China is classified as a “restricted nation” due to its suppression of Christian literature (including Bibles) and highly regulated “tolerance” of Christian churches. Approximately 8% of the population in China is Christian, 13% Buddhist, 28% Confucianism, but the majority is primarily non-religious though local native practices persist.
There are some registered, or authorized, churches, but nearly 90% of China’s Christians attend unregistered churches. In 2011, China’s government initiated a harsher policy against unregistered house churches which has led to more frequent harassment and some arrests. Other abuse includes random detainment, beatings, and torture. Christian persecution in China has increased alarmingly in recent years; there are now more Christians in Chinese prisons than in any other country.
Paul and Junia are long-time missionaries to China, regularly spending large amounts of time there each year. Time spent stateside is served training future missionaries through discipleship and cross-cultural awareness, as well as counseling and raising support for the missional church. They have four children and together this wonderfully dynamic family shares the heart of Jesus Christ with those whom they have been called to reach, in the East and West.
Signet Ring is blessed to have had an opportunity to ask Paul about his experiences. For identity protection, names have been changed.
- Were you able to share the Gospel and disciple people freely in your country of service?
Legally, we are not allowed to share the Gospel and disciple people. However, if we don’t cause the government to “lose face” in their restriction of open evangelism, we are still able to communicate generally everything we feel God prompting us to, individually and discreetly with small groups. As we build relationships, answer questions, and share our personal stories in the context of normal conversation, the truth of the Gospel comes out. Also, presenting the Gospel through songs such as “Amazing Grace” or other creative expressions offers a number of unique avenues to celebrate who God is and His salvation through Christ.
- Please tell of someone whose life was impacted with the Gospel and of the change you saw in their life.
“Jackson” was a very intelligent nonbeliever when he began working with our company about eight years ago, he had not been exposed to the Gospel before working with us. He was friendly, but a bit intense, and critically examined everything. Through the daily witness of the ten or so people on our team for over a year and a half, Jackson walked through his questions about God, particularly the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just as importantly, the consistency of our team members’ love towards him and his family, as well as towards each other, offered a tangible expression of God’s great love for him. After about a year and a half, Jackson prayed with one of our team members to accept the Lord.
As a new believer, Jackson’s brilliant mind and excellent communication skills began to be applied not towards a lucrative career, but towards humbly serving others and explaining the truth of the Gospel clearly and boldly. The most obvious change was an overflowing joy – he has a keen sense of humor and a contagious laugh! “Jackson” has been a Christian for over six years now, and the house church he started leading soon outgrew his home, with more than thirty people coming several times a week! Those he has discipled have begun sharing the Gospel with others, continuing the pattern teamwork Paul expressed in 1 Corinthians 3:6. “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”
- What has been your most noticeable spiritual change since you began ministry as a missionary?
As a couple and as a family, the most exciting and obvious change in our spiritual dynamic is seeing our four kids take initiative in obeying the Lord. The years of prompting them to pray or asking them what the Lord is showing them has now translated into them asking if we can pray about an issue or volunteering a Scripture they believe God is showing them about a specific circumstance. This has been most rewarding.
- What was/is the greatest spiritual need in your ministry? Physical need?
The greatest spiritual need in our ministry is prayer support. We have seen so many times that an area of growth, an opportunity, or an unexpected breakthrough has been the direct result of friends interceding specifically and faithfully.
The biggest physical need is finances. As faith-based missionaries, our income comes through contributions of friends and churches who share our commitment to see the transforming power of Jesus Christ reach every nook of the globe. We’ve seen God’s amazing provision in miraculous ways over the ten years we’ve been involved with full-time missions work. However, there have been many lost opportunities due simply to a lack of funds.
- Please tell me about your church experience and worship in your country of service (ex: How were/are church services different or alike?).
Church services in the country we serve are either a bit stiff or formal in the government-approved services and much smaller (10 – 25 persons) in the house churches because they don’t want to call attention to themselves, causing the government to lose face and react. There are some godly pastors for the government-approved services, but the sermons can be relatively sterile because they may have to submit sermons to government officials before presenting them. The smaller house churches tend to be vibrant with singing, longer prayer times, shorter messages, and more personal testimonies.
- Please describe your personal Bible study and prayer schedule in the mission field. Is it difficult to maintain?
With my wife and I both having typical workplace jobs prior to entering missions full-time, we understand that a hectic schedule can nudge devotional times right off the cliff, no matter what the occupation or life calling. It happens with us as with anyone, and there are seasons when it can be very difficult to maintain. Over the years, though, this pattern has actually flip-flopped.
When we have less stress and rare “down time,” it can become very challenging to take time to pray or open our Bibles. But when our demands are greatest, our personal Bible study and prayer times increase rather than get trimmed out, for admittedly selfish reasons. A certain level of desperation for God’s involvement can be a powerful motivator for time with Him because we have seen Him solve some major headaches for us in a matter of hours, not to mention the peace and confidence the Lord offers when we need it most.
- Describe an experience you had in the mission field that deeply impacted the way you do ministry.
When our family was overseas for about 18 months, we were wrestling with whether to continue living there or transition to a stateside training assignment we had been invited to accept. About that time, a group of women from California visited our team to offer prayer and encouragement. Without us sharing details about the decision we were facing, one of the women asked us when they met with us, “Do you feel it’s more important to be a martyr or a multiplier?” They were sensing that we were willing to sacrifice things God wasn’t asking us to sacrifice, but that we would be effective multipliers while still enjoying some of the things we had been willing to give up.
We soon accepted the stateside training role that had been offered and now train and encourage missionaries in overseas work. Another prophetic word spoken over us during that season was that we were supposed to be bridge-builders to that nation and specifically to the city where we had been serving. We also have regularly returned to that country and have helped short-term teams and one long-term missionary begin serving in that region.
- What most encourages you and what do you enjoy most in your missional work/service?
Because we help train and give pastoral support to twenty-one missionaries in nine different nations, we feel privileged to have a front-row seat to the inspiring testimonies shared from around the world. Sprinkled among the day-to-day difficulties and routine aspects of struggling through an unfamiliar culture are undeniable reminders of God’s love and provision. God’s work internationally is fascinating and has a contagious energy behind it, so we are never bored and see the Gospel moving forward even in the tragedies and difficult times. We are honored to work with very humble and creative people, and we see our amazing God’s character through them and in how He consistently answers prayers on their behalf.
Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Discipleship Issue.