I had been warned that the Protestant churches in China (there is
only one legal Protestant denomination in the People’s Republic) are a little
conservative. As a result I was surprised the first Sunday in Beijing when not one but two women pastors
were presider and preacher at Chongwenmen congregation. The next Sunday in
Xinyang, the gathering of at least 800 Christians was again presided over by a
“Is this unusual?” I asked our host, the program director for China Service Ventures.
“No,” he said. “The women are the
reason there’s any Christianity left at all in China. They were the ones who kept
the faith during the Cultural Revolution, meeting secretly in homes.”
It’s still illegal to meet in house
churches in China,
and how much religious freedom there is still depends very much on the largesse
of local government officials, but the existing congregations are by all
appearances thriving. Both services we attended were in large buildings, and
both were full to the brim.
As I looked around me, I couldn’t
help but see all these older Chinese women and think about what they have
witnessed in their lives. Certainly not all of them took the risk of practicing
their faith during those dark years, but it is clear some of them did.What storms they endured in their little
dinghies of the church so that their children and grandchildren might worship
as they now do!
One monk was asked how he survived
the Cultural Revolution. “ I went for a long walk,” he replied. No doubt for
most of China’s
women, that was not an option. And yet, they kept the faith.
I think about this when I read the story of
Jesus walking on the water. The disciples are certain they are fish food. They
see only with the eyes of seasoned fishermen and assume that they have been
abandoned by God, until Jesus identifies himself: “Do not be afraid. It is I.”
American Christians have a lot to
learn from the rest of the world: like what real faith means.