Most of us know that Chris and Debbie work hard, but only a handful probably know that they spend a good portion of their days each week “in” China. Perhaps that’s not literally true, but it is close enough. Each week, Chris and Debbie lead three different Bible studies over the internet with some Chinese friends. It’s an amazing ministry, and we thought you would like to know more about it. Consider this a blog in an interview format (and we will switch roles here – Dane’s questions, like Mao, will be red; and Chris and Debbie’s responses will be in traditional American font!
Obviously, you still have a huge heart for your homeland, but going to China every year is both expensive and draining. What are you doing to reach out to your friends in China with the good news of Jesus?
We have several small groups studying the Bible online. It’s a kind of picture that reminds me of what the Apostle Paul described, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15) To spread the Gospel in Paul’s day was painstaking and difficult. It required him to travel over the mountains and seas. Today, we don’t have to do that. The internet and even our cellphones provide us a great convenience so that we can easily communicate with people on the other side of the world. Several years ago, we wanted to reach out to our friends in China and so we asked, “how can we make use of this technology for the cause of Christ?” And so, we started a Bible study online with one good friend, Ms. D.
So obviously, Chris and Debbie know the full name of their friend, but let’s be wise about security concerns and give everyone an alias. Tell us about Ms. D.
Ms. D. is a very kind and generous friend and has been for many, many years. In fact, she and Chris worked together for years. Not only is she a professor of foreign languages, but she is also an expert in ancient Chinese philosophy. For years, whenever we would visit China, we would see her. She even invited us to stay in her apartment while we were staying in her city. Trust me, it is much nicer staying there than in a hotel room! But when we talked to her, she would often open her heart to us because she was so overcome with the stresses of life. It seemed like she was always so sad. It was quite a contrast. We would share with her our joy in life as Christians, and she would share her heartbreak. And while she admired the change in us (to be honest, before Christ came into our lives, I was not a very happy person either), she could not figure out how the story of Jesus made any sense or offered any real hope. No matter how much we talked, she still felt chained to her sadness and loneliness. But we kept sharing Christ with her and praying for her. Then two years ago, we visited her and she told us the news. She said she was ready to be a Christian! She said that she believed in Jesus. You can imagine how excited we were. God had answered our prayers. But we knew that was just the beginning and not the end. We knew we had to share with her how to understand this faith. But when we came to talk about sin, we hit a wall. Instead of opening up and sharing how she knew Christ had removed her sin from her, she looked very confused and deeply hurt. She said that she had been trying so hard to be a good person, how could we now claim she was sinful (the Chinese language doesn’t help; the only word for “sin” in Chinese means “criminal” or a “morally-bad person”). We knew then that we had to explain not only what the word means, but also grace and forgiveness and mercy and compassion.
But how did this encounter evolve into an online study?
Ever since then, Ms. D. was truly a burden in our hearts. We knew we needed to help her understand the basics of the faith because she was so confused about everything. And so, we started to chat with her online, encouraging and comforting our old friend. We also tried to explain to her the main ideas of the Bible and some basic concepts that she was struggling to grasp. For quite a while, our talks didn’t go anywhere; and we were feeling frustrated because we knew that if we were there, we could help her understand the gospel more effectively. But then Debbie suggested that we try to study the Bible together over the internet. She said okay, but we could tell she thought it would be similar to studying some old works of history or perhaps some classical literature. We did try a few times, but it just ended up as an academic exercise that had little application to our daily lives. So, we pulled one of Debbie’s relatives into the conversation to help Ms. D. see how the Bible can come alive in her life. After a few months, Ms. D. thought it was good for another friend, Ms. Z., to join the conversation. Ms. D. and Ms. Z. were both professors in the same university. She is also an old friend of ours. And then, Debbie’s relative thought it would be great if her daughter-in-law’s mother could join the group. And it just grew from there!
Tell us about your study now.
We all join together online once a week to study the Bible. So far, we have studied the gospel of John and now are working our way through Genesis. As the study progressed, we would share our excitement with some other friends, who then wanted to start a separate study. Then more friends wanted to join. As a result, today we have three Bible study groups that meet every week online. And everyone is very excited about studying the Bible together. Our friends in China cannot wait for us to start the class; and when it is over, we have to kick them out and say goodbye or they would continue to stay online talking with us and with each other and asking great questions.
Currently, we have in our groups a few university professors, a few retired grandparents, and several parents of some international students or visiting scholars who we knew when they were in the U.S. And some of our group members were part of River’s Edge when they were here (but now are back home). Some of our people can use their cell phones well, but some need some technical help to connect with us each week. Some are believers, others are seekers, and some have never thought much about the Bible before now at all. Debbie’s younger sister Ping and her husband Kai are part of one group. They were baptized in our church last year, but are now back home; but because we can study together, it feels like the distance is not as great. Of course, we do have some members drop out, but keep having newcomers jump on, as well.
So what is the most amazing thing to you about this?
We never dreamed this would become something so important to us or to our friends back home in China. We love doing this! And it is amazing that we can talk about all sorts of things, from ramifications of an atheistic education to pollution, to the gospel, and to the stresses of life. But the most amazing part is that they want to open their hearts to us and voice their confusion and struggles as well as their deep thirst for knowing God, for he is the only one who can give us true peace and meaning and joy. Augustine was right: our hearts are restless until they rest in God, whether our hearts are in Maryland or in China.