In an ethnic village in southeastern China, a scenic tourist attraction full of ethnic features, there is a small Christian church. In the church, Pastor L is responsible for presenting Christian culture to tourists from all over the world, answering their various questions, and preaching the gospel. Facing tourists every day, Pastor L has stayed for fifteen or sixteen years. Tourists come and go, but he is steadfast.
A wife who was about to divorce stopped by this church on her trip. She walked in, listened to Pastor L teach about the Bible, and accepted the gospel. Returning home after the tour, she and her husband decided not to divorce.
A couple got married in this church ten years ago. At the wedding, the bride made a wish for twins when Pastor L prayed and gave them blessings. Ten years later, the couple returned to the church with their twin daughters. When they saw Pastor L again, they uttered with a sigh, "The pastor is still there!" Pastor L replied, "Yes, always!"
Many tourists have been blessed after visiting this church. That is why Pastor L has always insisted on staying here.
Church built in a tourist attraction
Because some ethnic minorities in Yunnan have been immersed in Christian faith, churches have become part of their culture. As a window into the social and cultural customs of the 26 ethnic groups in Yunnan, the Yunnan Ethnic Village has naturally contained the element of Christian church in its presentation.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, at least one or two foreign tourist groups were received every day, including those from Europe, the United States, and Southeast Asia. Some simply sit in the church to pray and praise. They sometimes wanted to listen to the Chinese pastor about how things had been. The groups usually stayed for about 40 minutes to an hour.
Some model workers from Beijing also visited. Probably among the model workers from Jiangsu and Zhejiang, some were religious. Their leaders were aware of their Christian faith and asked the pastor to preach to them. These model workers remained well seated in the church. None would stand up until the end of the service.
There are many government leaders who visited and became believers. They even returned to the church to be baptized. However, they do not want to reveal their identities.
Yunnan Ethnic Village church functions as a place not only to present Christian culture to tourists but to hold church activities for the Village employees. According to Pastor L, there are about 70 to 80 believers from 11 ethnic minorities. More than 60 people attend the church regularly. Most of them have been Christians before coming to the Ethnic Village. These employee believers have different working hours (mostly for stage performances), so the Sunday service of the church is sometimes held in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. Most church activities are small group gatherings and visitations of the pastor and church co-workers. There are not many church-wide assemblies.
The Ethnic Village church was built in 2006. After a half year of operation, it experienced some turmoil. It was reported to the provincial government for there should have been no churches in tourist attractions.
Based on Pastor L's recollection, it was a Sunday, and the church was holding a service. The secretary of the provincial party committee took more than 40 people to the church along with him, and the church was full. They said to Pastor L: It's okay. Keep doing what you are supposed to do. We want to take a listen. The church choir sang a hymn, "The Most Beautiful Blessing in This Life." Pastor L gave a prayer of blessing thereafter.
After the service, the secretary of the provincial party committee indicated: "Your church is great. It promotes the positive and contributes to the welfare of the public. The church should be developed further. " No one had criticized the church again ever since.
"It is not true that there is no pressure." Pastor L added.
Seeing the value of the church ministry in a tourist attraction
Before coming to the Ethnic Village church, Pastor L had worked as a teacher in a seminary for five years. "Actually, I was good at teaching in the seminary at that time," Pastor L said.
When the Ethnic Village was recruiting in the seminary, they hoped to find a pastor who would be responsible for receiving tourists in the church and had specific requirements for cultural knowledge and demeanors. A few candidates were interviewed, but none was a good fit. At last, the dean of the seminary talked to Pastor L, "You should go. There should be someone who is qualified in the Christian sector." Pastor L then agreed to take the job.
"I was very disappointed in the first year because this place is different from a typical church. When you preach in a church, there are brothers and sisters sitting and listening. But here, you preach the gospel to the tourists. Those who become believers will leave and return to their homes. No one stays. I was thinking about quitting." After working in the Ethnic Village church for a year, Pastor L wanted to request a transfer back to the seminary.
It did not take long for those who became believers in the church to call Pastor L. One after another, they told him that they had found a church in their community or thanked him for evangelizing to them. Pastor L heard back from dozens of people and was encouraged. That helped him see the effectiveness of his year-long ministry and the value of his service.
In addition, some Christian tourists spontaneously prayed and praised God when they visited. They talked to Pastor L supportively. "That should be the encouragement from God to me," Pastor L pointed out. All these have become the strength to sustain him.
Coping with changes and challenges calmly
During the first year in the Ethnic Village church, Pastor L tallied the number of visitors. It was 630,000.
Pastor L indicated that every town in the Ethnic Village held its performances at that time. There were programs in the church as well. Every day there were three sermons for tourists. After the tourists sat down, Pastor L briefly explained how God loves the world and the blessings of believing in Jesus, etc., followed by two hymns presented by the choir and the pastor’s blessing. Because there were performances of ethnic minorities following in the church, a great number of tourists gathered. Even the outside of the church was crowded. The church organized events for Christmas, too. Thousands of people attended every Christmas.
After 2016, the performances were changed to collaborative presentations by several towns. The regular program of the church was discontinued. Thereafter, because there were voices against Christmas, its activities were not organized any more.
Pastor L himself faces challenges
At the end of last year, Pastor L had a dinner with a few local pastors and church co-workers. They discussed the ownership of the Ethnic Village church. "I know their intentions. If the Ethnic Village church belongs to a certain Three-Self Church District, the Three-Self can appoint its church pastor." Pastor L believes that many people covet the pastor’s position of the Ethnic Village church.
Pastor L told them that the Ethnic Village church was owned by the Ethnic Village company. Instead of the pastor, it is the company owner that they should talk to about who can be in charge of the church.
He made it clear, "You cannot persuade me to quit today because my wages are not paid by the Three-Self Church system. It is the Ethnic village company that pays me. You can talk to the company’s leadership. If they decide to lay off me or ask me to retire in due time, it is time for me to leave this position then. Hiring a pastor has to be done through the human resources of the company."
"If it is the company’s decision, I will be submissive. I have served here for more than 15 years. It is time to move on. Yet, I have not heard any news that the company will lay off me or send another pastor to take over. I’ll do my best as long as I am in this position, taking one day at a time. " Pastor L stated.
- Translated by June I. Chen