Sister Wang of Henan, 29 years old, serves in two rural churches, and from the age of 18 to theological graduation and to serving the church again. She has been on the path of service for 11 years, and was an ignorant maiden but has become a mother and a wife.
"I never regret believing in Jesus, but I do have regrets about studying theology for three years," she said frankly, "I don't know if what I say pleases God, but I feel the pathway of service is too hard."
Since accepting the Lord, reading theology, and then becoming a minister, all of it would not have been possible had it not been for the influence of her mother. According to Wang, her mother was converted to the Lord in 1992. Four years later, her father died, leaving the 34-year-old mother and four young children, and a debt of 5,000 yuan. Her mother cried all day and lost her appetite. The days were hard and Jesus became the only one to depend on.
After the sudden turn of events, her mother began to serve in the church. She was very enthusiastic. Being illiterate, she concentrated on visitation through the church's Lazarus Ministry. From an early age, she went with her mother to services almost every week. When she graduated from high school in 2008 and had been dreaming of going to college, her mother sent her to Henan Theological Seminary, hoping that she would serve God in the future.
Three years of theological study built up and strengthened her faith. After graduating from seminary, Wang's brother happened to go to college and the burden of her brother's college costs fell on her. She decided to take time off from the church to work in Shanghai for a year to earn money for her brother to go to school. Later she went back to serve in the church.
In Shanghai, she found a job managing a warehouse in a garment factory. Later she sold clothing. In her spare time, she also participated in one part of the Shanghai church's ministry. After concluding her job at her workplace, she returned to her home church in her hometown. However, her behavior in Shanghai caused some controversy. This time her actions were accused of having 'no faith' and it made her path arduous.
There are more than 60 churches in the county, and if you go to other churches to preach, you will receive a 50-100 Yuan subsidy each time. Because of her so called 'greedy love of the world', the local two councils no longer arranged for her to go to other churches to preach. In addition, she was coupled with children after her marriage and so could only serve in two churches. One of the churches is where she can study theology and the other is where her mother-in-law attends.
Why does she say she regrets studying theology? She said she was particularly willing to go to church as a child. Her father died early and her mother worked hard to raise four children. Jesus was who their family depended on. But studying reading theology, she was not willing to go to church, because in everyone's eyes, theology students are meant come to church to serve, to be diligent, kind, not even emotional--aspects that are too demanding for them.
The mentality of a rural church is relatively conservative. Along with some misconceptions about the Bible, some of the teachings of the church's leaders leave people speechless--such as no wedding dress for a wedding; no permed hair for women; wearing a red top with two long braids is just fine. Everything should be simple and particularly so for theology students, They even do not think gifts should be given at weddings.
This was the situation faced by Sister Wang when she was married. Luckily, the wedding gifts were given by the husband's side who took the initiative. At that time the church was under construction. In a service, she took the lead by donating 16,000 Yuan, which was given to her by her in-laws as the engagement gift. She became the most dedicated person on that day.
Because of her, the family of her parents-in-law came to faith and believed in the Lord. Although her husband works in Shanghai, he goes to a nearby church on time every week. However what has always concerned Wang's ministry is a steady salary and the accompanying sense of feeling non-valued.
Originally, the family mainly relied on the husband to work to maintain life and the days can also go on like this, but by the end of 2016, the family again encountered a storm-- her mother, who had been serving in the church, began to feel physically uncomfortable and was diagnosed with cancer!
She started running back and forth with her mother to the hospital receiving radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and spent a lot of money. Facing financial hardships, she was sometimes looking for a stable job just like everyone else. "On the one hand there was a stable income; on the other hand, it also reflected my own values.'
The inability to serve was also a reason for her weakness. She is now pastoring two rural churches with a few young believers and mostly elderly believers, believers who have a limited understanding of the truth and a lack of spirituality. This has also made sister Wang feel that they cannot be left behind.
This puts her in a dilemma: on the one hand, this environment is very depressing, but on the other hand having studied theology, and served all these years, she cannot bear to abandon this ministry and leave the flock without a shepherd.
In serving, she often feels very lonely, very passive, and lacklustre. "I cannot talk about many things. I have no soul mate." In sharing with her husband, he advises her to go out somewhere else to serve.
She mentioned that one Christmas which happened to be on a Sunday, the head of the church arranged for her to give a sermon. However another co-worker requested her to teach no more than 10 minutes because of the many programmes which otherwise could not be finished. She however refused and the length was changed to 20 minutes. A fellow worker comforted her saying, "Depending on the needs of believers, I believe that a 20-minute sermon will also teach them something."
She sometimes wondered what would have happened had she not studied theology and not embarked on this path of service. She would possibly have gone to an ordinary university, found an ordinary job, and then become an ordinary Christian in the church, perhaps not facing so many entanglements and dilemmas.
The author's postscript: In the interview, the author found that sister Wang mentioned that she regretted reading theology, mainly due to difficulties in her service. The relationship with the two local Christian council leaders; the lack of the sense of supporting preachers in the rural church; and the seriously aging rural church which is not vibrant at all and has some extremely conservative ideas--these all contribute to an environment that makes a pastor feel less valued.
In some churches, when the students of theology graduate, their nurturing time is then over. It is difficult for them to get further improvement and support, and the time following is the time for them to start pastoring the church, ignoring that they will face new challenges and puzzles in their position of service. There is a need for constant deep learning from the Bible and faith, as well as from the help and answers from their spiritual predecessors.
The pastor also needs to be shepherded and constantly improve and reinvigorate himself. How to help the pastor improve and renew himself so as to promote the renewal of individual believers as well as the whole church is a problem faced by many grassroots churches.
- Translated by Charlie Li