We are at a crossroads in the ministry. We have some hard decisions to make in the very near future, and we would like to ask for your prayer so we can continue to move forward wisely.
Here is the situation: This past Wednesday morning one of the guys who is training to possibly be a pastor in the future went to the church to study. When he arrived, there were five policemen waiting at the door of the church. Two were in uniform and three were not. They asked about the church, and they all entered together. The looked around asked some questions, told him that they church needs to register with the government, and took a few things small things that had information about the church on them. The police were nice, never said that we had to stop having services, didn’t confiscate anything and their main objection was that we are not registered.
Now, we have seen this situation played out many times. This could lead to a bigger raid by the religious bureau (which is what happened at our other church location when they confiscated the money, took people in for questioning, and told them they couldn’t have services) or it could just be a slap on the hand with no immediate consequences.
I was not there and so they don’t know me, but they do know that there is foreigner leadership in the church. Because of this, I have to believe they will not or can not agree to this and will make a reappearance at the church trying to catch us in the act of leading the church. Also, I was told by another Chinese pastor that the government is currently putting more effort into looking for house churches with foreigner involvement.
Why did they come? Most likely, it was a neighbor that called the police and reported us. I was going to write in the weekly mind dump, that I never got around to, to pray as we are in a new neighborhood, and there is always a chance of a neighbor not liking us or what we are doing. It just so happens, that this seemed to be the case. We think a little old lady reported us (you know the kind that thinks they are the neighborhood watch dog).
Anyways, this is the second time the police have come to one of the churches in our city. Both times I was absent, but they know my Chinese name and that I am involved, but that is it. They don’t actually know who I am.
So this leads us to the question, what is our next step? This is where we need prayer and wisdom.
We can conclude that being caught leading a church will most likely lead to deportation. This is a risk we are willing to take when we first move into a city because there is no church and no men trained, therefore it is our only option if we are wanting to start new local churches in China. But once we have some men trained, should our role change, and if so how? Can we take less risk once we have the ministry going, to stay and work in a training position, but not be the pastor of a church?
Also, currently, in China, the main problem in house churches seems to be foreign leadership. Our friends who were deported left churches who are still meeting at the same locations, same times and continue on without any major problems from the authorities.
So my thinking, at this time, is that if I remove myself from the church, then they can continue on in the same location without any major problems. I am not a threat to the Chinese being thrown in jail, but a threat to myself being deported from the country.
So we are at a crossroads. Here are the different ideas we have come up with:
- If none of the men that we have been training are willing to step up and lead the church, then we can continue leading the church like normal and let things take its natural course.
- Abandon the ministry for the sake of being able to stay in the country and start over. (I don’t think this is right and believe I would risk deportation before I abandoned them.)
- Stop having services for several months and then start-up again when things cool down. (I don’t think this is right either)
- One of the men that we are training will step up, be the pastor of the church and I will no longer attend regularly or be the pastor of the church, but move into a training position and give the majority of my time to training him and others who want to be pastors. This would allow them to report to the police that in accordance to registration requirements, they no longer have a foreigner as pastor. (What would my family do about going to church in this scenario?)
- If none of the men that we have been training are willing to step up and lead the church, then we could find another young man who is finishing his training from another ministry to step into the position of pastor and I could continue in the city training him and others that are interested. Possibly, start another church in a different part of the city.
- We could move the location of the church and chance it in another neighborhood. I would still be the pastor.
- One of the men that we are training will step up, be the pastor of the church, and I move to Taiwan then make regular trips into the country to continue their training. I would start a church in Taiwan and have a border ministry for the mainland.
- One of the men that we are training will step up, be the pastor of the church and I move to another city in China and start something new, but also make trips back to this city for continued training.
- Any combination of the above ideas. (Note: We have guys that are in training, but not are fully ready like we would want.)
The hard part seems to be that if we continue like normal, that it will end in deportation sooner than later, so if that is true, what changes can we make to be effective, but also protect our ability to enter the country for training. Otherwise, if we are deported, we will be limited to training over Skype.
I told the guys here that it would be wise for us to go ahead and make plans now that would protect our ability to stay in the country and continue training, otherwise I could be deported and they would be completely on their own.
It seems that we have been given the opportunity to make a decision for our future. We are assuredly gathering their needs to be changes. Our strategy needs to evolve with the current actions and attitudes of the government toward true Biblical churches.
I asked the guys what we should do and they said, “keep meeting together as a church” so they will continue going forward, but what is our next specific role in all this? We need your prayers.