Interview with a Ministry Leader – The Lord Is More Gracious to Me than I Am to Myself
Editor’s note: In honor of Women’s History Month, CP’s prayer initiative is focusing on our sisters in Christ. Featuring interviews with five different women, March’s content provides a special glimpse into the ways the gospel is impacting the hearts of China’s women.
This interview is with a ministry leader who previously co-pastored her church with her husband and now leads a ministry developing theological reflection and writing among China’s house church pastors. She discusses how the gospel has renewed her understanding of human existence, gender, and womanhood; the idols of her heart; and the importance and challenges of her current ministry.
CP: How has the gospel transformed you? Can you talk about this from a woman’s perspective? Also, according to what you have observed, how has the gospel transformed Chinese women?
Ministry leader: How has the gospel changed me? Let me think about how I can approach this from a woman’s perspective. To me, the gospel has fundamentally transformed how I value a woman’s existence.
Before I knew Christ, I did not think there was any marked difference between men and women. In my family of origin, my mother assumes a very strong role. She was really the leader in our family. Meanwhile, especially during the time when I was growing up, the post-80s culture emphasized women’s independence and self-determination. This is why before I came to Christ, I did not believe that women and men are that different.
Not only that, I believed women should be self-sufficient. They should have their own career, their own everything. And more importantly, women should not be inferior to men in any aspect. This was my view toward womanhood before I was a believer.
As for the value of human existence, particularly that of a woman’s existence, I was probably more perplexed. Before I knew Christ, a question that I was considering was: if human beings are all bound to die, what is the point of living? The education in atheism that we received compares a person’s death to a light going out. But if death is the end to everything as we were taught, then where are we to discern the meaning of life? This is why both as a person and as a woman I thought that life was quite meaningless.
But since we are born into a family, we are inevitably bound by certain social relationships and social responsibilities. In view of blood relations and family ties, I thought that perhaps human value is found in one’s contribution to one’s biological family. I cannot end my own life because I have a family who loves me. And yet this family who loves me is also a great burden to me.
So, my conclusion in college regarding womanhood was that a woman can enjoy a good and happy life in this world as well as pursue career success; at the same time, she needs to take good care of her parents and her family. However, in order not to keep incurring endless responsibilities for myself, and in order not to leave my own children with similar questions [about life], my opinion was that I should not marry or have children. The reason for that was because I did not have an answer for my child as to how he or she came to this world or what the meaning of his or her life was. I remember very clearly that this was the basic conclusion I came up with in my freshman year regarding a woman’s worth and how I should live.
At the time I faced a dilemma, and that is how I would deal with my parents’ expectations for me. They would not understand if I explained my thoughts to them, and they would think that I had gone insane and would be very disappointed. So, I thought that even if marriage were to happen then, under no circumstances would I marry someone I loved.
Why? Because if I loved my husband, then I lost. As soon as you love someone, that someone begins to have an impact on you. If he betrays you at some point, you can get very hurt. But if it is with someone you do not love, then it does not matter. Who cares if he betrays you? So at the time, I thought that if I were to get married, I would find someone who is my match in capability – but not too much more capable than I am. If he is too strong, then I will not be able to control him. He also cannot be too weak, or I will despise him.
So, [I would] marry an equal in terms of ability. And if we were to agree on one thing it would be to not have any children together, since I did not want my children to bear the burden of blood ties because of me. I concluded that it was best that we contribute to the society by simply adopting a few kids, since I love children.
As you can see, before I knew Christ, being immersed in the values of an atheistic worldview, even though I did not agree with those values, I did not have other options outside an atheistic framework from which to choose, since I had no knowledge of theism or the gospel. As for local deities, I thought since they are all man-made, they will only prove useless if one worships them. One can always come up with ways to manipulate them.
So, I came to a dead end. In this endless search I carved out a path that led to nowhere for myself. Abiding by such logic, it felt as if I could live a relatively safe life in this world as a woman. I could be independent and I could have certain things in place for my protection. But the truth is it was a hopeless path, dark, with no way out.
In 2007, I heard the gospel. The gospel’s biggest impact on me is that it changed how I viewed human existence. The truth is that human existence is not random, and life is not without meaning because God has prepared eternal life for us. I was hopeless about life before I heard the gospel because of my own sinfulness and my separation from God. But through Christ’s redemption, I have been restored and am now truly alive having God’s spirit in me. Because Jesus’ blood has washed away my sins, I came to know God my creator and found my worth as a person. The truth is that God created me for a purpose: he desires for me to become like his son Jesus Christ and to have an exceedingly abundant life in him.
The gospel first transformed the way I assessed human worth. I have gone from believing that human existence is without value or meaning to seeing our worth in the gospel. It is not dependent on what you do – were you to have no ability, or be extremely weak, or if I became paralyzed or disabled one day, unable to do anything and needed others to take care of me, or when I become old and ugly and can longer look after myself – still I am valuable because God loves me. My worth is found in his creation; it is granted to me through his love. Therefore, the gospel first alters my self-worth.
As to how the gospel has changed my view of womanhood, when God created human beings in the beginning, he created them male and female, so men and women were created to be different. The Bible calls the woman “very good.” I very much agree with things like that, since they do not present any fundamental challenges to my worldview. The greatest challenge for me – what fundamentally confronts my worldview – is what the Bible says about the woman being the weaker vessel. This is why women have to be covered by men within the family. The husband has to protect his wife. This is then the first challenge: God says that there is an authority over me, and this authority is my covering and my protection. Before I can accept such protection, I must admit that I am weak, and I must submit to God’s created order. To put it frankly, I must submit to the authority of the Creator God, confessing, “So this is the way your creation is.” This is a huge challenge.
A second significant challenge for me is that women must submit to men, and even more so, such submission is based on God’s created order and is to be unconditional. In truth this is God’s great blessing, but to me this kind of submission is too difficult. It is still a major area of growth for me. I keep thinking that I am smarter than others, but this has really come from my sinfulness. Personally, this is an area of great pride. Also, a belief I received from my family of origin is that women should not show weakness.
So, the gospel has greatly transformed me in these two ways. First, as a human being I have dignity and I feel secure in God, being affirmed as his creation. Then, at the same time, I have come to appreciate the differences between the two sexes within God’s created order and under God’s sovereignty over mankind’s creation, while humbly accepting all the protection, comfort, and covering from an authority that God provides for me. This is a major way in which God has changed how I see myself as a woman.
If I were to give specific examples, first, I feel that I have gone through significant renewal in my self-image. In terms of physical appearance, I grew up being praised and affirmed, so I never really thought much about the importance of a woman’s outward appearance. But after I came to Christ, I slowly recognized that this was God’s grace to me. Therefore, when someone affirms my physical appearance, it is something to be very glad about. This led me to grow in my enjoyment of this gift from God. This is the first aspect.
The second aspect concerns a woman’s nature. God has restored in me some of the natural tenderness that the female sex possesses. In the past I would never cry in front of anyone. After I was married, there were a number of years when I was actually under a lot pressure and was feeling quite burdened, but even then, it was very difficult for me to open up to my husband. It was not that I did not want to be honest but rather that I did not know how. As a woman, I did not know how to lean on my husband and his authority. This is really rather pitiful. If you do not learn to lean on him, your faculty for love will disintegrate. You actually need your husband’s comfort, but if you do not know how to approach him for help, you will cause him pain. You will lose your temper at him or vent your anger in unhealthy ways and consequently make your husband’s life very difficult.
I am very thankful that God has brought much healing and restoration to me through my husband in our marriage relationship. Marriage has also helped me better understand women as created by God and appreciate the special grace that God has given us.
CP: What is your heart’s biggest idol at the moment?
Ministry leader: I believe my biggest idol right now, or the greatest hindrance to my relationship with God as a woman, is still pride. Or, I should say that my greatest idol is a combination of authority and power: my desire to have control. What is really behind this is the desire to assume God’s place. Wanting to have control over things means that I desire to be like God. This is my greatest idolatry. It stems from my wanting to play God, which is exactly the way sin happened in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, that is, human beings wanting to be like God. So, the greatest challenge for me now is to learn to acknowledge God to be God, that I am only human, and to [surrender] control over all aspects of my life, especially since I had my first child more than a year ago. This [challenge] is inevitable since I particularly like my life to follow a certain plan, but God has been stretching me and showing me that life is never in my control. I need to learn submission and trust in the process, and I need to accept life’s imperfections and disappointments, trusting in God’s good will in all of them.
My second greatest idol has to do with power. I was unwilling to admit to this before because I did not think that I idolized power. But my husband keeps cautioning me that I need to address this, and as I reflect on it, I find that power and control are like the two sides of a coin: if you want control, you must have power, and when you have power, you will wish to control things. So, another way that the gospel challenges me is regarding power. I want to be powerful so as to be able to determine my own life, but in the process, I place many burdens on myself. I think that as a woman I need to learn how to be God’s daughter as well as his friend, so that I can pour out my true thoughts and feelings as well as my struggles in front of him. This is an area I especially need to work on in my relationship with God.
CP: Can you briefly talk about what your current ministry is?
Ministry leader: I have just gone through a transition. My husband and I both served as full-time pastors at our church. After our child was born, we had need to make certain adjustments to our family and work lives, so I began to work in an organization.
As for my ministry focus now, I am especially grateful to God’s provision. I had anticipated working in some administrative capacity, but the Lord is more gracious than I am to myself, and he knows me better. He knows where my burden and vision lie. I now work to explore and research local [Christian] theologies through theological reflections. This is my service at the moment. Through learning about local churches and their pastors, their theological works and how they put theology into practice, we can mine the wealth of the Chinese church’s theology and perhaps contribute to other churches, a way for us to bless one another. This is my main area of service right now.
CP: How does the gospel bear on your current ministry?
Ministry leader: The gospel is the foundation of my ministry. Without the gospel it is impossible to continue my work.
A couple of days ago, when I was praying with a shimu [the Chinese title for a pastor’s wife], I felt particularly thankful. While in prayer, I realized that I had messed up. I did not meet my planned goals for my ministry as I had hoped to do. Because of that, I have been feeling a deep sense of failure and self-blame ever since I began my work.
I know that the ministry that God has entrusted to me is extremely important and precious. But I found that I am not able to achieve what I expected. So, the gospel is really the foundation of this ministry, because without the gospel I am only working to fulfill my own expectations. But through the gospel I know that God is the one who reigns; what is more, the Lord leads me according to my own pace.
If I were to assess my own performance, if I were my own boss, I would surely fire myself. There were many times that I wanted to back out, thinking: Perhaps I am not right for this job? Perhaps I have occupied too precious a position, and not only am I unable to produce much of anything, but I am also hindering some other more gifted person from serving. I had many such thoughts and went through much defeat and self-rejection.
But through the gospel I see that God is the one in control. He knows what I am good for. And most importantly, the Lord I serve is not Egypt’s pharaoh but the gracious God. So, it is not as if God could not accomplish anything without me. Rather, God can use a weak vessel like me to accomplish his will. Therefore, we can say that I am not the one doing this work; instead, it is God doing it through this broken vessel, so that all the glory belongs to God himself, and every success is credited to him. Thus, laying down my burden, I can seek God’s will in this ministry. I can drop all of my plans, one by one. I really like to plan, but through the gospel God has taught me to continue to relinquish my plans in search for his, and whatever my assessment of my own performance is, good or bad, God has allowed me to see his acceptance and guidance – I see what God accomplishes amidst my failures. I believe this is the core impact the gospel has had on my ministry.
English translation provided by Amy, Rachel, Brent, and the China Partnership translation team. Please refer to our reposting guidelines for permission to share on your blog or website.