Editor’s note: During the course of the CP Conference 2016, we had the opportunity to interview a variety of attendees and hear from their experiences. The following interview is with Jeanette Thomas, Pastor of Extension Ministries at Christ Community Church in Kansas City. Christ Community has been a substantial partner of CP and Jeanette’s thoughts on the church’s ministry vision and values are both a challenging and encouraging example of what CP hopes to see among American churches desiring to impact China. Make sure you also check out the first part of this interview.
Why did you come to the CP conference and what did you hope to get out of it?
Maybe it goes without saying after having run through our values and vision, but we believe there is something really beautiful about brothers and sisters from diverse backgrounds dwelling in beauty together and loving one another. So we look for spaces to be together with our partners. I think the China Partnership annual gathering has increasingly been a place where we can share that space together. Again, in our partnership work we try to spend time with our partners, at least annually. Physically being present. We love to host them and we’re happy to visit, too, and be hosted. But we like for there to be a leadership connection with physical presence once a year if we can figure out a way to do that. And so that’s really fun.
In this case, this past year, it was especially fun because as we have continued to refine some of our strategy, we had more specific leaders in mind who we are planning to continue deepening in partnership and with ministry amongst Chinese generally. And so it was really fun to get to be there alongside my colleagues who were really interested in both being introduced and getting to see some of the relational connections that happen - more so than any other past year. And then also just really being in a place to pray about and discern our next steps. We’re in such an infant space in terms of our own implementation of our strategy. As we think about the new day that it is for the China Partnership entering into its own organizational formality, and both this stateside and China-side coming together increasingly, and that it was the first time that we had so much teaching from our brothers and sisters in China - that was just delightful for us. I mean, I absolutely loved it. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It was like cake to get to come and hear from them. We came for all those reasons – so we could be with them, so that we could specifically continue working out and mapping out our strategic next steps with the China Partnership, and fellowship and prayer and all that.
What is something you learned during the conference or was a new insight that you gained?
I think there is just something so powerful about hearing a testimony from someone in another context when they testify to the grace of God and the kind of scandal of the gospel. There is something about hearing someone from another context discovering that again that freshens it for me. And also kind of exhorts me to ask how have I been taking this for granted? Or how have I been missing the gospel and trying to lead in my own strength or sort of earning God’s favor? Sometimes when we hear testimonies from our own context, maybe we’re just not listening as intently, or we share too much space in ways that don’t let us hear it as fresh. I don’t know, but for me there is something that always happens for me when there are just core fundamentals of the faith that are really alive and fresh in ways that they never would be without that testimony from a different context. So that was something that just always happens and that was really alive for me.
How have you seen God working in China?
I just continue to see, and I think we were reflecting on this throughout the conference, but I continue to see the maturation not only of individual believers in China, but also of their own churches and networks, their own theology, and theological voice and perspective. I just continue to watch that develop. And when I say watch it develop, I mean that some of it is not necessarily new growth or new development in China, but it’s my new awareness. But broadly speaking, I do think there has been the maturation of not only individual believers, but specifically their theological contributions, their own leadership in the church. So watching that has just been really awesome for me to see.
What would you say is the one, big thing that you pray for China the most?
What do I pray for most? This goes back to some time that I spent on the ground just listening to brothers and sisters in China, but I remember that one thing there has been a need for are people who can do good liaison and bridge work between networks, and also between the unregistered church and more free flowing social sector work. I pray quite a lot for people that would be unique mobilizers in China. Because that’s not just something you can “get.”
I pray for people who God will raise up who can have a vision for some of that bridging and mobilizing work that spans some of the gaps. I think there are some unique challenges relative to the historical context and the persecution of the church. Different brothers and sisters in China have shared with me some of the gaps they feel in those places, and for whatever reason this latched in my heart a little more deeply. Such people have to have a real respect for their own contexts, and their faith tradition, and the legacy and community they come from - and all kinds of loyalty. But they also have to have a sense that there is some real beauty in coming together with others from other rich legacies, and also that there is some real beauty in connecting broadly with the social sector who maybe wouldn’t have a faith anchor. But the church could help them anchor so deeply because of the gospel. So personally that is something I pray quite a lot for.
Last question - if there is one thing you wish the American church understood about the Chinese church, what would it be?
Honestly, I probably wish for the American church to know the same thing about the church globally anywhere. And that is just that, you know, America doesn’t have the corner on the market. I would want them to understand how tall the trees are for us to learn and grow from, how rich the different contexts are. Or I’ll say it this way - how rich the gospel is as it plays out in different contexts. I guess I would want a really deep reverence for how God is working and a deep respect for all that we have to learn from and be shaped by, even as we also contribute!