An American Tourist in China by Rosalyn Nichols

An American Tourist in China by Rosalyn Nichols

Global Ministries and New Church Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) teamed up to organize an immersion trip to China August 30 to September 15, 2006. The purpose of the trip was to expose new church pastors to Global Ministries’ partners in China and to experience firsthand the vibrant Chinese church. Each participant was encouraged to consider how this exposure to the global church could have an impact on their new church starts back in the U.S. and Canada.

Global Ministries and New Church Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) teamed up to organize an immersion trip to China August 30 to September 15, 2006. The purpose of the trip was to expose new church pastors to Global Ministries’ partners in China and to experience firsthand the vibrant Chinese church. Each participant was encouraged to consider how this exposure to the global church could have an impact on their new church starts back in the U.S. and Canada.

An American Tourist in China
by Rosalyn Nichols

It has been a full week now since I returned from visiting across China. I was so fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel from the bustling urban city of Shanghai with its bright lights, and constantly moving overcrowded streets, to the city of reconstruction that in 2008 will be overwhelmed by the visitors to Bejing for the Olympics. All across China there is mass reconstruction; cranes and builders are all around. I would say that the same is true of the church in China as well. While Christians in China make up only 1-2% of the entire population, certainly with a country of between 1.3 and 1.5 billion citizens, not to mention visitors and tourists, 1% of a 1.5 billion is still alot of believers in Jesus! There were many experiences along the journey that drew me closer to God and expanded my appreciation for the walk of faith. I will mention briefly a few.

The passage from my devotion that seemed to define and shape my travels was NLT Psalm 102:18 Let this be recorded for future generations, so that a nation yet to be created will praise the LORD.

On one of our flights two members of our delgation sat with a young woman who was strikingly attractive, tall for most Chinese, stylishly dressed and reserved. They began to share some fruit with her that we’d collected from the church we had visited before departing. As they shared the fruit they also shared the story, and began to talk to her about their faith and who they were as pastors. Pastor? What is a pastor? She had never heard of such, but as they shared, she said, This sounds like what I’ve been looking for. I want this for my life. I want to know about the church and Jesus. That in and of itself was so simply amazing. At home, in my part of the world, people seem so reluctant to share their faith. The very Constitution that gave us the gift of freedom of religion and freedom of expression now seem to have become like the bread the Pharisees berated Jesus and his disciples for eating when they were hungry. We’re so free to express until we’re reluctantly to express at all. As a pastor, I have to admit that I’ve been guilty to that as well. So careful not wanting to offend or appear presumptuous, until I’ve not shared at all. And look at what happened. Even as they sat on a plane and talked, inviting her to come to church with us the next day, without knowing where she was headed or what her intention was, without knowing for sure who we were or if we were sincere she agreed to come and meet us at church the next day.

Now honesty when was the last time you invited someone to attend church with you and at the same time didn’t even think for a minute that they really would come? Well that’s exactly what I thought, but that’s exactly what she did. Not only did she attend, but she was grateful to accept the bible that was presented to her, and she even remained after worship to pick up more information and find out more about the church. I was floored and humbled in my spirit. I truly wish to have that kind of experience back home. We last shared dinner with her the day before we were to leave when she joined us for dinner in Bejing. She is a former model and the owner of a golf store in Bejing. I do pray that she will truly come to know Jesus and give her life over to the joy of knowing the Lord. She will always stay in my heart and mind. Whenever I am given an opportunity I want to do what my brothers in China did and simply share my fruit and my faith along the way.

Which brings me to the next amazing experience I will always hold dear. The fruit that we had with us came from a very small church out in the rural parts of China where people worshipped surrounded by fields of corn. We had been in Xi’an visiting the local Bible College when we travelled to one of the oldest churches in the area. What was remarkable was that it had been built on the side of the mountain with wash basins that the people filled and carried up the side of the mountain in order to create the foundation upon which the church would be built. HIGH up the hill, one basin at a time, you could still see the edges of basins sticking out the side. The elder pastor, 80+ years old had seen so much, but he also had led many a soul to Christ, and encouraged so many to be faithful. What a testimony it was to be able to hear him speak of the building of his church. How awesome it was to think of how little the people started out with, but how much they created because of their willingness to make much and place it in the Master’s hand. Those basins for me became like the cup and the wine we share in Holy Communion. Such simple elements, bread and wine, but transformed in to life eternal when given over and offered by Jesus. Those basins too were ordinary but had been made extraordinary when placed in the hands and control of Jesus! And it did not stop there.

We left that church high up in the mountain to come down and go the church those same believers were now building because they had OUTGROWN that particular church. That is how we got to the corn fields. In we walked and in the middle of the room was a long table, a welcome table, if you will, filled with so many wonderful fruits and refreshing tea. The people ushered and encouraged us to have a seat. They sang and we sang, we prayed, we cried. It was amazing, awesomely amazing. As we were leaving, they would not let us leave empty handed. They gave us the fruit, the leftover, the remnant to take with us. These people who had so little for themselves, gave us what they had left over. They thrust it in our hands with joyful, tearful, happy faces. As we left, we had been shaking hands, but this time we hugged one another. We could not speak the language, but the language of the love of the Lord knows no boundaries. It is like Pentecost, it was communicated so that we all heard it in our own languages. The faces of those women and men who greeted us so warmly. I will never forget. As we drove away they stood in the door of that church and waved us, sent us onward with joy.

We sat that bus for a while simply silent and crying. It was overwhelming. To think of the devotion and faithfulness of God’s people not only to build with basins, but to believe God for a bigger building and a bigger church. One person said, but this is so far from those we left on the mountain how will they get there? This church is not for them is it? Yes, was the response. They are believing God also for a bus. In the presence of this kind of faithfulness I felt like the 10 who thought of themselves as grasshoppers, while the people of China no doubt see through the eyes of Caleb and Joshua.

I was inspired by what I saw and experienced in China. I was inspired afresh to believe more than what my eyes can see and my brain and process. When I stood at the first tower of the Great Wall I could not help but think of the audacity for the human mind to even conceive such a thing, let alone begin a project that you KNOW you will never see finished in your lifetime. That spoke profoundly to me as a new church planter; as one who longs to not only see, but stand in the Promise of the Lord’s abundance and goodness in the life of our new church, Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church. I was encouraged not to shrink back from thinking big; not to forsake imaging more for us than what seems possible at the very moment. I was inspired to think of those water basins and believe God to be with us in the midst of our faithfulness!

And yet China is still physically, economically and spiritually still under reconstruction. Time and again we heard people speak reconstructing a Chinese theology. A theology that reflected the faith journey unique to these people for whom Buddha, Toa, and Confuscious are far more common, where Muslims out number Christians. There is the need for a fresh look at how Chinese Christians express and redeem their faith when Christianity was first introduced through violence and therefore is under suspicion by many; where believers are often ostracized from family; where in the effort of reconcilation Chinese Christians are having to think seriously how they live in and not of the world around them, without alienating loved ones and people of different expressions of faith.

China is under reconstruction. As the Communist government seeks to create harmony, it is in favor of working with all faiths, including Christianity. It is helping to build churches, to support and encourage the faithful, but in the effort toward harmony, dissident voices, those necessary voices that push the margins and ultimatley make it possible for all to be heard. I was concerned when I heard the word heretic at one of the churches I visited because as an African American ordained female pastor, I know that for many years, and even in some places now, I am described as a heretic. My voice, and the voices of my people and my gender were told to keep silent, but it has been for me those voices that refused to keep silent that reflect to me the voice of Jesus who came not to keep harmony all the time, but to bring salvation back into the world. I come from the tradition of the heretic who said, peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice. I pray that in China’s work toward harmony they don’t mistake dissension for disharmony. I pray that my Christian brothers and sisters in China will not only find their voice, but that in so doing they are able to achieve what in America have not yet achieved which is true liberty and justice for all of its people; both individually and collectively.

This will call for China not to let progress become their god; not to allow the reconstruction to define them; not to allow the movement beyond the pain of the Cultural Revolution to create a silent, underground pain and suffering. When the goal of the group is to harmony, there has to be safe place and space for those individuals who are not experiencing harmony to feel comfortable coming forward without fear of retribution from the group.

And so I pray for the crippled woman who sat in the church square and said that her daughter beat her for being what she described as ‘useless’. I pray for the homeless people I saw lying begging on the street. I pray for those peasants who have no land of their own. I pray for those who barter away themselves to me for goods and services I’d easily pay more for at home. I pray for the man who I saw playing his flute as his small son begged for coins from passersby.

Just like home, there is so much to be thankful for, and yet so much to be prayerful for as well. There is the Forbidden City, but thanks be to God there is the Unforbidden Cross of Jesus that means we the faithful, working either here in the United States or in China, have a record to keep for generations to come so that a nation to be created, not bound by land or sea, will praise the Lord!