(Note: Except for the Hope for China team, some of the names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent.)
“Are there many house churches out here and how is the government?” I asked Ann, an orphanage worker.
“Yes, many house churches,” she replied, “but the government leaves us alone unless there is a contest. The [Public Security Bureau] knows where all the house churches are, so if someone wants to be a champion, they go get them.” She paused. “We pray for no contests…”
It’s quite sobering to see Chinese Christians willing to lay down their lives for God. In this country there is a very real cost for following Jesus Christ. The threat of arrest, imprisonment, torture—even death—is a daily possibility. It is illegal for believers to gather in unauthorized meetings; this is why the house church is a necessity. “Zhu Yin,” or “God’s Melody,” was the name of the house church we visited for two weeks, a Song of Songs in the cacophony of Beijing, high atop a gleaming white tower.
We stepped off the elevator and to the right; a cardboard cutout of a demonic looking man advertised the alluring pleasures of a Japanese businessman’s club that shared the same floor as the church. Side by side: the narrow road and the broad road, light and darkness, Jesus and Belial. We entered through the narrow gate on the left.
A beautiful chorus greeted us as the throng of worshippers made a joyful noise. Oh, to be in that number as the Americans came marching in. But first, we took off our shoes; we were standing on Holy ground and had dirty soles. Warm greetings of “Nie Hou! (Hello!)” Smiles. Smiles. Smiles.
The church has been meeting for a little less than two years, has had over two hundred visitors and is made up of professional single people in their twenties and thirties. I called them Chuppies: Chinese Urban Professionals. About seventy congregants meet together on their regular day of worship at 2pm, Saturdays. “Mr. Beijing”, their Pastor, is a totally committed man of God, who also works for an American Multinational.
I taught on heaven and hell the first night and no one came to the Lord. Team member Mark taught on finances a few days later and two repented! The rest of the seven-member team took turns teaching, preaching, praying, listening, sharing…and learning. People came to church on Saturday and stayed all day, from 9am to 9pm! It was like a party or something; church to these people was well, uh, enjoyable! Better is one day in Your courts…
They sat on little pillows, against the walls, down the hallway—everywhere a butt would fit in a small two-bedroom apartment. And they listened attentively, taking it in, not distracted at all by the interpreter or the things lost in translation or my funky So-Cal attire. I didn’t wear shorts. The day after I taught on evangelism, three students immediately told others about Jesus, “Because our friends are going to hell!”
One day I showed them how to memorize the Ten Commandments by using hand motions and when I got to the sixth one, “Do not murder,” I jokingly asked if anyone had ever murdered anyone. One man raised his hand. “You killed someone?” I said with astonishment.
“Yes.” He assured me.
“My friend,” he replied.
I asked one first-time visitor why she was there. “I want to know about your God.” The next night she gave her life to Christ. She had many personal problems and I didn’t know what to say because they were too overwhelming so I asked her to pray. “Just talk to God like a friend,” I instructed. This new believer prayed for half an hour, the most beautiful, heart wrenching prayer I ever heard.
The neighbor across the way just recently got saved, and Zhu Yin might use her apartment for a children’s church in the future.
While I taught, a mysterious glass of warm water would always be placed behind me to drink. It was always there. I never caught the helpful servant who did this, but it was a blessing. When I had a sore throat, a warm glass of water was given to me with a weird, brown piece of fungus floating in it. “It’s good for you!” I reluctantly drank—and chewed—the concoction without gagging. Then they helpfully gave me a second fungi-laden glass!
Mealtimes at the church were always special. The locals would eat one serving out of teeny tiny bowls while we ate “American Style” off big white plates the size of a Sombrero. The biggest surprise was that Chinese food in China is very different than in the States. Not an egg roll to be found, not much meat either, lots of pork fat, though. And sometimes beef ventricle. Every night we sampled the indigenous fare, curious about what that white, soft, chewy thing was in the sauce, or what kind of spice is it that makes my tongue feel like it’s been anesthetized, or what the heck is that blobby, wiggly stuff with hair floating in the noodles—are those noodles? I’d always ask, “What kind of vegetable is that?”
The answer: “Chinese vegetable!”
“And what’s that vegetable?”
“Oh. Chinese vegetable!” It seemed like no one really knew what they were eating either, but, “It’s good for you!”
My hosts were always surprised when I’d ask for ice in my drink. “Ice? It’s winter!”
I asked about one particular goobery appetizer that kind of glowed and had a thin sliver of meat in it and was cautioned, “If I tell you, you won’t eat it.” I slowly balanced the thing on my fork, sucked it into my mouth and with breath held, slowwwly chewed… then tried to swallow it whole.
“What was it?” I pleaded. It was pork fat boiled for four hours until it was a congealed, gelatinous, wobbly mass.
On occasion, we’d sneak on down to “Grandma’s Kitchen” for a big, fat greasy burger.
We were overwhelmed by the warmth, eagerness and wonderful hospitality of these Chinese believers almost forgetting that there is an ominous ever-present danger that lurks in Communist China for Christians. The Pastors’ regular reminder to his congregation to be cautious about who they invite, “and make sure they’re not with the government,” caused us to reflect on the freedom and privileges we enjoy in the U.S.A.
I brought home some devotionals created by one of Zhu Yin’s members, a man serving three years in prison for writing it.