Zheng’s family was no different. He grew up in Wenzhou, the most Christian city in China with more than 1 million believers. Zheng is a sixth-generation Christian, yet the persecution of the Cultural Revolution weakened his grandparents’ faith, and his parents did not attend church. Zheng professed Christ after a friend brought him to Sunday school in middle school, and he found the Bible so compelling that he returned week after week.
Still, it wasn’t until he left the government-sanctioned Three-Self church, moved to Chengdu, and heard Pastor Wang Yi preach that he realized Christianity affected all aspects of his life, his country, and the world. Zheng felt convicted about the Chinese government’s encroachment on religion, believing “our soul is God’s … this is something that the secular government should not have control over.” And when the government tries to take control of the church “we need to follow our faith and tell the government where their limit is.”
Zheng experienced this firsthand in 2015, when Wenzhou officials traveled more than 1,000 miles to his front door in Chengdu after a picture he posted of Christians protesting cross demolitions in Wenzhou went viral on WeChat. Netizens shared his post more than a thousand times before government censors wiped it off the site and disabled his account. At his apartment, officials asked him to promise not to post any more sensitive photos, yet Zheng countered that he would do whatever his faith required him to do.
The cross demolitions in his hometown were ultimately good for the church, Zheng says, because they revealed the government’s true intentions. Without the cross demolitions, house churches might have acceded to attempts to get them to register with the government. But now, he said, “even Three-Self churches know working with the government is a bad thing, it’s selling out Christ.” He’s talked to many Three-Self pastors in Wenzhou who plan to leave the government system.
Attending Early Rain, Zheng is constantly amazed at how much freedom house churches currently have compared with other countries in the world: He’s currently attending the Chengdu presbytery’s unregistered seminary and mentoring the first class of college students at its new unregistered liberal arts college.
The past year has been one of uncertainty for Grace Guo, as she contemplated how best to pursue her goal of becoming an English teacher. She considered studying Christian education overseas, took classes at the presbytery’s graduate program, and applied to local Christian schools. Yet none of the options panned out until a church friend recommended she apply to a job as a one-on-one Chinese tutor for foreigners. Although she had no experience teaching Chinese, she agreed and was accepted.
What she didn’t realize was that most of the staff at the tutoring center are Christians, and many of the students are foreigners pursuing ministry in China. Guo started her job a week before our meeting and excitedly told me that by teaching her students Chinese, she was also helping them reach the Chinese with the gospel.