Interview with a Xuzhou Pastor — A Life Driven by Grace
Editor’s note: Over the past year we have been praying for the Chinese church in a new city each month, providing videos, interviews, and prayer requests directly from the church in China. We hope this helps you better understand the needs of the Chinese church and commit more fervently to stand in prayer with our brothers and sisters.
This month we continue the project with Xuzhou. We’re excited to bring you this interview with a Chinese pastor in the city! We hope you will check out the Xuzhou page for additional content and to sign up to partner with us in prayer.
CP: Can you describe your city?
Pastor: My city is full of the characteristics of traditional Chinese culture. Our lifestyle reflects many qualities of this traditional culture.
CP: Can you describe the people in your city?
Pastor: They value relationships, and they care a lot about their own families. Influenced by the culture of modern Chinese society, they all love money. Few have any religious beliefs. Regarding Christianity, people do not hate it or dislike it; they are not generally opposed to it, not at the start. It is more a lack of interest. This is consistent with the influence of China’s larger environment. The pursuit of material wealth is the most prominent characteristic of the people of Xuzhou.
Otherwise, Xuzhou’s people are relatively “ordinary” across the board. Geographically, the city is where the north crosses into the south; this is why it has historically been regarded as a military battleground. The pace of life is not fast or hectic. It is where northern and southern cultures meet, so it has both the wild ruggedness of the north as well as the kind of managerial shrewdness of the south. It does not have much character of its own, but is rather a blend of China’s north and south and reflects some common features of Chinese traditional culture.
CP: How has the gospel transformed your attitude regarding the environment in which you live, which includes your view toward your country, your people, and your culture?
Pastor: Before I knew Jesus, I was a prodigal son. My mother is a Christian. She used to pray for me day and night, for about ten years. During those ten years, I had fallen into being a part of society’s debauchery, just like the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke. In that almost decade-long period, I could not find my life’s purpose or direction. In the months before I put my trust in the Lord, I felt the significant emptiness of my heart. I had sought my own happiness by living the way I lived, but I was not happy, and I had no peace.
I felt extreme loneliness and restlessness in the depths of my heart. I valued fraternal loyalty and friendship highly, but all I got in return were wounds and scars. I also fantasized about becoming a hero in this city, but I did not become one. I became very disappointed with myself. It was the grace of God that came to me that I finally got to know him.
It was on a day in 1989 that I went back to the church. God once again brought me back there. It was the gospel that was working to change me, showing me that no one can satisfy me in this world. I felt great peace and joy in my heart from the moment I stepped into church. No one could ever pull me away from this again. I made up my mind that I would serve God my whole life, and that was it.
CP: How did this new experience of living in the gospel differ from your previous lifestyle?
Pastor: It was completely different. I used to value earthly things and take pride in my own efforts. I went to jail several times and had imagined that it would satisfy my vanity. But after I became a Christian I began to take joy in glorifying God; I found that serving God gave me great joy and delight. I also came to know that God created me, and that the Lord Jesus died and rose for me. He came down to earth and suffered for my sake. For the sake of such a lowly, insignificant person like me, someone shunned by society even, Jesus was willing to come to this world to bear the cost of my sin.
This is a kind of grace that I cannot understand, and it is this grace that continually motivates and empowers me: I feel that I am living for the Word of God. And the joy in my heart—this kind of satisfaction—far exceeds what anything in the world or what any of my past pursuits was able to offer me. Grace has become the driving force of my life.
I often think this way: if I do not love God and serve him today, if I do not keep doing that my whole life, then I am a fool in scorning God’s grace. Jesus Christ regards me too highly: I am as refuse to the world, yet God has set me in the place of a son. This is too great an honor and too much grace, and it is offered to me by the gospel.
CP: The gospel has touched you deeply. What do you feel about those around you who may still be living like you did? How do you share the gospel with them?
Pastor: After I knew the Lord, I realized that my friends and the people around me were living in emptiness just like I had been. They had no hope and no future because they did not know the gospel. This really motivated me to serve them and share the gospel with them, so I began to reach out to those around me. The first thing that I wanted them to know was that the person who used to be like them was now dead. He does not exist anymore.
Many of my friends from the past see the way I am today and cannot understand or explain why I am different. They say, “Your willpower is strong,” but they do not recognize the mystery of the gospel. However, it is the power of the gospel that has transformed me. So, I first show them the realities of my past and my present — I want them to see how I am truly different. Then many of those who used to know me have followed me to church.
Even though most of them still do not believe in Jesus and have not acquainted themselves with the gospel, their views toward the gospel have started to change. I would take them with me to some outreach events and some Sunday worship services, and they would listen to me preach and watch our programs. Though they do not know Jesus, many begin to seek him when they feel lost or when they experience life’s hardships.
Let me give you an example. I have a friend who has fallen ill recently, and I went to visit him at the hospital. As soon as he saw me, he drew a cross on his chest and said, "Pray for me! Pray for me!" He said this before I had even spoken a word. This has impressed on me that when we live out our faith, we become that “living gospel tract” that can effect change on those around us.
CP: It is true that the gospel is being shared through the testimony of our word and deed. Could you describe the kind of impact that your church has had on the city where you are?
Pastor: The demographics of our church are quite typical of our city. We have people from all different socioeconomic classes, and we are all commoners. A characteristic is that our believers are intentional about sharing the gospel with their non-Christian relatives and friends. We see this very clearly in my church. On a personal level, they are also conscious of the importance of how they speak and how they behave, so that their good deeds can bear witness to the greatness of the gospel itself, living out lives of love, justice, integrity, and meekness through the gospel, ready for opportunities to share their faith with the unbelieving world. Our believers make use of opportunities at work and even times when they are having fun to witness the gospel to those around them.
Besides these personal endeavors, on a church level we organize activities to serve the community where we are. For example, we extend care to seniors without family in our community. We have special days when some of our doctors and teachers offer free consultations and volunteer help to our neighbors. When it snows we sweep the roads in our area clean, and before the summer rain and floods come, we help our community clear the drains and pipes.
With all of these services, it is our community personnel who approach us for help, so these activities themselves are means through which we evangelize the gospel. In other words we communicate the gospel and the love of Christ to the unbelievers around us through practical deeds and these organized efforts, showing them what it means to be upright and to work for the benefit of others. They know our heart and very much appreciate our church.
CP: Thank you for your time. We pray that the Lord will continue to bless your ministry and that your church can truly live out the gospel, so that more will be led to Christ!
Pastor: Thank you.
English translation provided by Amy and the China Partnership translation team.