· 

China's Church During the Epidemic

More (on-line) Dialogue than Ever

--------------------------------

Report on China

 

V i r g i n i a / U S A -- The current media images of empty streets and sidewalks are an eerie reminder that life as usual has come to an abrupt halt for 1.4 billion people. It seems impossible that this could happen on such a large scale, but conversations with friends and colleagues across the country confirm that people are in their apartments, going out only to buy necessities. Food stores and markets and hospitals are the only places that remain open. All schools remain closed after the winter holiday and churches are no longer holding worship services.

 

The one place where people are gathering is on-line. With people secluded in their homes, social media has become the lifeline for everyone. Friends are meeting, family members are supporting one other, and some universities have arranged for instructors to begin teaching their courses online.

 

Churches are posting worship services on their websites, with music teams singing and pastors preaching. Listeners post responses to the sermon, chat about what God is teaching them, and ask questions - something not commonly done face-to-face in large churches. Some churches that had restrictions placed on their websites during the past few years now report they are able to post. One church in Anhui province reports that they have not been allowed to use their website, but are using We Chat, a social media platform. Group chats, however, are restricted to 200 users, so multiple groups need to be set up to accommodate the congregation.

 

Pastoral care is also happening online as people reach out to their pastors for prayer, counselling, and encouragement. Pastors are writing articles encouraging people of faith to face this without fear and in hope. Again, the greeting that is so popular among Chinese Christians is ringing out: Yi Ma Nei Li, “Emmanuel, God is with us.”

 

One unforeseen result of not having worship gatherings in more rural areas is that offerings are no longer being taken and churches are struggling to pay bills and salaries. This isn’t the case in city churches, where most donations happen online and cash is seldom used.

 

One congregation in Wuhan has found a supply of masks and is using them as an opportunity to meet people buying food by handing out free masks and saying, “God loves you and is walking with us through this difficult time.” This is a vital service to their community as masks, which are mandatory if you want to enter any market, store, or pharmacy, are now almost impossible to find.

 

The death of a young (reported to be Christian) doctor, Li Wenliang, has produced nationwide mourning, as he was the first doctor to notice the cluster of infections and report it. He was arrested and forced to sign a renunciation, but continued to work diligently, caring for those who were sick until he himself became ill and succumbed to the disease. Healthcare workers from all over the country are volunteering to go to Wuhan to help in the overworked hospitals there.

 

North American believers are sending a small amount of funds to church partners who are purchasing masks and getting them to church groups in Wuhan. Church members are going into streets and passing them out with message on sign boards expressing God's love and care for them. Masks need to be replaced all the time – rather like the old days when we passed out tracts, except now it is masks! Other church groups in China are sending large amounts of sanitizer for distribution.

 

Myrrl Byler, “Mennonite Partners in China”, Harrisonburg, Virginia/USA
Ladushkin, 16 February 202

 

Editor’s note: K.J. Noh claims on the “Counterpunch” website that Li Wenliang was neither arrested nor the first to note the new virus. It was the Chinese authorities themselves who first reported on this doctor’s sanctioning. See:

https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/02/11/how-to-yellow-cake-a-tragedy-the-ny-times-spreads-the-virus-of-hatred-again/

 

A journalistic release for which Myrrl Byler and W. Yoder are responsible. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #20-05, 577 words.