China Sees, Spring 2016 Ministry Update
Spring has sprung in our China city, bringing an end to this normally moderate climate’s coldest recorded winter in 90 years – a “blessing” that we would have been happy to forego! At times it truly was a struggle, but now with trees flowering and plants blooming it all doesn’t seem quite so bad; particularly having just celebrated our Risen Savior. The four months since our last update have been busy and fruitful. Following the format from our last report, we will first tell you about the ministry followed our personal update and prayer requests.
Country-side Ministry Update
We completed our winter semester training over the first 10 days of January. In a touch of irony, we were far warmer in this ‘far colder’ area due to their superior building heating systems. So in many ways this trip was a relief from our conditions “down South.”
We were working with the third class of students teaching the Systematic Theology disciplines. This teaching marked the third time we have delivered this material and we feel like we finally “got it right.” Unlike our own seminary experiences, China does not need the history of doctrine nor the apologetics. We removed these two elements in favor of concentrating on the “real thing” along with the biblical writer’s use of theology in their writings. This approach proved to be both more engaging for the students (i.e. it better held their interest … and ours) and more effective for their comprehension.
It was truly a blessing to watch them diligently struggle through understanding some of the Bible’s important, but more difficult to understand teachings such as the Trinity, and inerrancy of the Bible … particularly as we encounter sometimes significant differences between the original language, their Mandarin translation, and our English translation. Katie is the ‘life-saver’ when we hit these bumps in the road as she can bridge between all three!
After finishing the training, we were able to spend a few days in ministry planning and prayer with their senior leaders. In our discussions we learned they will celebrate the 20-year anniversary of coming out from the influence of false teaching later this year. This is truly an amazing landmark as they have not only survived, but grown and planted hundreds of small house churches throughout three provinces.
Their former “denomination” is called The Three Ranks. They draw their name, and structure, from the parable of the talents beginning in Matt 25:14. The three ranks come about based on the parable’s three levels of responsibility given to the three servants (i.e. 5 talents, 2 talents, 1 talent), thus there are three levels of service to God representing one’s ability and position in the organization. We have heard many stories over the years about their time under this false teaching. Suffice it to say that it is beyond what our Western minds can imagine. We are humbled by what the leaders of this network went through in terms of persecution from their prior association in order to worship the true God of the universe!
City-side Ministry Update
In our year-end report, we identified five initiatives that we were leading at our ‘City Club.’ Each of these initiatives has experienced positive movement forward over the past four months – Praise the Lord and His grace. Quick updates on each of these initiatives follows:
1. Club Governance: We recently completed a study of church leadership. Steve (with Katie translating) led their current leadership team through the NT teaching on church offices and leadership qualifications. The focus in this study was narrowed to the position of Elder, with Deacons to be examined later. It was a wonderful time together deeply searching God’s word – but not without its challenges on some of the qualifications arising from 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The key, and typical, points of contention arose on the topics of “husband of one wife,” gender (male only for Elders), and believing children. We are pleased to report that they reached Biblically orthodox positions on all of these issues and will now begin the process of selecting, examining, and installing elders.
2. Expository Preaching: We continue with this commitment in the pulpit. Having completed the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and the Missions Discourse (Matt 10) we began a series of messages on the Book of James. At the same time, we added three new men to the training and speaking rotation. This second group has been a much greater struggle than the initial three, but they are making progress – slowly and with inconsistent commitment. At the same time, Steve continues to prepare the weekly message side-by-side with them.
James’ message has been unexpectedly timely for us personally – again proving the multi-faceted nature of God’s working. Every time we think we are doing something for others, we quickly learn that God has a purpose in it for us as well! This portion of the work continues to be a great blessing.
3. Small Groups: Concurrent with the James series, five of their small groups (they have more than 20 groups in total) opted to use the new small groups discussion guide (SGDG) as the focal point for their gatherings. Steve drafts a discussion guide for each week’s message and provides it to the small group leaders ahead of their meetings. The group leaders were not sure how the groups would respond, but now report that it has brought an entirely new dynamic to their weekly gatherings. They are going deeper with each week’s message and really dealing with life applications and their personal challenges. The fellowship and personal connection has been an unexpected benefit to them … which should remind us that nothing will change people but God’s Word!
Steve is working to identify and train key small group leaders in how to prepare the Discussion Guides, with a goal for them to take this over by the end of June.
4. Biblical Caring: Katie has just completed the formal portion of the biblical caring training. It has been a significant undertaking that has born a great deal of fruit. Mid-way through the training, they began to work through Paul Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Katie decided to have teams of two lead the meetings by taking responsibility for teaching a chapter from the book. This was a first for them, as the Chinese are far more comfortable with a traditional teacher to pupil lecture model. After some early trepidation, Katie reports that they really warmed to the approach and did surprisingly well in their teaching debuts. This was a necessary and critical inflection point in the training. Namely, to convince them that they can actually do it themselves. Several students have told Katie that they have been using the counseling methods to counsel themselves, dealing with work related issues, their own life issues, and helping others. This and other instances of fruit from her labors were a major encouragement to Katie.
Katie will now work with the leadership team to deploy the people trained in biblical caring in the small groups. This is where the club wants for the caring to occur – and it makes good sense. Over the next 90 days, Katie will work with them on these assignments along with a plan for how the caring teams will operate. In short, the goal is to move from the classroom to the real world. This will be a BIG step.
5. Women’s Bible Study: Simply stated, both the Mom’s and Single Women’s Bible studies have exploded! The best way to summarize their reaction is to say that they are amazed how much they get from studying so little each week. In fact, one week the subject from their text chatter (the product they use is called “WeChat”) was that they only covered ONE verse – and they were never bored. I think that Katie may have picked up the pace and covered 10 verses of late. One particular joy for Katie has been to see some of her better students take responsibility for teaching late-comers to the group the material they have missed. Heretofore the burden has always been on her to conduct these make-up sessions – PTL, no longer!
Since we have arrived, our commitment has been to push their noses into the Bible. God, not surprisingly, has blessed this unwavering commitment and we are thankful for the fruit He has brought about and allowed us to experience. By no means has it been a torrent of progress, but we are encouraged nonetheless by those who are showing a love for slowing down and digging into His Word – and passing that on to others.
Other than living through a challenging winter, there is not a great deal new on the personal front. God continues to demonstrate His presence in our lives in many ways, small and large. The most persistent of these is His mercy. Often times we reach a point when we feel like our efforts are futile or we just can’t take another step (physical and mental exhaustion is a much bigger deal than either of us anticipated). Yet just when we are feeling it the most, God, in his mercy, provides the way forward. Sometimes it is a glimpse of some ministry fruit … other times it is a small blessing that someone provides for us. In a long term battle, these occurrences mean a great deal in sustaining our resolve. Whatever it is, the point is that it constantly reminds us of His sovereign care in every detail. This, more than anything, is the assurance that helps us to persevere.
One of those small blessings was a recent trip to Myanmar (the former Burma). Through ministry contacts we were invited to be graduation speakers at Myanmar Bible College’s commencement ceremony. The timing was perfect in two ways: 1) We needed to make a visa exit; and 2) We were becoming overwhelmed with being unable to escape the cold. So off we trundled to hot weather … and a wonderful experience it was. Sometimes we get so locked into our own small world that we fail to see how God is working “around the World.”
We were overwhelmed by the ministry that was going on in this poor country where Buddhism dominates. While Christianity is not illegal, Christians suffer persecution and harassment from the Buddhist majority. Katie says it reminded her of China from 40 years ago. The country was backwards, the people poor, but the ministry was rich. The Bible College is training and launching Pastors and church planters throughout the country. We were impressed with the training of their Professors (all hold Masters of Divinity or higher degrees from reputable institutions) and the quality of their students.
A highlight of the weekend ceremony is the cultural day when students don their cultural clothing and perform ritual song and dance. A truly unique experience. In addition to operating the Bible College, “Pastor Ben” (our host and ministry visionary) operates 5 orphan homes with nearly 125 children. These orphans have been given up by their parents who are too poor to support them and to pay for their school fees – and they want their children to have a better life. Once they give them up, the children cannot return home until they are 18 years old. Truly touching to see how these children are cared for and how they are being brought up in the Lord. You can explore this ministry at https://harvesters.net/partners/fbcm/ if you are interested.
1. Pray for Chinese believers who are becoming choked with prosperity, manifesting itself in visible greed. It is a very challenging and complicated time in China’s history. Many positive changes are occurring to improve their quality of life. Yet with this comes the distraction of “loving the world.” Realizing that as Americans we have grown up and lived in relative prosperity, our request is not to deny Chinese brothers and sisters a better quality of life. Rather the request is for this not to grip and control their lives at the expense of following Christ.
2. Pray for Chinese believers to move from information consumers and academic pursuit to applied participants – that is to put what they are learning to work in their lives. Chinese society prizes education and the compilation of knowledge. Understanding and applying God’s word remains a significant challenge among our Chinese brothers. Yet Jesus tells us quite forcefully that we must act on this knowledge for it to truly change our lives. In Matt 7:24 Jesus says that a wise man both hears and acts upon His words.
3. Pray for us to finish well with our current projects and transition them to the local team before we take a short home leave. Our goal has always been to teach our Chinese brothers and sisters how to fish – so that they can feed themselves for a lifetime. We are seeing some early signs of fruit in this area and feel like our upcoming break will be an excellent time to test their progress.
4. Pray for our physical and mental endurance to handle the day-to-day demands of the ministry.
As we shared at the beginning, living full-time in China, along with the demands of the ministry, has been more physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually challenging than we anticipated. In short, it tests every aspect of our marriage and our commitment to serve. We are thankful for what God has allowed us to experience and the spiritual growth that it has forced. With that said we ask for your prayers for His strength, without which we cannot be instruments of His grace.
Blessings in the Lord,
Katie and Steve