A Grassroots Preacher’s Ten Years in Rural Yunnan
By Ruth Wang, November 15, 2017 09:11 AM
"I'm a preacher who's been preaching in remote rural areas in Yunnan, in the southwest of China" Zheng Yinuo introduced himself.
Around 2006, when Zheng first graduated from three years of theological seminary in northeast China, his initial thought was to serve in Sanyan, a city on Hainan Island, in southeast China. "However, I didn't feel God's calling and wasn't used to the tropical climate either." It was also around that time that he met his wife on a Christian dating platform. "My wife was thinking about Kunming, so I put Yunnan in my prayers and started having visions about serving the minorities there. (Note: Kunming is a city in Yunnan Province.)
Thus began his journey of service in Yunnan.
Although he studied three years in seminary, he still felt lacking, so he worked as an assistant for missionaries at first.
He only had financial support from his mother church for one year. After that, he went on and enjoyed being a freelance preacher. During that time he set foot in many places like Guizhou giving sermons, training, and sharing.
In the beginning of 2016, Zheng shared his sentiment and thoughts on Yunnan with CCD during an interview.
CCD: Could you please tell us what is it like where you serve?
Zheng: My mind was on the minorities when I first came to Yunnan. Then I discovered that the Han people are the "minorities" in the Gospel. Many minorities here have believed in God for over 100 years, like the Miao, Lisu, etc. But the truth is, the faith is merely a ritual for them, entangled with traditional culture.
On the contrary, there are fewer Han believers. Though they have churches in the cities, there aren't any in the country except for house churches. Han people there see Christianity as a "minority" religion. For example, those living close to Miao call it "the Miao religion," and those near Lisu people refer to it as "the Lisu religion." Also, these Han people believe that Christianity is for poor people and they say "Those Miao believers live a less affluent life than us, why would we want to believe?"
Other than Yunnan, I've also been to Guizhou and discovered many similarities between the two places. However, Yunnan churches are more open now, while Guizhou churches still value traditional practices like Pentecostalism.
CCD: Based on the differences between Han and minorities on the Gospel in Yunnan, what's your approach?
Zheng: I mainly help them with the Word of God, which is the only way to change their mindset. Still, our help is limited in Yunnan. It takes time to transform the minority church, including the basic cultural competence, local preachers' abilities, and the churches' opinions. Changes happen gradually.
In fact, young preachers there absorb new things very fast; however, there is obvious tension between old believers and the new generation.
CCD: You emphasized the importance of change, so in your opinion, how should churches in Yunnan update and grow?
Zheng: It is mainly their obsolete ideologies and perception. They need to free themselves from the traditional thinking and accept new ideas.
By traditional thinking, I mean the "inner poverty" caused by history, which makes the faith in Yunnan solicitous. They only want to receive without sharing the faith. Historically this place received great help from foreign missionaries. Even now, it still has support from brother churches in different places. Regrettably, the churches rely too much on material help so they are still very weak.
Over the last ten years, great changes happened in Yunnan. Other than a few poor areas, the rest are doing much better. However, they still need to transform their poor ideology.
I think that the locals should change their mindset to have self-independence, self- government, and self- support. Many of the churches here were built using donations from other areas; the local churches and their believers offered very little.
CCD: What's the situation for the local preachers? What are their advantages and challenges? And how should they improve?
Zheng: Preachers in both minority and Han churches are very much alike in Yunnan. They obviously are very friendly and open; however, because they don't study, they lack the Word of God and pastoral experience.
Many local preachers stay at home, helping with farm work. They either don't go to seminars or they stop after one or two. The faith of some of them has stagnated and lost its sense of calling.
Most of the minority churches I saw have only 20-30 members, and the better ones have around 100. With young people working in other places because of money, the rural churches are very desolate. Many believers choose working over attending church, and the preachers are spiritually weak as well. So many rural churches rotate preachers while sometimes they invite others to come.
The local churches overall care too much about buildings rather than development and ministry. Some rural churches spend 100,000 or 150,000 yuan building new churches, while in truth they only needed 50,000. When you go into these churches, you'll find that not even half of the pews are occupied.
In my opinion, the fundamental problem of the church lies in preachers. The quality of the preachers determines the quality of the congregation. Preachers' respect for God and spiritual studies are very important. If preachers fail in their studies, the sermons and shepherding won't give believers life. Therefore, it's hard for them to offer, which will cause financial difficulties for the church in return. It's difficult for believers to give without getting grace first.
CCD: Believers all over China also care about Yunnan churches, so how can they better help them?
Zheng: A lot of people carry out training here, but many of them have limitations. The training focus on the next generation, which is young people. However, no church will use these young people after their training because of jealousy from the last generation. This drove many preachers to other cities to work.
I believe that the most basic help for Yunnan churches is through the Word of God with anointment. The fundamental is to have preachers with anointment.
CCD: Regarding "help through the Word," do you have any personal experience to share?
Zheng: I mostly preach the foundation of faith and what is the Gospel.
Specifically, I teach them how to pray when they don't know how; I also teach the importance of Sunday services and tithes. These are all foundations of faith.
I also talk a lot about the Gospel. People must be clear what it is.
Normally I preach on the Four Gospels and sometimes in a question style so they would understand why they believe. I use simple words so those without any education could understand too.
CCD: You have served in the remote countryside for ten years, so what kept you going all this time?
Zheng: Rural areas aren't for anyone to stay all the time. Compared to the cities, there are indeed worse conditions. However, my main purpose was to train myself.
My work basically is to assist my fellow workers. I want to stay low-profile and am afraid to stumble, so there I am if there's a need. I could go shepherding in the cities, but considering my situation, I fear to stumble after maturing in urban churches.
In the future, I'll continue serving in rural churches since I'm already used to the accommodation, etc.
Ever since I became a Christian, I never lacked in life. Even during the ten years' in rural churches, God didn't stop supplying for our family.
Personally, I think preachers have one thing missing: a good attitude. I don't approve of a luxurious lifestyle for Christians, nor do I agree to a poor life that shames God. It is not positive for non-believers to think that believers don't care about their families.
Why have I been blessed in my family and finances? The principle of an affluent life for preachers is simple: tithe and giving. I believe that if one submits and follows the Word of God, the basic problems of life will be solved.
I spent 20,000 yuan in seminary, mostly on giving. I like to give and I pray to be a giver instead of a miser. It's simple to give actually: give according to what you have.
Christianity is like planting seeds. You plant and God will let you harvest when the time is up.
CCD: Do you have any plans for your future ministry?
Zheng: I meant to stay five to ten years when I first arrived in Yunnan. This is my tenth year. I want to go to more needy areas like Qinghai, Tibet, etc.
After all, I'm an independent roaming preacher who goes where there is a need.
-Translated by Grace Hubl
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