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Editor's note: Zhoukou, located in the southeast of Henan province, is an agricultural city with a population of 11.4 million. Zhoukou Church was founded in 1883. Currently, there are over 3,000 clergymen and more than 450,000 Christians, over 90% of whom are scattered in rural areas. With urbanization, the church faces the problem of caring for many left-behind seniors, women, and children while receiving few tithes and offerings. Preachers need to take their livelihood into account.
A theological training center was established by the local church in 2004 to train pastoral workers for the city's more than 1,200 churches and gatherings, and also provides computer training, teaching on maintenance of agriculture machinery, farming and breeding techniques, as well as the culture technology for edible mushrooms. These training programs are carried out under the principle of "three functions and three services". "Three functions" refers to making a church into a "chapel" where Christians worship, a "lecture room" for spreading laws and knowledge, and a "classroom" to train members enriched with practical technology. "Three services" means developing volunteer preachers into preachers proclaiming the gospel, servants serving the believers, and technicians helping the villagers to cast off poverty and get rich.
The Gospel Times interviewed a preacher and two theological graduates, all from local churches. Although they are in different positions, they have one thing in common; they are young and suffer from stress in life, but want to dedicate themselves to God.
Below is the excerpt of the interview:
The first interviewee is Brother Shi who has served in the church for over three years. He is in his thirties and studied theology in Zhoukou Christian Training Center from 2014 to 2016.
Gospel Times: Hi, Brother Shi. What are you learning here and which church are you from?
Brother Shi: I'm a preacher from Shizhai Church of Xiangcheng, Zhou. I participate in the computer training which over 100 people have joined.
Gospel Times: It is said that just a few preachers attend it.
Brother Shi: Few preachers from the local church take part in it. Owing to a serious aging population problem existing in the church in Zhoukou, the local church promotes the "three functions and three services" initiative to pay attention to local left-behind children and the aging issue. So it trains preachers to serve them.
Gospel Times: Did you follow Jesus at a very young age? When did you start to study theology?
Brother Shi: I accepted Jesus when I was a child and went to Zhoukou Christian Training Center in 2014 to study theology. I accepted the idea of "three functions and three services" after seeing the need of the local church, particularly the loneliness of left-behind children. I wanted to serve in an aging church.
Gospel Times: How do you think the computer training can help your ministry?
Brother Shi: It can help me educating children better. Their grandparents fail to educate them well due to the generational differences. We mainly learn basic computer knowledge in the training. The local church has gradually developed informatization and access to the Internet. The older generation hardly follow the church development while the younger generation have not risen up. I feel the church is backward. If a batch of middle-aged people want to serve in the church, more people will walk into the church.
Gospel Times: You choose to stay while many young people migrate to cities for jobs with urbanization.
Brother Shi: I see the need of the church and the loneliness of rural left-behind children. The number of the children will increase without the younger generation serving them. Their parents don't understand their sufferings. When we focus on them and speak about their defects, their parents will be with them more often.
Gospel Times: We learn that the preachers of the local church of Zhoukou work without pay, subsidized occasionally. Will this be a challenge to you?
Brother Shi: It's a big challenge! The preachers serving the church of Zhoukou are indeed unpaid. However, the church of Zhoukou presents the idea of "three functions and three services." The part of being a technician requires us to learn some techniques to feed ourselves and church believers. Then we can make money at home rather than moving for work. In this way the number of the children can be lowered.
Gospel Times: What techniques have you learned as of now?
Brother Shi: I attended the theological training for two years. This is my first time to join the computer class. During my training days, theology was just one part of the study. I also learned techniques on farm management such as how to cultivate flowers and raise animals.
Gospel Times: Have you put the techniques into practice?
Brother Shi: Yes, but I can only use a bit for I haven't grasped the essence. I used to be a farmer and the techniques I learned can help me do better in farm management. Apart from the ministry, I have to farm the land to make a living.
Gospel Times: How do you interpret social service?
Brother Shi: We, the group of young people, should stand up to serve society. Serving society starts with serving the church, and the latter can attract more people into the church to hear the gospel.
Gospel Times: What do you think about the idea of "three functions and three services"?
Brother Shi: When I was a little child, my parents told me that I needed a living skill to support myself. I quite agree with the idea and also know why we need technology and service. As the local church of Zhoukou receives few tithes, the preachers have to provide for themselves. I share with my church that a preacher needs to learn a technique to serve society so that more people can know the church is a community to help others instead of a powerless one. My church cares for the left-behind children as well, and visits the lonely and left-behind elders at the end of the year, but just a tiny bit.
Sister Zhang, 20, started her two-year study at Zhoukou Christian Training Center on July 1, 2015 after graduation from high school. She was recommended by a rural church of Huaiyang County. She followed Jesus as a child and her parents both supported her theological study. Now she serves in a local church in her hometown.
Gospel Times: Could you share the status of your church?
Sister Zhang: My church has about 500 people, more than two-thirds of whom are elderly. There is a large percentage of local left-behind children, most of whose parents are not at home. They need persons the same age as their mother to care for and love them, for their grandparents give much less care than parents. My church has many believers, yet lacks spirituality and is thirsty for nurturing. They need a preacher to teach them both Biblical knowledge and the message that combines God's word with the times.
Gospel Times: How do you understand the "three functions and three services" idea?
Sister Zhang: The idea was proposed based on the local need of our church in Zhoukou. Most of the congregation here are rural believers. By no means can preachers just serve on Sundays. They also need to support their families.
Gospel Times: Why did you choose to study theology after graduation from high school?
Sister Zhang: I struggled with it many times and went there after the gaokao, the national higher education entrance exam. I wanted to go to college like my schoolmates, but God chose me.The November before last, I was eager to repeat a year of high school, while the teachers told me that the related website had been closed when I found them to enroll again. However, I can learn some courses by myself.
Brother Wu, 26, comes from a rural church of Dancheng County where he serves as choir leader. He followed his families to the church when he was young. His parents hope that he can serve in the church. Having studied theology in Changge, a county-level city in central Henan, Wu has studied in the Zhoukou Center for one year. He is preparing to enter Nanjing Union Theological Seminary.
Gospel Times: Could you share something about your hometown church?
Brother Wu: In the beginning it had three to four hundred members. Some years ago, it was divided into three churches to provid convenience for nearby believers. Currently 200 people gather in the church, rising to 300 on the Chinese New Year when the church is full of people. The majority of the congregation is elderly.
Gospel Times: Do you think it's hard to work as a preacher?
Brother Wu: My mother does ministry in the church. I will be busy, too. It's not a big deal to work hard as a preacher. I think that is my path, following God's election and will. I'm the eldest in my family and have a younger brother. When I was a little boy, my father wanted me to study theology. After graduation, I thought that it was time to study theology.
Gospel Times: What do you want to comment on the development pattern of the church in Zhoukou?
Brother Wu: Zhoukou is an agricultural city filled with farmland. People here are poor. Many preachers stay in their hometowns rather than go out to work. So the church will teach them some agricultural techniques to equip them with the capacity of supporting themselves while evangelizing, otherwise, a lot of young preachers will head to South China where they work part-time. The older preachers who live at home need to join in the technique training. It is generally acknowledged that the church only needs a church building for gatherings, not thinking much about technique training.
Gospel Times: Have you participated in some social service activities initiated by the church of Zhoukou?
Brother Wu: I just joined in an activity that sent lambs to seniors who could raise them to improve their living conditions.
-Translated by Karen Luo
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