Following Jesus in China

When Christians in America talk about China it usually is a conversation filled with a sense of foreboding focusing on how hard it must be to follow Jesus in a country that has not historically been seen as friendly to Christians. What I found in on my recent trip was that it is very possible that Christians in the west are the ones who are really at a disadvantage. Why? In many ways it is just too easy to be a Christian in America and other western countries where Christianity has historically been strong.

Consider that on Sunday morning we went to church in Beijing. This church has 5 services each Sunday. Eight hundred in the main auditorium and 500 in an overflow. It is packed for all five services. What was really incredible was that people stood in a line for half and hour before each service just to get a seat. It was near 90 degrees out yet they waited patiently. Twenty minutes before the service and the place was packed. In most churches in America people regularly come in late and leave early.

When the worship team started the singing on the part of the congregation was inspiring. They nearly took the roof of the place. Everyone was engaged and seemed to want to make sure that Jesus knew they were praising Him. There were no casual folks looking to be entertained. They were either legitimate seekers deeply interested in finding out about Jesus or in most cases, already following Him and glad to let the nations know that their Lord is King.

In speaking with the pastor I got an even clearer picture of what it is like for people to follow Jesus in China. There is very little in the way of programs that the church can do to impact the community. Organized church evangelism projects or even programs intended to serve the needy are frowned upon by the government. To actively evangelize is viewed as disturbing the balance and harmony of society. So the church can’t program that. Organized programs to meet the basic needs of people is the role of government. So no church food banks, or clothing drives, or other common ministries that churches carry out in the west.

So how is it that the church is packed and growing if it can’t do evangelism programs or serving ministry for the needs of people? Simple, the church can’t organize these things but individual Christians can do these things. And guess what! They are doing it. Without fancy programs and events and staff organizing things, these followers of Jesus are living out their faith, everywhere, everyday. As a result people ask them about Jesus. When that happens you are free to share the Gospel. If you see a person in need you are free to meet that need, just like the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught about in Luke 15. They are being living witnesses and doing what the Bible tells them to do. As a result Christianity in China is alive and well.

Is it harder to follow Jesus in China. Sure it is. But not for the reasons we usually think. It is harder to follower him there because it is too easy to follow him here. In reality I am not sure what many of us Christians in the west are doing can really be called following Jesus. It is far too easy. There is no cost to it, no deep personal investment. We look to Jesus to be our spiritual and emotional fix-it guy. If suddenly there were no church programs to do ministry I fear that Christian activity in the west would slow to a crawl. In China the opposite is true. They are not handicapped by our expectation that the church does everything. They are instead living for Him no matter what. Their lack of programs has meant that as individuals they own their faith deeply and follow Jesus gladly and with passion. Maybe for them it really is easier to truly follow Jesus. It is harder for them to do church than it is for us, but that is not exactly the same thing as following Jesus.

Love Your Neighbor; Or Not

In a tragic and ironic twist a modern-day Good Samaritan is left to die on the side of the road instead of being helped by the people who pass him by. The phrase “Good Samaritan” has come down to us from a story told by Jesus. In the tale an unknown man is beaten and robbed and left for dead by his attackers. The story is found in The Gospel of Luke 10:25-37. As the man lay beaten on the side of the road he is ignored by a Levite and a Priest, two religious leaders. He is finally helped by a man from Samaria, our Good Samaritan. That Samaritan would normally have been an adversary at best and a sworn enemy at worst. However on this day he showed what it meant to love your neighbor and that was the point of Jesus story, to show us that whoever we come across who has a need is our neighbor.

Recently a woman was being attacked on a New York street. Coming to her rescue was Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. The woman was able to escape as a result of the Good Samaritan Mr. Tale-Yax. Tragically, during her rescue, Tale-Yax was stabbed several times. He collapsed on the sidewalk, bleeding. During the next hour and a half more than 25 people walked by him. They were all caught on camera as several even stopped and looked at him. At least one man leaned down and shook him but ran off when he saw the pool of blood on the sidewalk beneath his body. The whole time it is obvious from the film that our Good Samaritan was still alive. Eventually he bleed to death.

The story of this fallen hero is not unique and it is not isolated to New York City. Jesus was able to tell the Good Samaritan Parable and give it such a lasting impact because it is all too common, then and now, for people to ignore those in need even if they have to step around them to do so. What made this story particularly unique is that Tale-Yax had tried to break that cycle of personal isolationism by helping a woman in trouble. He refused to ignore the desperate plight of his “neighbor” and acted in a most Christ-like way. He gave his life, not for a friend, but for a person he had never before met.

The additional tragedy is that many will use what happened to our modern-day Good Samaritan as their justification for not getting involved. Rather than being motivated to act in the future because of the callous lack of action by two dozen people, many will pull further back into isolation. “You never know what is really going on and what may happen to you if you try to help”. “It’s best not to get involved”. “You need to think of yourself and your family first”. Certainly the priest and Levite in Jesus’ story used such statement for their own justification. For many of you it will sound wise and prudent to mind your own business and the death of Mr. Tale-Yax serves to reinforce that. My friends, that is an even bigger tragedy. That is evidence of a life lived in fear. Fear of what might happen. Fear of the cost. Fear of the unknown. Fear of hardship or struggle or danger.

Maybe Mr. Tale-Yaz should have ignored the woman being attacked. Maybe he should have crossed to the other side of the street. But what if the next day he read a headline that told of the death of a woman on that corner and of the man who crossed to the other side of the road refusing to help? What then? I suspect that he would have not been able to live with himself knowing that he could have saved her, even at risk to himself. I wonder what the two dozen people who passed by Mr. Tale-Yax felt when they saw not only the headlines, but the video of themselves passing him by? Would their fear from the previous day have been replaced by guilt and shame? Which do they now wish they lived with, the unknown repercussions of loving a neighbor or a lifetime of guilt?

Time and again the Bible calls us to “fear not”. Why? Because it says, “God is with us”. We are told that two people are better than one for if one struggles the other is there to help. When you walk in a relationship with God you are never alone. It doesn’t mean that nothing terrible or painful will never happen to you. It simply means that He is there with you to help you through it. That is all we need ask or hope for, that God be with us at all times to carry us through whatever comes our way. That includes sometimes doing hard things to help and love those around us. It is an effort to love your neighbor. It is sometimes dangerous. But it is extremely Christ-like. People used to have “WWJD” bracelets. It was a big fad for a time. “What Would Jesus Do?”. The answer is simply. He would love His neighbor no matter the cost, no matter the risk, no matter the danger.

Oh, one last thing. Don’t be the kind of person who reads this story, bemoans how bad the world is and who wrong those two dozen passers-by were, and then goes back to life in your little Christian bubble. The easiest thing in the world to do is point out what others should have done and then retire to our own safe haven, thinking we are fine and wonderful simply because we can see what someone else should have done. Why not go out your front door, look the left and the right and ask God what you can do to love your neighbor today. Loving your neighbor and taking a risk seldom requires putting your life at risk. Usually it just requires that we get up off the sofa and open our eyes.