Rosie Zakes, Seminary Student
This year, I met some of my family whom I’d never known before.
I met my brothers and sisters in Christ who have been persecuted out of their own country in the Southeast Asia and have settled in Bangkok, Thailand. I think we all know that persecution exists. We’ve all heard of Christians whose homes have been burned to the ground or whose family members have been killed because of what they believe and told others about Jesus who saves.
But this summer I got to know them personally. Their stories changed me. I met a family of five who live in a one-room apartment that’s smaller than my own bedroom. They fled their own country in fear for their lives and arrived in Bangkok trying to get refugee status, but never actually attained it. Their visas and passports have now expired, and they earn next to nothing. Getting out of Thailand and into a country that will accept them as refugees has become extremely difficult.
These brothers and sisters asked my hosts and I to visit one of their friends who did the same thing as them. Robert (name changed) and his family went to Thailand trying to get help and ended up overstaying their visas, too. Robert got caught for being in Bangkok illegally, and now he lives in an immigrant detention center (read, prison). He’s separated from his family, doesn’t get enough food in the detention center, and lives in a cell so crowded that the detainees must take turns sleeping. I went to visit him there, and I think it will be a long time before I forget what he told me.
"Thank you for coming. You’re obeying Jesus’ command to visit those who are sick and in prison…Your assignment from God is to be in Thailand, mine is to be in prison here… God has big plans for you, so keep serving him and doing what He wants… Give him your life."
When I asked Robert how I could pray for him, I expected him to request prayer that the UN would resettle him soon, or that he would be reunited with his family, or that God would provide for his family’s material needs. Instead, he said something that shook me.
"Pray for me to be able to share the Gospel. Pray for my people to understand the Gospel and turn to Christ."
God has allowed people to take away nearly everything Robert has ever owned because of his commitment to the Gospel, but he is one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met (Actually he and another man who’d been imprisoned as a Christian in the Middle East are the two at the top of my list). His commitment to Christ and his passion for telling people about Jesus regardless of his circumstances is overwhelming.
This summer, I came away from my time with my newfound family members with a renewed sense of the urgency of the Gospel. The Gospel is so important to these refugees I met that they are willing to give up everything to be able to share it. The Gospel is worth it.
1 Peter 1:14-18 says, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct … Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”
Christians live in exile. None of us get to live in our home country of heaven yet, but some Christians are reminded of their exile in a much more tangible way than others. Robert is one of them. But God has called all of us to renounce “passions of our former ignorance” and the “futile ways inherited from our forefathers” while we live in exile. We’re supposed to renounce sin. This summer I learned from my brothers and sisters in exile that the Gospel is worth renouncing sin for. The Gospel is worth giving everything for.
Wang Yi, Pastor in Mainland China
This article was originally posted on China Partnership in 12/12/18 with the title "My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience."
Editor’s note from China Partnership: Over 100 members of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, were arrested beginning Sunday, December 9. At the time of publication of this translation, arrests are still being made. Among those taken away were Pastor Wang Yi, senior pastor of Early Rain, and his wife, Jiang Rong, who have not been heard from since Sunday.
Foreseeing this circumstance, Pastor Wang Yi wrote the declaration below to be published by his church should he be detained for more than 48 hours. In it he explains the meaning and necessity of faithful disobedience, how it is distinct from political activism or civil disobedience, and how Christians should carry it out. We thank Brent Pinkall and Amy Cheung for their contributions in translating this letter.
On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.
As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.
For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.
As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.
For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.
At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.
But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.
As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.
For the mission of the church is only to be the church and not to become a part of any secular institution. From a negative perspective, the church must separate itself from the world and keep itself from being institutionalized by the world. From a positive perspective, all acts of the church are attempts to prove to the world the real existence of another world. The Bible teaches us that, in all matters relating to the gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.
This is why I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China. I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change. Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.
If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.
Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society.
I also understand that this happens to be the very reason why the Communist regime is filled with fear at a church that is no longer afraid of it.
If I am imprisoned for a long or short period of time, if I can help reduce the authorities’ fear of my faith and of my Savior, I am very joyfully willing to help them in this way. But I know that only when I renounce all the wickedness of this persecution against the church and use peaceful means to disobey, will I truly be able to help the souls of the authorities and law enforcement. I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
Regardless of what crime the government charges me with, whatever filth they fling at me, as long as this charge is related to my faith, my writings, my comments, and my teachings, it is merely a lie and temptation of demons. I categorically deny it. I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law. I will be executed, but I will not plead guilty.
Moreover, I must point out that persecution against the Lord’s church and against all Chinese people who believe in Jesus Christ is the most wicked and the most horrendous evil of Chinese society. This is not only a sin against Christians. It is also a sin against all non-Christians. For the government is brutally and ruthlessly threatening them and hindering them from coming to Jesus. There is no greater wickedness in the world than this.
If this regime is one day overthrown by God, it will be for no other reason than God’s righteous punishment and revenge for this evil. For on earth, there has only ever been a thousand-year church. There has never been a thousand-year government. There is only eternal faith. There is no eternal power.
Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ. When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me. Pray that the Lord would use me, that he would grant me patience and wisdom, that I might take the gospel to them.
Separate me from my wife and children, ruin my reputation, destroy my life and my family – the authorities are capable of doing all of these things. However, no one in this world can force me to renounce my faith; no one can make me change my life; and no one can raise me from the dead.
And so, respectable officers, stop committing evil. This is not for my benefit but rather for yours and your children’s. I plead earnestly with you to stay your hands, for why should you be willing to pay the price of eternal damnation in hell for the sake of a lowly sinner such as I?
Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.
Appendix: What Constitutes Faithful Disobedience
I firmly believe that the Bible has not given any branch of any government the authority to run the church or to interfere with the faith of Christians. Therefore, the Bible demands that I, through peaceable means, in meek resistance and active forbearance, filled with joy, resist all administrative policies and legal measures that oppress the church and interfere with the faith of Christians.
I firmly believe this is a spiritual act of disobedience. In modern authoritarian regimes that persecute the church and oppose the gospel, spiritual disobedience is an inevitable part of the gospel movement.
I firmly believe that spiritual disobedience is an act of the last times; it is a witness to God’s eternal kingdom in the temporal kingdom of sin and evil. Disobedient Christians follow the example of the crucified Christ by walking the path of the cross. Peaceful disobedience is the way in which we love the world as well as the way in which we avoid becoming part of the world.
I firmly believe that in carrying out spiritual disobedience, the Bible demands me to rely on the grace and resurrection power of Christ, that I must respect and not overstep two boundaries.
The first boundary is that of the heart. Love toward the soul, and not hatred toward the body, is the motivation of spiritual disobedience. Transformation of the soul, and not the changing of circumstances, is the aim of spiritual disobedience. At any time, if external oppression and violence rob me of inner peace and endurance, so that my heart begins to breed hatred and bitterness toward those who persecute the church and abuse Christians, then spiritual disobedience fails at that point.
The second boundary is that of behavior. The gospel demands that disobedience of faith must be non-violent. The mystery of the gospel lies in actively suffering, even being willing to endure unrighteous punishment, as a substitute for physical resistance. Peaceful disobedience is the result of love and forgiveness. The cross means being willing to suffer when one does not have to suffer. For Christ had limitless ability to fight back, yet he endured all of the humility and hurt. The way that Christ resisted the world that resisted him was by extending an olive branch of peace on the cross to the world that crucified him.
I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church. This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.
The Lord’s servant,
Anonymous, Missionary in China
I’ll never forget the first time I came to China to teach in a house-church situation.
I arrived in the evening and was met at the airport by my translator and a driver. We traveled for about 40 minutes to the location where I was dropped off to spend the night with the Chinese couple who owned the apartment. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese and the couple didn’t speak a word of English. I thought to myself, ‘this should be interesting.’ It was. The lady of the house showed me to my room and pointed to the bathroom.
The next morning, it was time for breakfast. Although most of my life I have been a picky eater, I had been in enough different countries to have learned to eat anything by God’s grace and don’t ask questions. Well, my cereal bowl was filled with some of white warm liquid and 10 or 12 what looked to be eyeballs of some sort. Wow, this was going to be a challenge. And of course, I had a pair of chopsticks to use. Come to find out it was warm soy milk and rice balls with peanut and date filling. Still, it wasn’t my preferred breakfast, but I was able to get them all down and keep them down.
The people arrived for class early that morning and I began teaching by 8:00 AM. It was exciting to be with so many people who were excited about learning the Word of God and who risked possible arrest to do so. Just after lunch, when some of the ladies were cleaning up the dishes, they noticed seven policemen gathering outside the apartment below. Then, the door-buzzer rang and a voice on the intercom said he was the gas man and that he needed to get into the apartment to check the gas lines. Everyone knew what was really going on and they had a very orderly plan in place, of which I knew nothing about.
We were all calmly moved from the large living room into two small bedrooms and the doors were closed behind us. There I was, without my interpreter, jammed into a tiny room with about 20+ Chinese people who were all quietly smiling while staring at the foreigner towering over them. It was close. It was weird. We were in the room for about twenty minutes, which seemed more like two hours, and then the lead pastor opened the door and waved for us to come out. We went back to our seats around the living room and the pastor motioned for me to begin teaching again. Stunned, I looked at my notes and just started teaching. At the end of the day, the pastor spoke through the translator and told me that the police knew I was there and that we would have to change the location in order to continue the class.
The husband who owned the apartment woke me early the next day while it was still dark. I quickly got ready. After breakfast, he motioned for me to follow him. I grabbed my stuff and left the apartment. We drove for twenty minutes and then he pulled the car over near an intersection in an older part of town and looked at me, smiled, and motioned for me to get out of the car. It was still dark. A little confused, I stepped out of the car and he drove away. I stood there feeling lost, but within seconds (which seemed much longer), someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and saw a young man with a bright smile on his face. He spoke to me in broken English: “Nice to meet you. Follow me.”
I followed him into a very old building located on the corner of the intersection. We climbed up four flights of steps and came to a large rusty steel door with most of its dark green paint peeled off. He knocked on the door, and an elderly woman came to open it. We walked down a hallway with people sitting on little stools alongside it. At the end of the hallway was a tall wooden table surrounded with small rooms filled with people. It was only about 6:30 AM. My translator was already there when I reached the table. The pastor was also there. He, with a big smile on his face, motioned me to begin teaching. Needless to say, by this time my adrenaline was pumping! Here we were, one day after being threatened by the police not to meet for religious purposes, and we were gathered in a different location to do the same thing. Amazing! I taught the Word all day and into the night for four more days in that location. I had the joy of fellowshipping with some wonderful older Christians, many of who had suffered great affliction under the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960’s and 70’s. Some had been in prison for their faith. What an absolute privilege to which I felt—and still feel today—totally unworthy.
My wife and I have been living in China since 2004, and it has been a long obedience in the same direction that at times has seemed more like a scary ride on a roller-coaster in the dark. You know the final destination, you know where the ride will ultimately end, but the ride itself… well that’s another story! The sense of aloneness, new language, new culture, new people, new food, new schedule, etc…, you get the point! Navigating through these things in a manner that reflects the grace and kindness of God is a grueling challenge. In our weakness, we experience the power of God working through the Word of God—bending, stretching, squeezing, molding, and ultimately strengthening us. It has been a painful process and often continues to be, but we would not trade it for anything!
Following the Lord Jesus to the other side of the planet has been for us a life-changing, spiritually-transforming journey. By His loving kindness we have been delivered through times of dark discouragement and depression, through life-threatening battles with cancers, and through many feelings of failure and weakness. These things, that are common to all, are often intensified by the added stress of living in a foreign culture. But in all these things, we have been more than conquerors through Him who loves us! His grace, His patience, and His loving kindness have all abounded toward us at times when we least expected it and certainly least deserved it.
We enjoy many things about living in China. In the time we have lived in our city, it has grown from 4.5 million to ten million. Nowhere on the planet could you experience such amazing growth and change! People have flocked to our city from the countryside which has brought many different cultures and foods into one place. All of your senses are heightened when you live in such a place. People are very hospitable, and we have learned some deeply important lessons from them which I hope to take back with us when we return to the States.
We especially love the opportunity the Lord has given us to advance the Gospel here. I am always encouraged when I read Revelation 7:9-12:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
There is nothing that can hinder the prophetic Word of God from being fulfilled—it is by nature unstoppable! The gospel will advance to every nation and we, as obedient followers of Jesus, get to be part of that unstoppable plan we call the Great Commission. Isn’t that amazing?!?!
I have never gotten over the fact that Jesus called me to be His follower. It certainly wasn’t because of anything He saw in me. I brought nothing to the table. It was purely an act of His grace—a rescue of a guilty sinner bound for an eternity in hell, separated from the loving kindness and presence of the God of Creation. It abounds freely to all who repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ. It was totally grace for which I am and forever will be grateful to God.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.