Sa Zhong Zi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American living in China assisting with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church.
God’s timing is always perfect, but seldom according to our expectations. This is not only true with our prayers for personal needs, but also for our ministry. How long have you been praying for a family member or friend where it seems to be taking “forever”?
When I was doing campus ministry with Chinese students at a large American university in the early 1990s, I met a couple and studied the Bible with the husband for a year. I prayed and prayed, but nothing seemed to happen. I lost contact with him after he graduated, but I knew he was somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area, which was where I lived at the time. After I was hospitalized for a serious sickness in 2004, I was surprised to see him show up in my hospital room. He looked different. It was clear from his words and demeanor that God was working in his heart. A few months later I received an invitation to his baptism.
It took about ten years, but God got a hold of this man and his wife. Both of them were baptized at a church in my own denomination. This event struck me as being a great example of how God does not give up even when it seems nothing is happening in someone’s heart.
I now live in China with my family. Last week I received a message from a female student I taught many years ago. She was in my class when I was an English teacher at a Chinese university over twenty years ago. As I prepared to leave after my two-year tenure in China, I gave her a copy of a Chinese/English New Testament. She took it and said “thank you.”
In her chat message she told me that she was baptized in May of 2015. God took over twenty years to break through to this woman’s heart. In both cases God could have done things more quickly, but he didn’t. The question seems almost irrelevant at this point, but why did he take so long?
I’m an ordained minister with a seminary degree and I can say with great confidence I don’t know why. What I do know is that these stories serve as a powerful reminder of how we should approach ministry in China. Too many people come to China from the West and have a short-term strategy for their long-term ministry. What I mean is that there are many who are willing to commit to serving in China for the long-term, but they are not prepared to invest in a strategy that might take five, ten, even twenty years to show results.
China is an ancient culture, and while things are changing quickly in China, there is also much that does not last. God wants us to invest in that which lasts - his church. How we do this requires wisdom, patience, cultural sensitivity, and a long-term perspective.