I recently had the great privilege of visiting Beijing with a team from St Helen’s Bishopsgate, my home church in London, to encourage Christians in the workplace and to participate in certain activities of our partner church in Beijing.
Our week-long itinerary included (1) an evangelistic talk in Beijing’s central business district (国贸), (2) joining in the Christian small groups in various companies dotted across the city, and (3) participating in the small group bible studies of our partner church.
If I had to sum the trip up in one word, it would be “crazy”… mostly in a good way!
It was not only the cultural aspects of Beijing that were crazy, like the sheer number of people on public transport (a.k.a. the Beijing Sardine Experience TM), the exotic food (e.g. Durian Pizza and 豆汁), or the fact that one could alight from a bus and be immediately hit by a motorcycle.
More than that, it was “crazy” to see God at work in Beijing to draw people to Him. Here are just two reflections on what I observed.
(1) God has an unstoppable plan for the world
Each morning, the team would meet to read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians together. Probably the most significant idea in Ephesians is God’s great plan to unite all things under the feet of Jesus (1.10, 22). This great plan unfolds through the church — God’s people — who often look weak, but according to Paul actually display the “manifold wisdom of God […] to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3.10). As the gospel is held forth by Christians — weak vessels (cf 2 Cor 4.7) — and as people are saved and added to their number, God’s wisdom and glory are magnified.
The amazing thing was this: each day, after meditating on God’s great plan in Ephesians, God graciously allowed us to see His plan in action before our very eyes as we went about our various activities in Beijing.
With a population of circa 22 million, the church can look and feel tiny compared to the sheer size of the sprawling city. Add to that the pressure from the government to water down the gospel, or to stop preaching it altogether: on one of the days we were there the government banned the sale of all bibles such that overnight it became impossible to buy a bible — not even on Tao Bao (the Chinese “Amazon”) on which you can quite literally buy anything under the sun (apparently, even a wife so I’m told!).
And yet, despite these odds, God is growing His church; His sheep hear the voice of their Good Shepherd and follow Him, as He calls them by name (John 10; cf 6:44).
We encountered so many people who had come to trust in Jesus in the last month or two, and many more for whom there was a real, tangible hunger to hear the gospel and to know Jesus more.
For example, at an evangelistic lunchtime event (where one of our team gave the talk and another shared her testimony), 50-60 people showed up, about half of whom (I learned later) were seekers and of whom 5-6 said that it was their first time hearing the gospel! When we split into small groups to discuss the talk, two of my group members said that they had just come to Christ on Easter Sunday — just three days before!
These numbers were staggering to me, but according to a pastor at our partner church, this was just another day at the office.
(2) His plan unfolds as the gospel is preached
The remarkable thing about all of this was precisely that what was being done was so unremarkable: as Christians shared the gospel with those around them, as they read the Scriptures with their peers, people who were once dead in their sins were made alive in Christ (cf Eph 2.5). No gimmicks, no smoke machines, no music videos; just the gospel: “while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.6).
This should not have surprised me, but it did. The New Testament is replete with fairly “non-glamorous” instructions. The Ephesians are told to pray for all the saints that they may be bold to preach the gospel (Eph 6.19). Timothy is charged with preaching the word (2 Tim 4). Most of all, Paul, the greatest evangelist in the history of the world, tells the Corinthian church that he did not come to them with lofty speech or wisdom, but sought to preach Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2.1-5).
My time in Beijing showed me how, at least tacitly, I had become ashamed of the gospel. Even though the gospel seems weak in the world’s eyes, it is the power of God — 神的大能 — for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1.16).
I also saw how simple it was to share the gospel. Our team had the opportunity to train a few small groups on how to use Two Ways to Live (人生二路), a remarkably concise and comprehensive presentation of the good news of Jesus which I cannot commend more highly. (Just as an encouragement, I have since used the Two Ways to Live framework in both English and Mandarin to share the gospel with two taxi drivers, my sister, and my grandma!)
Beijing was a “crazy” (good) experience because I was graciously granted to see, in vivid technicolor, God’s glory and wisdom revealed through the unfolding of his great plan.
As the good news of God’s great love is proclaimed, sinners are ransomed, the church is built, and Jesus Christ is glorified. Although the gospel looks weak in the world’s eyes, it is the power of God to save.
And He is saving.
Not just in Beijing, but across the world He is gathering a people to Himself from every tribe, tongue and nation (cf Rev 7.9).
What a glorious plan — let’s get behind it.