Those who work with persecuted Christians realize we have a lot to learn from them. One of the lessons recently impressed on my mind by the underground church in China is their tenacity to carry out the task of global evangelism. At a recent gathering of mission leaders, mission teachers, and missionaries I heard a presentation by a Korean missionary who works with the underground church in China to prepare missionaries who will be sent out by the Chinese underground church. His main role is to help train Chinese missionaries who will be sent cross-culturally within China and also into neighboring countries in Asia and beyond. He said that there is no shortage of candidates from the underground churches desiring to go out as missionaries.
Some of the motivation to go out as missionaries stems from missionary movements within the Chinese underground church. The “Back to Jerusalem” missionary movement, which began in the 1980s, is a movement to send missionaries to all the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim people who live between China and Jerusalem, for example. Similar indigenous missionary movements continue to inspire and motivate Chinese Christians to serve as missionaries and have so for a century.
As the Korean missionary spoke, I was struck by the profundity of it—that in spite of being under restrictions, harassed, and sometimes persecuted, the underground church is looking beyond its borders to carry the gospel cross-culturally. It is recruiting, training and sending out missionaries. Apparently this is not new. Scott W. Sunquist, Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies and Professor of World Christianity at Fuller Seminary, wrote that even though the early Jesus movement [the early church] was fragmented and persecuted, it managed to retain its zeal for missions.
An article titled “The Chinese Church: The Next Superpower in World Mission?” by Kevin Xiyi Yao reports that Operation World lists 20,000 cross-cultural missionaries from mainland China. This is probably a very conservative figure since it is hard to gather all the information from the underground church. The article also reports that a survey done by a Korean missiologist reveals that 90% of urban and rural ministers in China are concerned about missions. Over 40% of believers in urban churches are preparing to participate in mission. The writer says: “Chinese Christians have ample experience of persecution and suffering, and they are more ready to endure harsh conditions.” I would doubt whether the countries these missionaries are going to will welcome them with open arms. Their experience helps prepare them for difficult assignments.
As the missionary movement slowly dies in the West, those persecuted Christians with just about everything going against them (from the Western viewpoint) are picking up the mantle and seeking to fulfill God’s mandate—against all odds. How ready are we to accept the difficult assignment? Does our present situation make this prospect unlikely? What are we going to do about it?
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.