(In this post I want to share a testimony of one of the disciples that was raised up in our church in Jakarta in order to illustrate the conclusion of my last post “Defining Missions – What is a Missionary?” The brother’s name has been changed in order to protect his family and his labors in China)
A Chinese Testimony
XiaLanfeng grew up in a small village in southern China. Like most children in rural China he was told that if he studied hard he could improve his lot in life. So from childhood this is what he sought to do. After graduating high school he was fortunate to be accepted to a university in the modern city of Guangzhou. While in college he continued to focus on his studies and in this way avoided many of the trappings Guangzhou had to offer.
In high school he was also involved in the Communist Party. He was even put in charge of leading a small group of aspiring Communist Party members that met weekly to discuss Chinese government policy on various issues. As all good communists and most mainland Chinese, XiaLanfeng was a devout atheist.
Though he had no doubts about his atheistic faith, his long career as a student had taught him to be curious about all schools of thought. So when he met some Christians during his time in college, he took advantage of the opportunity to learn something new. He met with a Christian leader weekly for about five months learning about the Bible and the Christian faith. During this season he had no inclination to believe the Gospel, but he found it interesting nonetheless.
Upon graduating from college he sought to further his studies by applying to graduate school. He did well on the entrance exam except in the troublesome subject of English. He was one point short of a passing grade on that section of the test. Because of weakness in that one subject he was denied admission to the graduate program. This was a great disappointment but he wouldn’t be intimidated by one setback. He was determined to better his lot in life. So when the chance to go abroad and teach the Chinese language came up he availed himself of that opportunity.
He soon found himself living in the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta. Very quickly he learned that living overseas was not all it was cracked up to be. Since he couldn’t speak Indonesian, the only language he could use to communicate with those around him was English even though his deficiency in English was the reason he ended up in Jakarta in the first place! Jakarta became a lonely place for him. Remembering his good experience with the Christians back in Guangzhou he sought out a church and started to attend regularly. He found that church was a place where he could experience some sense of community in his new environment. He was still an atheist, but the Chinese are a very practical people when it comes to such things. So the fellowship he found at church came to fulfill an important social need of his. But God had more than just his social needs in mind when He worked out this string of events. God was looking to fulfill the spiritual need that was deep in the heart of XiaLanfeng, the need for a Savior!
Day by day God worked on his heart and within a few months he had come to believe in Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Soon after that he was baptized and began to hunger for the things of God. Growing up in China where Atheism is the official doctrine left many unanswered questions in XiaLanfeng’s mind. His heart asked him questions like, “How did I not know this truth earlier?” “If God created everything, does that mean evolution is not true?” “How am I supposed to read my Bible?” And, “Can I really experience God intimately like these Christians say, or is He too far away to know personally?” These and many other questions hounded him. He had to have answers so in his peculiarly Chinese way he began to study. He read all the books that he could find and sought answers from anyone around him that seemed to know more than he. He wasn’t even content to go to just one church or one service. Soon he found a second church so he could double up on the info he was in the process of downloading.
This went on for about two years. When he found that he couldn’t get any more answers from one church, he would move on to another that would take him deeper in to the bible and what it had to say. He was a lamb of Christ sure enough, and the Good Shepherd was watching over him; but he was still a sheep without shepherd. He had built relationships in the churches he visited but it never seemed anyone was willing to take him under their wing. At one point he met a Singaporean brother that started to disciple him and XiaLanfeng eagerly soaked up all this brother had to impart. But when this brother returned to his home country things went back to the way they were before.
One morning while I was reading my Bible in a café that I often frequented at the time, a young Indonesian man came up and started to talk to me. This was just around the time that the controversial movie The DaVinci Code was popular. Knowing that many Indonesians were all abuzz about this movie, I made sure to watch it just in case I was asked give an opinion on the doctrines it affirmed. I had just watched it the week before this Indonesian fellow came up to me in the café and asked, “Are you a Christian?” After I replied in the affirmative, he proceeded to ask me, “What do you think of The DaVinci Code?” His English was a bit broken, but I tried my best to explain to him the Gnostic religion that formed the background of this popular movie. Since he opened up the conversation in this fashion I assumed that he was a confused Christian or a skeptic of some sort. Soon I found that the language barrier was really blocking the depth and freedom of our conversation. I could tell he was a thoughtful guy that would be able to understand my answers if we could somehow overcome the language problem. Noting that he had a Chinese looking face, I thought he might possibly speak Chinese. Most Indonesian born Chinese can’t speak Mandarin, but I thought it was worth a shot. So I asked him if he could speak that language. He said, “Of course I can. I am from China.” This Indonesian fellow was not Indonesian at all, he was XiaLanfeng.
Once we realized we could overcome the language barrier by mixing his English ability with my Chinese ability, we started to connect much better. Soon he confessed that he had no real interest in The DaVinci Code. He explained that he saw me reading my Bible and wanted to meet me, so he used that topic as a way to approach me.
As we talked I realized that he was a sincere believer, but had little practical training in the Christian life. His knowledge of Christian doctrine was impressive, and he could talk at fairly deep levels about theology, but he didn’t seem to know how to connect the doctrines of Christianity with his day-to-day life. So from that first conversation I sought to wean him off of theory and onto practical experience. With such individuals I have found that they won’t accept practical advice unless you can show them that you understand theology. Often they will feel like people try to emphasize the practical just because they don’t understand the so-called “deep truths” of theology. So I answered all his theological questions, but made sure to end each answer with, “But that is not really too important for the Christian life.” I tried to impress upon him that he needed to learn how to walk out the Christian life, and not just think about it. This resonated with him because it was the same thing the Singaporean brother had tried to communicate to him.
From then on we started meeting weekly. Our church was only a few storefronts down from the café where we met, and we both lived in the apartment complex connected to the storefront, so it was a very natural arrangement. At this point he was attending a Reformed Chinese church in the area that was strongly anti-Pentecostal. (Note: Though most Reformed churches don’t accept Pentecostal/Charismatic theology as biblical, most are not beligerent towards Pentecostals. This particular church is an exception to that.) He was drawn to this Calvinist church because of the strong emphasis on teaching. So for the first few months he did not come to our church on Sundays but continued to attend the Chinese Reformed church. Nevertheless our relationship began to deepen and he realized he was learning much more about how to live for God from our one-on-one times than he had from all his time learning theology at the Reformed church. Due to this realization he starting attending the weekly group Bible studies we had at our church as well.
After waiting a few months to wrap up some commitments he had at the Chinese church, he started to attend our Sunday services. Our church was still in its first year at that point and most people there were from nominal or non-Christian backgrounds. So for the sake of building a sense of community I was leading the weekly Bible studies and imparting to them my vision of the Christian life. Due to the fact that many had come from anti-Pentecostal backgrounds, I took my time building up to the importance of the Holy Spirit Baptism. This was so that when the time came the majority of the church could receive the Spirit at the same time and so be birthed as a community of Christ.
A Chinese Samson
As the months passed leading up to this climax, I was meeting with XiaLanfeng regularly. I knew the church he attended and I knew that the things of the Spirit might be a sticking point for him, so every once and a while I would remind him, “You know I am Pentecostal, right?” He assured me that he understood, and we left it there for the time being. But things were building up in the group Bible studies, Praise Chapel Jakarta was about to experience its own Pentecost.
As the time approached for the birth of Praise Chapel Jakarta, I began to share with him more about the Holy Spirit and I saw he was getting hungry. I really wanted to wait until everyone was ready to receive at the same time in order to strengthen the bond the members of the Church had one for another. In Central Asia I saw the benefit of a group of disciples receiving the Spirit at the same time. For whatever reason, I have found that new disciples meeting God while in the presence of others who are also meeting God seems to cement a brotherly bond that is not easily broken. So this was my plan with the new congregation in Jakarta. But every time I met with XiaLanfeng I felt pity for the guy because he was so hungry. So one night when I was having a Bible study with him and another Chinese girl I informed him, “Now we are going to lay hands on you and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” Though he was surprised (actually so was I) he said “Ok.” We prayed for him while he was sitting in his chair. After praying for a few minutes I went and lay prostrate on the ground in worship because I was experiencing my own personal Pentecost. Then within a couple minutes I heard the loudest yell I have ever heard in my life. I am not exaggerating; it is the loudest I have ever heard anyone yell. I looked toward him and saw he was standing with his hands raised toward heaven, yelling at the top of his lungs. I quickly shut the curtains to the storefront windows to keep the security guards from coming to hassle us about the noise. After a while of enjoying God’s presence he began to share that he felt like Samson. He said, “Now I know the Bible is true and Samson was real. I felt the power.” He said while he was overwhelmed with the presence of God he could only think to himself, “God is real, God is real.”
The next Sunday he shared his experience with the church, and that day was the beginning of a month of Pentecost. By the end of the month most of the church had received the Holy Spirit. I thank God for the precious Gift of His Spirit. Truly His Spirit is the bond of unity among the brethren! This began a new time of hunger and experience for the church in general and XiaLanfeng in particular. He shared his experience with some Christians he knew that were from other churches, and they warned him to be careful of charismatic experiences, but it was too late. XiaLanfeng already knew that God was real and that His Spirit was inside of him!
A Heart for China
For a year after being filled with the Spirit XiaLanfeng began to wrestle with the Lord. He found that there was bitterness inside of him towards Chinese culture. He felt that he was cheated by the Chinese system under which he grew up. He felt a call to ministry and was willing to go anywhere the Lord would call him, but in his mind anywhere didn’t include China. He didn’t hesitate to minister to the Chinese he found himself surrounded by, but for him it was just a temporary situation, not the long term focus of his ministry. Nevertheless, through the wise working of the Holy Spirit and the willing heart of XiaLanfeng to hear the voice of the Lord, he soon found his heart softening towards the nation of China. After taking a trip to visit family in China, during which he had a chance to minister in some churches, he came to understand that China needed what he had. He surrendered to the call of the Lord and began to position himself for his eventual return to China as a worker in the Lord’s Vineyard.
In Jakarta he found other Chinese sheep without an earthly shepherd and began to disciple them. He began to teach them how to live the Christian life. In short, XiaLanfeng began to be fruitful and multiply. When Pastor Rory Butler moved to Indonesia to start a church among the Chinese community in Jakarta, XiaLanfeng and the couple he was discipling began to serve in Pastor Rory’s church. Within a couple years he met and married an Indonesian young woman. At the beginning of 2011 our churched launched them as pioneer pastors into Southern China.
XiaLanfeng is not from America, and he was not living in America when he met Christ. So from an American perspective, he was saved on the mission field. But what I want us to note is that although XiaLanfeng was not in America, what he was lacking was a pastor. He was a sheep without one of the Lord’s under-shepherds to take care of him and lead him in his walk with the Lord. He didn’t need something as vague and generic as a minister or missionary. He had some specific needs. He needed a pastor. He needed a teacher. And he needed a church with the apostolic vision to ordain him and send him into the harvest field of the world.
What people need in the States, they also need in the rest of the world. They need evangelists that will stir them to consider their eternal destiny. They need apostles that can establish them into a community of believers and send them out to fulfill their destinies. They need pastors to lead them step by step through the fight of faith. They need teachers that can answer their questions as well as tell them which questions they should be asking. And they need prophets to speak the Word of the Lord over their lives. People in America and abroad have specific needs, and they need various kinds of missionaries walking in various kinds of giftings and callings to impart the things of God into their lives.