An Unexpected Mercy
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.
One of the great joys of our ministry is the seminary that we were able to be a part of starting at the beginning of 2012. We are currently training over one hundred and sixty house church leaders from all around China (roughly sixteen different provinces). In the short time we’ve been blessed to conduct classes, we have been further blessed by a wide-ranging respect, and a good reputation. Many Christians in China know about our seminary and think highly of it.
In addition, we have had the support of the local church such that we are not dependent on outside finances. About 97% of our classes are conducted in Chinese with only the occasional teacher needing translation. All the textbooks, syllabi, and communications are in Chinese. Students study for their M.Div. or bachelor’s under teachers who know the issues that face pastors in this context, and who are able to help the students grapple with the implications of the gospel in their native environment.
These are all tremendous blessings, but one thing that often does not get publicized is the unspoken stories. By that I mean the people who are impacted through our seminary who are not students. Mostly through the constant presence of our staff, specifically our administrative staff, we are able to see God use our seminary in unconventional ways. It is wonderful to see students’ lives changed and their ministries enhanced through the training they receive; but when we see God use our seminary in unexpected ways, it is a special blessing. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Just last week I went in to talk to our administrative manager, Grace, and have lunch with one of the other pastors. As we prepared to have lunch, our administrative manager took me and the other pastor aside to have a word with us.
“The cook just prayed to receive Christ,” she told us. “She’d like you two pastors to pray for her.”
This middle-aged woman, Mrs. Tan, who had been making meals for our seminary instructors for over half a year, had just prayed a few days prior and wanted to talk to us. As we sat down for our lunch, we began to ask questions.
“I’ve seen the love you all have for one another. It’s different and I’d like to be part of it,” said Mrs. Tan.
She sat there and told us about her husband and her college aged daughter. Her daughter just came back from France where she studied and obtained her bachelor’s degree. She wanted to go on and study for a master’s degree, but had to come back because Mrs. Tan could not afford tuition. Her husband was a classic deadbeat husband who had a long history of cheating on Mrs. Tan and abusing her. She was desperate and Jesus met her in her desperation.
Mrs. Tan didn’t want money, or favors; she just wanted Jesus and his body, his church.
“I don’t know much. I’m reading the Bible, but I don’t always understand,” she told us.
Pastor Chen and I gave her some advice and prayed for her. She thanked us and then went back to work cleaning up the dishes from lunch. What a blessing to see God use our seminary in such an unexpected way.
Another similar thing occurred last year in a longstanding relationship we’ve had with the elderly landlady of our male student dorm. When we began to rent the dorm in 2012 we were nervous about telling the landlady, Mrs. Zhang, that we wanted to use her apartment to house our male seminary students. Our administrative manager and my wife tried explaining who we were and why we wanted the apartment without using the word “Christian” since we felt she might be unwilling to rent to us. After fifteen to twenty minutes of trying to explain who we were the landlady still looked confused.
Finally Grace blurted out, “We are Christians and we are training church leaders.”
Mrs. Zhang’s eyes opened up, “Why didn’t you say so? Christians are good people. I’m sure the men will make good tenants.”
Later Mrs. Zhang became ill and several of our administrative staff went to the hospital to pray for her. She prayed to receive Christ and was baptized in the hospital by one of the local house church pastors. When our administrative manager told me about this, I couldn’t help but smile and think about how God is doing something far beyond the ministry we have in the seminary classroom.
This organic ministry of God using his people where they are, in these natural relationships, brings to mind the early church - God’s people being used as salt and light to bless people they interact with on a daily basis, both educated and uneducated, both rich and poor, both the influential and those with little influence. Please keep praying for our seminary, that God would use all of us - teachers, students, administrative staff, and the cook and landlady - to lift up his name in this city.