[Feature] Elder Sun Zhaocheng Who Serves in Danyang for Decades: 'I’ve Kept the Faith'

Elder Sun Zhaocheng
1/3Elder Sun Zhaocheng
Elder Sun Zhaocheng in Danyang, Jiangsu, read a book in November, 2021.
2/3Elder Sun Zhaocheng in Danyang, Jiangsu, read a book in November, 2021.
Danyang Gospel Church in Jiangsu, the first church that Elder Sun Zhaocheng helped to build
3/3Danyang Gospel Church in Jiangsu, the first church that Elder Sun Zhaocheng helped to build
By Josiah LiNovember 29th, 2021

“Some people don't believe it firmly and some take it casually. In the Christian faith, I am determined to believe to the end,” said the 80-year-old Elder Sun Zhaocheng when recalling his more than 70 years' walks with the Lord.

These brief confessions summed up how he was dedicated to the church as a child similar to the story of Samuel; his hard work acknowledged by his community; the running of building churches in urban areas and grass-roots churches; and the “shepherd” life for believers.

From 1988 to 2017, Elder Sun served as the chairman of the Danyang Christian Three-Self Patriotic Movement for 30 years, during which he also served as the vice-chairman and vice president of the Zhenjiang Christian Council for many years. He was a member of the CPPCC National Committee and a member of the Standing Committee of Danyang Municipal Committee on behalf of religion.

Childhood: "Samuel" living in the church

In 1893, the American Methodist missionaries came to Danyang to preach the gospel. Missionaries established Danyang Gospel Church in Xinmin West Road. Born in 1892, Sun Guowen and his wife, Jiang Aidao, joined the Gospel Church in 1943 and served as volunteers. Sun was responsible for taking care of the plants of the church, while his wife assisted a full-time female pastor Zhang Mude (Chinese name) by doing her needlework.

Little Sun went to church with his foster parents, the Sun couple, at an early age, and was baptized at the age of eight. He recalled his experience in Sunday school with a smile, “Someone asked me if I believed in Jesus. I replied yes! There were sweets, milk, biscuits, and clothes. I used to sit on a small bench, clap hands and sing. I never had hunger.”

When Sun was in primary school, he lived in the church. At that time, there was a pastor’s building behind the church that also included an annex building where he lived. Because he was adopted, he was dedicated to the church to serve the church, which was similar to Samuel’s experience in the Bible. So, Pastor Zhang named him "Samuel".

Little "Samuel" was responsible for closing the windows and doors every night in the church and opening the doors after getting up in the morning. After each evening prayer meeting, he would turn the lights off and close the doors.

From the lives of missionaries and believers, he accepted the truth that “more blessed is giving than receiving”, and he took deep roots in his faith.

At that time, the scene of Christians loving each other made it unforgettable to him. Elder Sun was born in 1942. Before 1949, when there was a shortage of supplies, people often had little to eat. At that time, when food was scarce, his foster parents often gave vegetables and food from their home to the church. Everyone made an effort to reach out a helping hand to any believers with family difficulties.

“At that time, a cauldron was built at the gate of the church, where gruel was made, and the believers in rural areas brought side dishes in. Anyone in need could come and eat. My father was responsible for cooking porridge, and I helped to add firewood.” Sun said, “At that time, there was special love in the church and I was greatly influenced.”

In addition to the apparent love, Elder Sun also saw the sacrifices made by pastors to preach the gospel. A local pastor couple (Pastor Si Wuming and his wife, Liu Lude, a teacher) preached there and at the same time, the wife did sewing work to make a living. Even so, whenever Samuel visited them, they treated him with warm hospitality.

When studying in junior high school, Sun left Danyang Gospel Church where he had lived for several years, but he went back to the church every Saturday to open the doors of the church on Sunday morning. He also attended Sunday worship in the church. In addition, because the pastoral staff couldn’t understand the Danyang dialect, he would accompany them to visit believers' homes that were in the more rural areas.

Be conscientious in the workplace and acknowledged by leaders and colleagues

After graduating from junior high school, he entered another stage of his life, the workplace. Through hard work, he made his beliefs clearly visible to his colleagues and leaders.

In the machinery industry he worked for, he was a leader in many respects. In 1993, under the policy of town planning through science and technology, he served as the vice president of a township enterprise, and after that, he worked as a teacher in a technical school for more than ten years.

Elder Sun’s Danyang state-owned workplace had nearly 2,000 employees, and the workshop he was responsible for specialised in complex types of work such as metalworking and electronics. During that period, he worked all year round. If the equipment broke down, he had to repair it in the middle of the night, and he also had to carry out major equipment maintenance on holidays.

When talking about that experience, his wife gave great opinion, “He didn’t care about anything at home, and he didn’t care about the children’s studies. I had to take care of the housework when I was pregnant.” In this regard, Sun felt indebted to his wife in his later years and spent as much time with his family as possible to make up for it.

Sun’s son was in the same department as him, and he was very strict with his son. When his son was late for work, he would deduct his son’s salary, and his son would complain to his mother when he got back home. When his son was rated as an advanced worker, he worried that this was related to his position as the workshop director, so he removed his son's quota and gave it to other workers.

Sun said that among the 2,000 people in the whole factory, only he was a Christian. Every Sunday, even if it was necessary to work overtime, the factory director would take the initiative to say to him, “Go to church to say Amen.”

When a grass-roots church staff member went to the factory to look for him to build a church, he had to register the time that he entered the factory, and he also needed to register when he left. However, when the doorman heard that he was looking for Elder Sun, the doorman said, “an ‘Amen-person’ is here” and just let him in.

His work occupied most of his time. However, his experience played a great role in promoting the construction of churches in Danyang city and grassroots churches.

For 20 years, he promoted the construction of 17 churches.

After the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee, churches all over the country resumed their services one after another. By then, Danyang Gospel Church was occupied by Minsheng Printing Factory. Several believers and Sun had to hold a family service at a sister’s house in Qiaojia Lane, Danyang. Slowly, the number of church members increased to more than 30. The room was too small for normal activities.

In 1984, they hoped to resume gatherings in the church but this expectation fell through. In the end, the church received compensation of 9,000 Yuan from Minsheng Printing Factory, and the government purchased an old factory of optical instruments and transformed it into an evangelical church.

Ten years later, the church had between 200 and 300 believers, and the old church couldn’t fulfill the meeting requirements. Moreover, the old church had become a dangerous building and urgently needed to be demolished in order to be able to build a new church.

In June 2006, the Gospel Church acquired 5 mu (0.82 acres) of land to rebuild the new building. The new church was under construction in August 2007, was completed in August 2008, and opened for use in November of that year. With a constructed area of 1,842 square meters (2.76 acres) and a height of 32.8 meters, the church can accommodate more than 1,000 people.

Today’s Gospel Church is the first church that was promoted by the Elder Sun. He still remembers the original construction scene, “What a pain!”

Danyang Gospel Church was adjacent to a mosque, and both of them obtained land for religious sites at the same time. After getting the land grant, Elder Sun put up stakes on the dividing line between them overnight to prevent disputes over the land later.

There was a swine farm behind the church, and 200 plague-affected pigs were thrown into the land where the mosque was planned to be built. After Sun discovered it, he was worried that the Muslims would not want this land anymore, meaning that the land for the church may not be guaranteed either. So, they asked excavators to take the dead pigs away and bury them early in the morning.

Next to the church was a vegetable field. Because of where the church building was situated, rainwater poured into the vegetable field. Farmers pushed down the wall of the church twice. Elder Sun quickly dug the diversion canal to solve this problem.

The location of the church is low-lying, and Sun still clearly remembers that at that time, more than 900 trucks of earth were removed, and 3,000 pillars were driven and irrigated.

In order to ensure the quality of the project, sometimes he held a flashlight at night to check the steel specifications for construction.

When the construction quality was being checked, he used to hold out in the open air at the construction site until dawn.

There was heavy rain when putting up a cross on the top of the church. Elder Sun asked believers to pray on the ground. He climbed to the top with a red stainless-steel cross on his back to put it in place.

The church was built almost from scratch, funded by the constructor, and it cost more than two million Yuan. It took two or three years to pay off the debt after the church was built.

In addition to the tithes and offerings of believers in this church, the funds for building the building also came from the contributions of various grass-roots churches in Danyang. Elder Sun rode a motorcycle to preach in the grassroots churches and raised funds for the gospel church. Some churches donated 20,000 Yuan, others donated 30,000 Yuan, all in cash. He rode a motorcycle back to the church.

In the process of building the church, Elder Sun sometimes became ill. When he saw so many high-rise buildings in the streets, he would think, since God is the Almighty who created everything in the world, why is it so difficult to grant land and raise funds for building churches? Later, during a service, he realized that prayer was useful, and building a church was different from building ordinary buildings in the streets and had eternal significance.

He also made design drawings of many churches in Danyang and went through the relevant formalities.

When it came to the design of churches, Elder Sun couldn’t help but get excited, saying that every church he designed had its own characteristics and was different. It was a difficult job for most people, but as a mechanical engineer, he thought it was simple. “Architectural drawings are much simpler than mechanical drawings”. Some church drawings took a day or two to complete, while others could take up to a week. Elder Sun enjoyed it. “I could stay up all night drawing.”

Elder Sun talked about the design of the Gospel Church: it was originally planned to be Gothic, so the cost was too high, and it required 5 million Yuan – thus, some changes were made. The pillars on the wall behind the inner sanctuary of the church and under the cross at the top of the church were designed to be like the walls of Jerusalem. A pair of doves of peace with olive branches were arranged on the facade wall of the church. A screen was set up at the entrance of the church, on which the picture of the last supper is now displayed. The main church seating tiers are set to an incline of 40 degrees so that the believers behind can see the podium clearly.

After the completion of the new church, churches in various villages and towns began to reconstruct one after another, and Elder Sun continued to run for this purpose. In the process of building the church, the quality of the building was assured by his expertise. During the construction of Danyang Yacheng Evangelical Church, he found that the builder cut corners and immediately pointed out the problems of the builder. The person responsible for the builder found Elder Sun and bribed him 60,000 Yuan to cover up the defect. Elder Sun strongly disagreed, saying that it was to build a temple for God, so he dared not accept it. In the end, the builder had to tear down that part and rebuild it according to the drawings. In this way, the solicited constructor lost more than 100,000 Yuan.

When asked what the most difficult part in the process was of building the churches, the Elder’s answer surprised me - “getting along with sisters”. He said that as a 40-50-year-old brother, he always had to deal with some female believers and took them to work. That made him embarrassed and worried as others might gossip. To this end, he paid special attention when working with females. If he wanted to go to a place together, he would not take female believers with him by motorcycle but let them take the bus by themselves. In this way, he served in every way possible without any possible blames for his lifestyle.

In this way, the elder spent twenty years helping construct 17 churches in Danyang.

Not giving up pastoral care even at an old age

Sun was assigned as an elder on September 22, 1996. He said that he was the first clergyman assigned by Zhenjiang Church after the reform and opening up in China, and his pastor register number was “Su LF0001”. Because of the lack of clergy at that time, his service burden was heavy.

In addition to preaching in Gospel Church, the Elder often rode a motorcycle to preach in various township churches. He said that some township churches were 10-20 kilometers away from Danyang city, and the farthest church he went to was Huangtang Town Church, which was about 40 kilometers away from the city, and they all rode motorcycles.

One winter, the elder rode to preach in Xinqiao Church, 256 kilometers away from the city and fell down at a slippery intersection of a hotel. Fortunately, he was protected, so he got up quickly. Before the motorcycle turned off, he continued on his way and caught up with the service on time.

“No matter if it’s windy, rainy or snowy weather, as long as you promise, you will definitely go because there is a congregation waiting there.”

When talking about the key to the development of the church, he talked about three elements: praying with one’s heart and mind, visiting and testifying, summarizing his own faith and service experiences.

Elder Sun stressed many times that “sincere prayer was useful”. The prayer that Sun talked about included behavior. He believed that people couldn’t just pray in church every day to ask God to increase the number of believers but should act after prayer. He gave an example. If you wanted a good harvest, you needed to sow seeds and fertilize them.

Regarding visiting fellow believers, Elder Sun pointed out that its essence was love. After the visit, the church could be revived. When a believer didn’t attend a Sunday service, a church worker would visit his house the following week.

While doing a good job of visiting, Elder Sun and his wife were particularly willing to receive visitors. When students of Jinling Theological Seminary went to the church for an internship every Sunday, they arranged for them to eat and live in their own home. Elder Sun said that when he went to some cities in Jiangsu for meetings and visits, pastors often asked him to say hello to his wife because they still remembered the delicious dishes cooked by his wife earlier that year.

When the church welcomed newly graduated pastors from theological seminaries, Mr. and Mrs. Sun would try their best to help them settle down. When pastor Hang of Danyang Church first arrived at Danyang Evangelical Church, Elder Sun’s family put her up for a month and also prepared daily necessities for her. Cui Hu, the young pastor of Danyang Evangelical Church, was picked up by Mr. and Mrs. Sun. The couple drove their van to Jinling Theological Seminary.

“A church without testimony is dead.” Sun said, “One is to testify what one experienced personally. No false testimonies should be given.”

Even though he is 80 years old now, the elder still sticks to preaching to the grassroots church two or three times a month. He rides an electric bike to churches near him and takes a bus or has his family take him to the distant ones.

For being able to hold the Christian faith all his life and always serve as a volunteer, Elder Sun owed it to two aspects: the influence of childhood belief environment - the altruistic love of missionaries, the piety of Christian foster parents and their love for him, and the mutual love between brothers and sisters in the church; on the other hand, what was more important was God’s grace and awe. “What we give is not commensurate with God’s love for us because God’s love for us is better than what we give. Jesus said that he would come again in the future to judge the living and the dead. Can I meet the requirement then?” he added. 

The highest hope of Elder Sun at present was that the young people in the church and the descendants in his family can inherit the Christian faith. “I am old. The historical mission has been completed, and now I have to give the baton to the young people,” he concluded. 

-Translated by Charlie Li

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