For the past 2 weeks, Christine, I, and 30 other students from around the world converged on China and South Korea. While there are literally hundreds of experiences to share from our trip, I will only share the highlights in this blog. The rest will inevitably come out during future sermons and teachings…lol.
The Church in China: China was much different than I expected. While I knew we would face the tension of the government oppression (which we most definitely felt when we visited Tiananmen Square—one of the most heavily monitored places on earth), I was ecstatic to witness the Christian church so alive. Having attained much of my info about the church in China from sources such as Voice of the Martyrs, I had expected to hear about the constant persecution of Christians. On the contrary, when we asked the leaders of the underground church how we could pray for them, their consistent answer was, “we need help in teaching and training all of the converts.” Most conservative estimates are that 50,000 people are converted to Christ each month. To put that in perspective, however, it is estimated that 1.5 million babies are born each month—so we have a long way to go to reach that country.
There are 3 types of churches in China. The State Sponsored Church, the Underground House Church, and the Third Wave Church. Each are being used by God in strategic and significant ways. We worshipped in the State Church on the first Sunday of our trip. I was very impressed with their boldness to proclaim Christ and the sheer number of people that openly attend those services (as seen in the attached video). It was a very traditional church with the choir robes, liturgy, and formal nature. The church was packed and that was the 8:30 service that we were at. They even had loud speakers blaring the music and sermon in the street. Very surprising to me.
The Underground House Church is by far the most dynamic and alive in China. Many are still persecuted and placed in jail for not registering with the government. They are a grass roots movement that has gained great respect by the Chinese people because they are willing to suffer for their faith. We met with 5 different leaders of this movement throughout our week there. For security purposes, we have been told not to publish any details on the web that could possibly incriminate their network. I’ll share more about this in person when I get back to Cornerstone.
The Third Wave Church is the boldest of the three types of churches in China. They are people who are willing to be public about their faith but will not sign the papers to become a state sponsored church. We met with one leader of this group. His name is Abraham (pictured left). He said that 20,000 people are a part of his church. A couple of years ago, the government kept showing up and padlocking the doors shut so the people couldn’t worship. So they developed a communication network with the crowd. For example, they would say, “meet in the park at 10 am” and the 20,000 people would gather. The government then began looking just for Abraham and would arrest him every Saturday night so he couldn’t preach on Sunday to the crowd. So he trained up another pastor to take his place. Over the past 2 years, the government has ceased attempting to fight him. He said that he believes that they send spies to listen to his sermons to be sure they aren’t trying to overthrow the government. He said that because of that, many of the government workers have been converted to Christ. It is interesting to note what he said near the end of the presentation, “I am afraid that if we truly do gain the total religious freedom that we are fighting for, that we will become as complacent as the Christians in the West. It has been the persecution all of these years that has caused us to pray and has revealed the character within us.” Convicting words indeed. After his presentation, I had him pray over me. A highlight indeed for me.
The Economic Boom in China:
We took the Bullet Train (gets up to 186 mph) from Beijing to a city outside of Shanghai. It was amazing to be able to see so much of their countryside. The distance we traveled was equivalent to traveling from Michigan to Texas in 4 ½ hours. During that time, we saw nothing but crane after crane building skyscraper after skyscraper. In fact, Shanghai now has over 1,000 skyscrapers. Compare that to Grand Rapids. That would be like putting 10 Chicago’s together. I have never seen anything like it. The estimates are that over 10,000 industrial sized cranes are currently in operation in China. The world has never seen such an industrial revolution. Because of this, several of the pastors asked us to pray for the complications that come with such financial success. They are seeing a breakdown in marriages and family systems like never before as people pursue their greedy desires.
North Korea and the DMZ Of all of the tourist events that we experienced, none was as memorable as our time at the DMZ (The De-Militarized Zone). This is a 4 KM neutral zone between the entire border of North and South Korea. The picture on the right is when we had the opportunity to stand on N. Korean soil (and to say a silent prayer for the people). A very sobering moment indeed. We were told to make no sudden hand gestures or to wear name tags when we were at the DMZ because the North Koreans were monitoring our every move. President Obama was there the day after we were and was not allowed to enter UN building that we were able to…it was actually quite satisfying to say that we were able to see more of the DMZ than our president could. We did pass his motorcade in Seoul the day he was heading to the DMZ. It’s funny to think that we had to go to the other side of the world to see our president. Please keep the people of N. Korea in your prayers. They are an oppressed and a starved people. It is so painful for the S. Koreans. In fact, we heard them pray for N. Korea during every worship service that we went to. We even heard the children in the 0-30 month old class praying for them in their Sunday School class.
The Korean Church
The Korean Church is filled with some of the most vibrant churches in the world. While in Korea spent most of our time in and around Seoul. Think about these stats. In America, the largest church has 45,000 people in average attendance (Lakewood with Joel Osteen). In Seoul, S. Korea they have 4 with over 100,000 people each. Including Yoido Full Gospel Church with 430,000 people (the video in this section is from their 1 pm service–they have 9 services every Sunday). They recently asked 500,000 people to leave and to plant churches…so they planted 20 churches with at least 20,000 people each. We spent much of our time at the Kwanglim Church which is the largest Methodist Church in the world with a mere 85,000 people.
You may be asking how all of that growth is possible. The answer is prayer. The Koreans truly understand the power of prayer. 5 am is their common prayer hour. And the church we were able to study during our time there asks their people to join in a 40 day prayer gathering each year in which they come to church to pray and worship at 4:55 am for 40 days. Their sanctuary is always filled with at least 5,000 people joining together at that hour for 40 days. I don’t even want to think the attendance we would get if we did that at our churches in the U.S. In addition, they have several “Prayer Mountains” around the country that are designated for prayer and fasting. At Yoido, the largest church in the world, one of their leaders was telling us that their building lights are never turned off because the building always has countless people inside of it praying and worshipping…24/7…365 days a year. Their fervor and passion truly were inspiring…and convicting.
There is much more to share, but I will save that for future posts and teachings. Thanks so much for your prayer and encouragement. We are down to two final months. I have 2 more classes to complete and have to do my proposal hearing for my dissertation. Almost home!