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Rural Church from Revival to Closure during Pandemic

Rural Church from Revival to Closure during Pandemic

A Henan rural church. A Henan rural church.
ByCCD contributor: Xiao Bin September 03, 2020
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Returning to my hometown in Jiangsu to survive the hot summer, I was informed that the church my mother had served for more than a decade may be closed. Even though I knew that sooner or later this was going to happen, I still found it unacceptable.

There was an old church in our town, founded by my mother’s generation. As the leader of the church, my mother, who has been sick since childhood, went out almost every day to visit people and evangelize while looking after two children.

She nearly wore herself out until a woman surnamed Zhao came to join her. My mother asked if this more eloquent woman who liked preaching could replace her. Zhao agreed and began to lead the church. 

Growing step by step, the church absorbed many strange people with problems. She had only one principle – compromises could be made on everything as long as people were willing to come. Then the congregation found it was stressful dealing with those people. 

When my mother and some sisters reached their limit, a new pastor named Auntie Wang, arrived in the town. Married to a man in Anhui, Wang moved here to care for her elderly sick mother.

She was also asked to preach sermons. Many members liked her sermons, preferring them to the more chatty style of sermons preached by Zhao.

However, Zhao suspended the work of Wang without any reason. Intending to change the church through her sermons, Wang chose to establish another church instead.

My mother was supportive of her, contacting six other women to join the new church.

Different from the old one, the new church focused much more on preaching and training. The old members used to gather just two hours, but now they came together for a whole day; they strictly obeyed the Bible instead of having too much fun in eating and drinking; they needed to study the Bible rather than listening to superficial sermons. An extra training program was held for half a year. It attracted those elderly devout Christians. People around the church slowly learned that the  church offered free lunches. Then many people in their seventies or eighties became members.

In the beginning, Wang spent money buying gifts for them -- which later became the custom.  At its peak, the church had more than 60 members, about half of whom were young. It threatened the old church. Zhao claimed there could be just one church in the town - the new church should be closed or move.

Zhao’s influence led to the church being relocated in a distant village. A sister in that village provided her shabby house as the place of worship. The congregation made donations and renovated the house.  A new church was built, named Tian’en Church ( Heaven’s Grace Church).

Believers were active in attending the church, but a problem emerged because they had to walk a long way there. The person who lives the farthest needed to walk for three miles after a bus trip. At first, some people going in that direction drove them, but many elderly members with mobility problems stopped coming. The attendance was reduced to around a dozen. 

At that time I comforted my mother that those people just came to have free lunches and seldom gave a tithe. Their leaving saved some money.

The greatest challenge was when the house owner had to divorce her husband, who was engaged in an extramarital affair. After the divorce, she left the town for a job in a city.

What was worse, the church encountered a neighborhood conflict. Later the services and gatherings were harassed by local persons. When people gathered in the house, there was always a big noise outside. Some wanted to shut the door, but the others believed that “the door of salvation should be kept open all the time.”

Little by little, the church was divided into two sides: some stood with Wang and the other supported the local Sister Qin. 

After baptism, many new people could not bear the harsh religious discipline and practice demanded by Wang. 

Suddenly her mother passed away. Sometime later, she had to return to Anhui to raise her grandson. 

The church was turned over to Antie Xu who is easy to get along with  and rich. Unconvinced of the decision, Qin left the church with some people. More than twenty people remained in the church. The choir of 20 members changed into a team of five middle-aged members. 

The wealthy Aunt Xu often gave gifts and benefits to the congregation, so the church managed to maintain the status quo. The remaining believers promised they would not leave, but they broke their word. 

When my wife gave birth to my son, my mother helped us for a year. Unexpectedly, the choir’s members departed one after another soon after my mother left. The church only had Xu and some elderly persons. 

Xu might blame the decrease in believers on my mother. Feeling sad, my mother burst into tears each time she mentioned the church. I had to comfort her. 

Since the coronavirus outbreak in late January, all the churches in China were suspended, including this church. The church remains closed until now. Keeping silent, my mother, Wang, and Xu joined other churches. The small church may not be reopened. 

- Translated by Karen Luo

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