Today we visited a Three Self Church in China. A Three-Self Church is the government accepted church in China. There were probably 500 people in the building which definitely looked like a church building complete with arched windows with a Cross on the outside. I was very interested to attend a church in China alongside other Chinese Christians. Foreigners are not allowed to attend a Chinese church in China unless it is a Three-Self Church. We were the only foreigners in attendance and as we walked in heads turned and as always the staring began. We sat midway through the hall and while people were filing in slowly an older man probably in his 80’s was preaching to a dozen people seated a few rows ahead of us. I asked our host what he was saying. He was quite forceful in his speaking and he went on for about 15 minutes. Our host told us that he was the Pastor of the church and he was preaching on how to be saved. After some time he asked the people if they wanted to receive Jesus. About 8 hands went up and so they were asked to come to the nearest row to the Pastor and pray a prayer with the Pastor. The Pastor would say something (all in Chinese) and they would repeat it. This went on for at least 10 minutes. People were standing around staring at the people making sure they were repeating the words. At the end the Pastor put his hand on each person and prayed for them. One of the people did not pray the prayer and the Pastor put his hand on the man’s head and asked him, “Why didn’t you pray, when will you pray with me?” A few ladies in one of the rows said they wanted to pray the prayer and so the old Pastor went about the process all over again. Afterwards they all filed out and I asked our host where they were going. She said he was taking them to a room to teach them about Jesus. This was our introduction to the morning service.
|The Pastor standing to the right|
Afterwards the singing began. Many of the people are new to the church and so the choir director stood at the front and began to teach the songs to the people. She would sing one verse and ask the people to repeat it and did so for the entire verse till the people could sing along. They also had 2 large screens at either side of the podium in the front of the building and on those screens were the musical notes with the beats and the words in Chinese. There were not pews like in US churches but a row of seats with no place for hymnals or Bibles. The people own their own song books and Bibles and bring them each Sunday or borrow them as they enter the building. When the people had the song down, they would sing the entire song together. We knew two of the songs, one being, “Stand Up For Jesus, the other being “Amazing Grace.” It was good to see people of all ages in the church but mostly older men and women though I did see young people there also. After they sang a few songs in this manner it went quiet for a period of time and then a bell gonged about 5 times. During this time the Choir came to the front of the stage (about 30 people) in white robes with blue sashes. They sang a very lovely song which I could not recall hearing before. When they sang I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst. It was lovely. One of the young women came and read something in such a dramatic way which touched me. She was an excellent orator though I had no idea what she said. They sang a few songs and then went back to their seats.
A young woman came to the platform and read from Matt 28:16-20 and then we all prayed for a time. Again another woman came and began to speak from the scriptures. She must be an assistant pastor or a pastor. There are many women pastors in China. My host said she spoke on the Kingdom of God. She spoke for some 45 minutes or so. It was all in Chinese so we didn’t understand any of it. However, directly in front of us sat a child of about 6 years old who was very fidgety but was very entertaining. However, this little girl with a boy’s haircut was getting annoying to everyone around her; standing up, sitting down, bothering her Mama who did absolutely nothing. The older woman in front of this child would turn around and say something forceful in Chinese. The child utterly ignored her. Then the elder woman next to the child would slip the child a candy. The child would stand up again and irritate the lady in front to the right and she would turn around and glare at the Mother and say something sharp to the child who never paid her any attention. The old grandma next to her would say something quietly and smile and this went on for some time. The child became more and more fidgety as time went on and suddenly a hand from behind me thrust a piece of candy towards the child and the girl sitting next to me passed it on to child. My host also from time to time would scold the child and the girl sitting next to me also. So you see, it is true in China as Mrs. Clinton once said, “it takes a village to raise a child!”
I forgot to tell you the Mother of this child turned to my host and asked if we knew Jesus because if we didn’t she would teach us about Him. Our host smiled and told her we were believers.
A couple of times during the service the whole congregation said aloud what I thought might be The Apostles Creed or something of this nature. One might think it strange at the way they spoke the words which to a Westerner sounded loud and militant. But we must remember the culture of these people. Being subject to communism all of their lives, whatever they do they do with a fervor which is typical of the Communistic party and their approach.
The meeting soon ended after another song and prayer and then everyone filed out of the building for the next service. I think they must have at least 4 services beginning from 7 am through noon for there are many people who attend this church. Think about it – 500 or so at each service – that’s about a congregation of 2000!
My impressions – even though this church is controlled by the government there is opportunity to hear the gospel and the word of scripture, scriptural songs and hymns, and there is the Spirit of the Lord which was definitely in their midst. It was lovely to be in a large congregation like that to see firsthand Chinese Christians together in one place. There was no opportunity for individual participation or real worship together in song – it was mostly learning songs. However, there is no fear in teaching others about Jesus or fear of speaking out. They speak with determination and force which can be a bit intimidating as I watched the one man praying the prayer and several people hovering over him making sure he said every word the Pastor said. However, the Spirit of the Lord can work in any setting and sometimes just hearing the word of scripture whether in song or in the reading of the scripture one can be enlightened or quickened by the Spirit.
|Our friend Hairaa (on the right) and her younger sister|
|The front of the church|
|As you can see there were many people in attendance!|
We, being the only foreigners in the building, were sure to stick out and as we walked out of the building towards the street an old man walked up to Richard and shook his hand and handed him a paper in Chinese. Another group of young people stopped us on bicycles and asked us in English if we had just attended the church. They had also and we started a conversation and when they learned that Richard was a Pastor they were very keen to learn more of the Bible. We arranged another meeting which went very well. So overall it was a very good experience.
|Spring, me, Victor, Hairaa and her sister, and John|