It was going to be a huge wedding—a big Chinese shindig—as two members of the underground church were going to tie the knot and I, the American Pastor was asked to say a few words to the bride and groom. I knew what I was going to say, I just didn’t know how far I could go…
Three hundred people attended the wedding. Three hundred mostly Chinese people living under the oppression of a Communist government were there with big open ears. Three hundred people who may never hear the Gospel—ever! Our house church leader was the officiating Pastor and he finished delivering his message and the vows to the newlyweds. He came up to me and said that he just mentioned John 3:16 briefly during the ceremony and it was open to me. It was now my turn—
The people in China live in such a radically different culture than the U.S. There is really an opportunity for Americans to reflect on how much we take for granted in our free society. I was shocked to learn that itinerant construction workers brought in from the countryside get paid once a year—after the job is done. And sometimes they don’t get paid at all. If a worker gets on his knees and begs for his money, he is sometimes killed on the spot. They live in bunks, stacked one on top of the other and have to wait up to two hours to get a shower. Human chattel.
Life is cheap in China. Because God is outlawed (and therefore, no knowledge of Him), there is no recognition of the image of God in every person. It’s a utilitarian mindset towards humanity; you must be productive or you are of no value.
Foot massage parlors are everywhere in Beijing. Again the workers are from the countryside where they get paid about $40.00 a month, subsisting on vegetables and rice. Identification papers are taken by employers, who might return them to the worker after a year. Essentially, service workers are no better off than indentured slaves.
Literacy is high in China—90%—because a high value is placed on education. There is pressure to get into the best schools where the chances are better to get a cushy government job. But there’s no guarantee that you will get into a university, regardless of how good your grades are. You must give gifts to the professors and the application processors who will then look favorably on your qualifications. Because of the unfairness of the system, many poor teens are turning to suicide.
And the government controls everything, even the heat. On November 15, they turn on the gas lines so the country can use their heaters, but on March 15, they turn the gas lines off even if it’s still freezing cold.
They control the days off too. We were there on National Day week, a celebration of the Communists coming to power in 1949. Everyone is entitled to five days off, but the way that it was scheduled this year, the people would have had six days off. To ensure that the people didn’t have too much free time, they made everyone come to work on a Sunday—just to make sure that they only had their five days to enjoy.
Of course, they also control the religion. Christianity is essentially outlawed except for the government-authorized “Three-Self Church”. Pastors must get approval of what can be preached and the books of Romans and Revelation are not permitted. They do allow a “Foreigners Only” church to exist called Beijing International Christian Fellowship that has been allowed to preach freely for over twenty-five years, but only in the confines of their building and only to foreigners. There are passport checkers at the door to make sure no Chinese nationals enter to hear the Word of God. They can shut the place down if locals attend.
It was announced in Chinese that the Pastor from Hope Chapel would say a few words to the newly married couple. I wanted to bring these people some hope. After all, I was from Hope Chapel! I took advantage of the opportunity. I blessed the couple by reminding them that every good gift comes from God, including their marriage. I said that how they treat each other would speak volumes about the Gift-Giver. Then I mentioned that their very salvation was a gift from God—a gift they cannot earn by being good enough people. Then I went through all Ten Commandments explaining that if there was just one violation of a Commandment, then the verdict on Judgment Day would be guilty, and the penalty Hell. I spoke of the loving God who sent His Son to die in their place, and if they would just repent and believe, they would be forgiven. They listened attentively while the three hundred guests eaves-dropped.
I stepped down from the stage, not feeling at all confident or assured that what I did was right. The house church leader had beads of sweat on his forehead. He looked at me and said, “Wow, Steve. That was bold.” He later told me that the brides’ mother wondered if I was a Catholic.
Then she asked him about what I meant about Gods’ commands, Judgment Day and Hell.
Later that evening I thought about my words at the wedding. Was it right? Should I have done that? Maybe it was inappropriate to say what I said. I was troubled and embarrassed. Suddenly the words of the Apostle Paul rang in my head. Over and over I heard them. I looked into my Bible to confirm that the words were indeed from God. They were.
This is what I heard: “Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel!”
(1 Corinthians 9:16)