At the beginning of December 2020, I came to Beihai, a beautiful city in the Beibu Gulf in Guangxi Province, the southern frontier of China, to visit the Beihai Christian Church. I met a pastor there -- Senior Pastor Zhang Yezhong of Beihai Church. During my five days with him and my church visits, I saw and heard many stories. I’ll share twelve stories here.
I. The pastor who likes to tell stories
Mr. Zhang Yezhong was in the first group of graduates of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary after the Cultural Revolution. One of the biggest characteristics of his preaching is “down to earth”. He does not advocate long sermons. He even praised a preacher for his 10-minute sermon. Under his leadership, the pastors and preachers of Beihai Church all preach in a similar style to his, which is very popular among believers. Every day at noon, he will tell a parable story for nearly a thousand people in two WeChat groups. The program is called “small stories, big truth”. Pastor Zhang will share the truth of the Bible and the truth of our faith through short stories in Cantonese and Mandarin. Each story takes only two to five minutes and is easy to understand. The faithful listen to these stories regularly every day, and they’re very popular. Up to now, Mr. Zhang has told more than two hundred stories in succession. I’ve heard stories of Mr. Zhang in Mandarin and felt greatly inspired.
II. Brother Meng, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, gave up smoking
Although I was only in Beihai Church for five days, I got to know several preachers in the church and some brothers from various fellowship groups. Among them, Brother Meng, came from Qufu (Confucius’ hometown), Shandong Province. He smoked heavily before he became a Christian, smoking four packs of cigarettes a day. In order to attract more people to the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no mandatory requirement about smoking in Beihai Church. On the contrary, it especially set up a smoking area. According to Mr. Zhang, if you don’t let some brothers smoke, they won’t even come to church again. If you let them smoke, they’ll finally give up smoking due to their belief. Meng is like that. “I smoked four packs a day for over 20 years,” he said. “I didn’t quit smoking when I started going to the church. Then I heard from a sermon that the Bible said, ‘That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;’ (1 Thessalonians 4:4) How can I still smoke?” So he gave up smoking and now he serves in the church every day.
III. Uninvited American guests at the Lunar New Year’s Eve banquet
Like some other churches around the country, Beihai Church will hold an agape meal every year on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Each of the brothers and sisters attending the feast will bring one dish to celebrate the traditional Chinese Spring Festival. At an agape meal in the 1990s, there was a knock at the door while everyone was eating. Pastor Zhang opened the door and saw two tall foreigners. He spoke to them in English. He learned that they were from the United States and had been attracted to the century-old church, which was founded by British missionaries. The priest received them warmly and invited them to eat Chinese food at the agape meal. The two Americans were scholars working as foreign teachers at a university in central China. When the agape meal was over, the priest sent them back to the hotel by taxi. He thought that was the end of the matter, but the next day, the two American guests returned to the church. Pastor Zhang saw that they were wearing small clothes that did not suit their bodies. It turned out that there was a fire in the hotel that night. The water from the fire hoses ruined their clothes and they could not wear them. The hotel only provided them with small clothes that did not fit. After the pastor got to know this, he called the church brothers and sisters to find them larger clothes. The two American guests thanked them repeatedly.
The next year, it was another night for agape meal. Like last time, someone was knocking at the door again. Thinking it might be the Americans, the pastor opened the door and saw that it was the same two Americans. They were followed by a group of foreigners. It turned out that the two guests had told their colleagues what had happened in Beihai Church, so more than ten foreign teachers from this university came to visit Beihai Church.
IV. Wanderer involved in a pyramid scheme returned home
Beihai used to be the centre of pyramid schemes. Those who engaged in pyramid selling here were mostly northerners. When they arrived, it was too late for them to find that they had been cheated. With little money left, or even penniless, some even have nothing to eat, so they went to the market to gather abandoned vegetables for food, not to mention returning home. And there are believers among them. Pastor Zhang was in contact with those who were involved in pyramid schemes, especially those who have been Christians so that the church could accommodate them, provide food and shelter for them.
The pastor said that people who believe in God should feel warm when they see the cross and the church. As the Spring Festival approached, these people asked for money to return home from their families. But their family members had been cheated by them and did not believe them. The funds donated by the believers were also limited, which was not enough for their travel expenses home. The wise pastor Zhang came up with a solution. The pastor sat next to the church phone and asked them to tell their families, saying this was the number of Beihai Christian Church, and they could transfer the money to the account of Beihai Christian Church, and the church people would buy their tickets so that they can go home. They provided the information of Beihai Church on the network. When their family saw that it was indeed the church’s phone number on the Internet, they contacted the church, and the MLM salesmen’s travel expenses to return home were received according to the account number designated by the church. Gradually, these people returned home.
Some of these believers did not return home but stayed in Beihai to work and serve in the Beihai Church. Now some people have become the backbone of groups in Beihai Church. After returning home, some of the these people came back and donated TV sets, washing machines and other supplies to the leprosy village served by the church. They thanked the church for its help and love for them.
5. Couples cohabiting in harmony
There are more than 40 couples at Beihai Church. On December 10, 2020, after seven o’clock in the evening, I saw them on the third floor of the church. They were preparing for a dress rehearsal for Christmas. These happy couples clicked their mobile phone cameras before taking the stage. At nine o’clock, they arrived on the stage in the main hall to begin the formal rehearsal. This time, they organized 18 couples and choreographed a chorus and dance.
In accordance with the Holy Word, the church organizes couples’ fellowship that will help them to have good family relationships. Here, they could study the Bible together, pray, praise, listen to the sermon, interact with each other, and help each other and enlighten each other when they have problems. The senior pastor and the preachers take an interest in the fellowship and often participate in its activities.
VI. Workers from all over the country live together in harmony
The members of the team are from all over the country. From the “List of Responsibilities for Pastoral Co-workers” of Beihai Church, we can see that the pastoral co-workers of churches and fellowships are from Beihai, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Shandong, Jiangxi, Hebei, Guangdong, Hunan, Hubei, and other places. Some co-workers even live and eat in the church, making it their home. There are no factions, but only God’s children and fellow workers.
VII. The tolerance of not claiming compensation from a car thief
Beihai Church had a car in the 1980s. This car was the first car of all religious groups in Beihai, serving the church, and the car also had the logo of the church. This car attracted eyes when it was seen in the streets of Beihai. But soon after the car was used by the church, it was stolen. Because the car was a very important means of transportation for the church at that time, and it was very expensive at that time, about 30,000 yuan, the car was reported stolen.
The car thief was later caught on other charges and admitted to stealing the church car. At that point, the police proposed that the church could bring criminal charges, plus civil charges, which meant that the car thief could be sentenced, and financial compensation could be pursued. At that time, Pastor Zhang Yezhong considered that the thief came from a particularly poor area in Guangxi. If he was asked to pay for the car, he would certainly not have enough money, so his parents and family members would have to pay for the car. This was no doubt a difficult thing for a family in difficulty. So the church made a decision not to pursue civil charges, meaning no claims and no financial compensation.
VIII. Young man who liked to find fault with others was baptized
There was a young student who did not believe in God, but he often came to the church. He went to the church to find out what was wrong with the church and what the preacher said. Then he went and found pastor Zhang Yezhong and argued with him. He denied and rejected the existence of God for various reasons. Each time he came, Pastor Chang would receive him patiently, communicating with him and guiding him. But he still didn’t believe in God. Then the young man went to a university in Beijing. During his university holidays, he returned to Beihai and went to the church again to find fault and oppose the Christian faith. At that time, he seemed very rebellious and stubborn. But when he was about to graduate from college, he suddenly called Pastor Zhang from Beijing one day and told him, “Pastor Zhang, I have a good news for you. I was baptized!” Pastor Zhang was also very happy and asked where he was baptized. He said: “I am in Beijing. Thank you for enlightening me. I now believe in God.”
IX. Church opened to the public
Beihai Church is located in the famous old street of North Sea which has a history of over 100 years. The old street is one of the main tourist attractions in the Beihai. Every year there are a large number of foreign tourists who come to the old street. Many tourists stop in front of the church to visit and take pictures. In order to show Christian spirit and to spread the Gospel, Beihai Christ Church is open to the public. Tourists can come to the church anytime to visit or attend church meetings, and there are fellow workers to guide them and introduce our faith.
Due to the large number of people in the old street, going to the toilet is a problem. So the church’s bathroom is open to the public, and visitors can come whenever they want. But there is also a problem here, that is, sometimes the toilet will be very dirty, or even blocked. The church will unclog the toilet and sometimes even pay for it. Even so, the church’s toilet is still open to the public.
X. One brother sent his wife to the church to “reform” her, but he himself began to believe in the Lord
There was once a brother whose wife was abusive at home. He thought of a “shortcut”: Send his wife to the church to “reform” her, and to change her bad habits. Because his mother was a believer, he learned from her that the church is a place of love and that God can change people. But he himself did not believe in God. After he dropped his wife off at the church, he sat far away in the back seat, crossing his legs and looking very unconcerned. While listening to the sermon, he began to sit up properly, then moved from the last row to the middle to listen to the sermon, and then sat in the front row, listening attentively to the preacher’s sermon. When the minister gave an altar call, he stepped up to the stage and accepted the invitation. He said, “Now I believe in God” and followed the pastor in a determined prayer. The couple later both became Christians.
XI. The bar resounded with hymns
Among the believers in Beihai Church, some are music teachers from universities, as well as many brothers and sisters who understand music and can play musical instruments. They are active believers who use God’s grace to spread the Gospel through music and songs. Once a group of young believers came to a famous scenic spot in Beihai. As they passed a bar, they heard the owner playing a song. A brother who understood the music quickly caught the message: This is a very melancholy song, indicating that the player was sad, even hopeless. So he led the young fellow workers to the bar. After sitting down, he said to the owner who was playing, “May I have a try? I’ll play a tune.” Then he began to play upbeat church hymns. When a psalm was finished, the shopkeeper was very surprised and said, “What song are you playing? I’m moved, very happy, and very relaxed. It’s so good.” The brother told him that they were Christians and that he was playing a hymn. At this time there were few people in the bar, mainly waiters. The shopkeeper said to them, “Settle down and listen to the Christian music.” And the bar was filled with hymns.
VII. The versatile pastor
I saw the training material “How to Learn to Sing Psalms” compiled by Pastor Zhang in 1983 for the first volunteer training class of the Christian Church in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It is professionally done and easy to understand. It is still a good teaching material. I also saw his beautiful and skillful handwriting; That day we went to a church in Fangchenggang and I heard him playing the piano with my own ears. The pastor also practiced saxophone with his fellow workers.
Not only that, Pastor Zhang is also very adept in photography. He was in charge of photography when he was a student at Jinling Theological Seminary. Later, the college specially bought him a film SLR camera, which was very expensive at that time.
Pastor Zhang was not only in the first group of graduates of Jinling Union Theological Seminary after the reform and opening up but also the favorite pupil of Dean Ding Guangxun, who once asked him to work in the school. But for the sake of the Gospel and the brothers and sisters at Beihai Church, the pastor went back to his hometown.
(The article is originally published by Gospel Times.)
- Translated by Nicolas Cao