but rather share about her own pride and sin and God’s grace.
It took going to China to make me realize that we have been on mission in America this entire time, and that the God we witnessed in China is the same God who is with us all regardless of where we are.
In China, I found myself at the foot of the cross; in my weakness, my pride, my prejudice, and in all my shortcomings and flaws, Jesus was there, on the cross. The cross is not a glamorous place, it is a picture of horrible violence, unbearable suffering, and deep shame, but because of Christ’s sacrifice and love, it is also a place of unexpected beauty. Christ died for me and for you so we could be free from sin.
“Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress, instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle, and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:13)
Before China, most of the people on the team were complete strangers but despite our unfamiliarity and vast personality differences, we quickly grew to love each other as family because of Christ’s overwhelming love for us. After witnessing the power of the Gospel amongst the team and amongst the people of China, I was reminded of the picture Jesus so perfectly painted after washing his disciples’ feet as he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Without love, what separates us from the world? Throughout the week, I watched as our team willingly and quickly sacrificed their own comforts for one another, every person putting others before themselves.
This is what the cross ultimately means to me, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
This piece was contributed by our lovely sister Stacey: Disciple. Wife. Ice Cream Enthusiast.
Five years ago, God brought me to Chicago to study art and design at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Fast forward to 2018, after living in Chicago for almost a decade through seasons of misunderstandings and seasons of separation from God and his people, I was on a beaten path. I constantly asked Him, “What am I called to do?” But the question that immediately followed was always: “Why don’t I have the strength to develop the creativity to find my calling?”
It was with this doubting heart that I went to Shanghai and Beijing for a mission trip with my local church. Prior to the mission trip, I was planning on finally leaving Chicago and moving to San Francisco, one of the top design hubs in the U.S., to seek a new community and life purpose. I was convinced that moving there would erase the inadequacies I had built up about myself over the years.
But God had other plans.
After spending just ten days in China with my team, the Holy Spirit made his way into my heart through the members of my church and the country of China itself.
From my team and with my team I was able to witness that…
The wonder of corporate worship is that we worship as a people. There are individual affections that took place at the same time and as a body of Christ. When we are engaging as one, it is miraculous. You cannot experience it alone. This is one of the greatest gifts He gives us, each other in community. The way our team experienced Jesus taught me something new about the character of God. Creativity is always stirred in conversations (especially with strangers) and you are able to develop strengths from different types of people.
Being in this environment and city showed me that…
God is the endless source of creativity. I start at the Word of God and the Word will eventually lead to all kinds of revelations about beauty. Every creative discipline should propel and inspire me to get better at what I do. If the world pours out beauty through its creative outlets without knowing God, how much more should we, who know God, speak of and display His wonder and glory?
By His grace, God showed me that all of those seasons I spent distant and listless in Chicago had been necessary to the fruitfulness in my life and finding the necessity of my vocation and calling. And again, by His grace God has given me the affirmation to faithfully serve Chicago with a new mindset and mission…until He will call me elsewhere for another.
More than the art I create or the things I spend my resources on, what I am ultimately called to do is to lay down my life for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. Whatever form that takes.
In Mark 8:34-38 it says,
“If anyone desires to follow behind me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever desires to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”
The question that I am asked today is, “What does the cross mean to you?”
Heading out to the west coast meant I was going to continue to feed my comfort and praise-craving self. But the cross means to be willing to stay in the hard places (without grumbling), knowing I will have more seasons of shame, suffering, and opposition. But when I deny myself, I will delight more and have the strength to carry on.
Sunmi Yim is a designer residing in Chicago. She spends most of her time hiking in the wilderness and traveling to continue to develop her creative appetite.
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