Guest post: My First Home Church

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My First Home Church
By Jinghong Cai
Edited by China Aid

On March 12, 2014, China Aid Association reported that a Christian woman was arrested by the police on Christmas Day. The charge was engaging in a Christmas celebration in public and preaching the Gospel on Christmas Day. According to a report from The Catholic Herald on April 10, 2014, the Chinese government seems to have embarked on a campaign of church demolitions, and the Communist Party officials even commented that the growth of Chinese Christians is “too excessive and too haphazardous.” Although the Chinese government denies their church demolition campaign, I believe that the rapid increase in Christian faith in China is true; my personal experience proves that Christians are ostracized, mistreated or even persecuted in China.

I converted to Christianity in China as early as 1985, but sadly I never had a home church in China. The government has not allowed us to have a home church like the Assembly of God, my church in the United States. After several months of attending services and participating in its activities, at this year’s Palm Sunday, as a Christian, I finally was able to claim a home church. I offered my first testimony in front of the congregation, as Pastor Philip Foster announced that I now formally belong to the Church of the Assembly of God. I burst into tears, for pure joy with the Lord.

The first time I came to know Jesus was on Christmas Day 1985. I was a freshman in college, majoring in English literature. Miss Norris, a visiting professor from the United States, taught us spoken English. At 6:30 a.m. on Christmas day, she knocked the door of our dormitory and invited us to go to church with her. “Where is church? What does the church look like? What are we going to do there?” Baffled with all these “mysterious” questions, we sneaked out of our dorm building in the dark. Mrs. Norris put a finger on her mouth, gesturing to be quiet. The church was an old, shabby building tucked behind piles of coal. Although I was born and grew up in Beijing, I never knew there was a church behind the coal mine (coal was sold to the local residents to heat their homes in the winter).

Inside the church, there were only about six elderly people, with grey hair and walking canes, sitting in a cluster at the front of the church. The congregation hall looked huge and dim. No light or candle could be found on the table in the front altar; just an old piece of red table cloth symbolizing that special day as Jesus Christ’s birthday. During Communion, the pastor asked us whether we had been baptized, and when I said “no,” he passed me by, but he later came back and asked me whether I would accept Jesus. I heard myself utter “yes” in a low voice. The pastor looked at me cautiously, without saying anything. He went back to the podium and said to us all, “Let’s pray silently.” The hall was so quiet that we could even hear a needle drop.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1
During my second year at the university, I chose a course called “English Extensive Reading.” My professor was a young Chinese scholar in his thirties. He introduced us to the foundation of English literature—the Bible (versions: Good News and Students’ Bible) and asked us to read Genesis, Exodus, part of Psalms and Proverbs, and the Book of Matthew. While I was frustrated with and struggling in other English reading classes, I found the Bible was so easy to read that I had always felt joyful when reading those chapters.

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:6, NIV Ten years after that first church service, I also secretly took my students to that church on Christmas morning. Although the church was still standing by the coal hill, it had been renovated into a white building. The congregation hall was crowded and looked so small, but the altar was decorated with flowers, candles and lights. The church filled with young faces and many of them were between 25 to 40 years old. As the seats were all occupied, they stood on the aisles and crammed themselves between chairs. Different from my home church here in the U.S., everyone in church looked aloof, nervous and somber, instead of joyfully singing together and peacefully smiling at each other. Later, I learned that even though that church was sanctioned by the government, I could be put in jail, like that Christian woman reported by the China Aid Association, because I did as Jesus said: “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” Mark 5:19. Fortunately, none of my students denounced me to the school authorities, which was a definite possibility with dire consequences.

In the summer of 2012, I went to a small Assembly of God church in a town tucked in the mountains of Idaho, for Bible study. A kind lady from the church asked me where I was from, and when I told her “I am from China,” she told me to wait for a moment. When she came back, she handed me a book—the Bible in Chinese. She said, “It has been in our church for some years, and we don’t know whether it is Chinese or Japanese, but we do know it is waiting for somebody and one day we will give it to that person. Now, it is yours!” Last year, after a long journey, I finally found my first home church in a small university town in Midwestern United States. It is such a joy that I can freely go to church every Sunday, freely sing hymns to worship the Lord, say our prayers loudly with our Pastor, and openly declare my Christian identity!

More and more Chinese like me want to have a home church in China, a real one, not the government-run official church. Yet, we are doomed to be persecuted by the Communist Party in China, because we want to worship Jesus in an overt manner. As His disciples, we want to tell people about God’s miracles, and bring our families and friends to church. But we can’t. Since I’ve been in the U.S., I have strongly suspected that the Chinese government constantly spies on my phone calls or other contact I have with my relatives and friends in China. I often can sense their hints to not talk about my faith or any other “sensitive” issue over the phone. Yet, as a true Christian, I want to do what the Bible tells me to do—“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” Isaiah 1:17, NIV.

I pray to the Lord to guide my parents and my son in China to get to know Jesus.

Jinghong Cai is a PhD Candidate in the field of Education at a university in the U.S. and a guest contributor at China Aid. You may follow her on Twitter at @jhcai613

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