Experiencing God’s protection in his lifetime, an elder in China’s northeastern coastal Zhejiang Province is still serving the Lord in his nineties.
The Gospel Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper, interviewed Elder Yuan Xiangzhong at the age of 94 in the Church of the True God in Fenghua District, Ningbo.
Just like Moses’ three forty years, Yuan’s life can be divided into three thirty years. During the first thirty years, he grew up in the church and worked outsides as an apprentice. In the second one, he entered the sewing machine factory far away from his home, serving in the church as a volunteer. In the third thirty years, he served full-time in the church, realizing his dream. After the age of 90, he shifted from serving at the pulpit to share "on the cloud".
The first thirty years: blessed by God and experiencing many miracles
Born in 1929, Elder Yuan is the third generation of Christians in his family. Yuan Caijiao, Elder Yuan's grandfather, was the first Christian in the family. His father, Yuan Haishan, who inherited the faith of his grandfather, became a pastor at the Church of the True God in Quankou, Ningbo.
Elder Yuan experienced many blessings from God during those days of scarcity and social unrest - escaping typhoid fever twice, getting rice during a famine, and surviving attacks by Japanese soldiers and bandits.
Yuan came back from the dead after suffering from typhoid fever. When Elder Yuan was nine years old, he suffered twice from typhoid fever, an incurable disease at the time. After recovering the first time, a high fever followed the second time. The damage was even worse this time, as he lost his hair, his eyesight, his hearing, and his voice. He became unconscious and just as deadly. But the family and believers in the church didn't give up and continued to pray for him, then he miraculously came back to life.
"That's dying and living. Why do I have to die and live? Because Jesus wants me to be a witness for him." Looking back on that experience as a child today, Elder Yuan said gratefully.
God provided food in the midst of famine. When Elder Yuan was young, the local people often did not have enough to eat. At that time in Xiao Town, people often ate mixed grains, potatoes, and gourds which were shredded and made into pulp to eat.
With Yuan's brother-in-law farming on the other side of the river, his family members went to fetch 15 kilograms of rice, which was confiscated and given to an orphanage, where the children screamed with hunger, as they could not smuggle grain.
Just after Yuan’s father led the whole family in hungry praying, someone knocked on the door, saying, "Mr. Yuan, Mr. Yuan — hurry up, hurry up! Take a bar and a rope to pick up grain in the quay.”The rice was sent there by a church co-worker who ran a rice mill 17.5 kilometers away. This deacon was originally chosen to run the church in Xiao Town, but he was too busy to do so, so he recommended Yuan Haishan. For Yuan's family, he prepared 75 kilograms of rice and hid it under the shipboard.
As the boat sailed to the mouth of the river, there were Japanese soldiers to inspect it. Since the board of the boat had not been opened, they discovered the boat was empty inside with a flashlight.
In this way, the rice was delivered smoothly. At this time, Elder Yuan's family found out that the Holy Spirit had moved the staff worker to prepare rice three days before they prayed.
The church survived the looting by Japanese soldiers and bandits. On April 23, 1940, the Japanese invaded Xiao Town when Elder Yuan's father was in charge of the chapel. One day, Japanese soldiers broke into the church, threw all the church furniture out, and set it on fire. At this time, the church staff took out a letter written by the American Baptist Church, and the leader of the soldiers asked them to evacuate the church after he read the letter and wrote the four words "protect the family house". The Japanese soldiers who came later did not destroy the church when they saw these words.
As well as Japanese soldiers trying to destroy the church, bandits also attacked the church. They went around looting and setting fires, with the old street catching fire at once. Pastor Yuan Haisan pleaded with the bandits who broke into the church, "Have mercy on me; we don't have any money here." After searching the upper floor, the bandits found nothing valuable and went out of the church.
Before they left, they wanted to burn the church. As there was a bundle of untied wood next to the church, the bandits loosened the wood and lit the fire. However, no matter what they tried, the fire did not burn. Pastor Yuan Hai quenched the fire with water after they left. Meanwhile, the neighbor's house, less than 20 meters away from the church, was already on fire. The two new rooms were burned down in less than 20 minutes.
The second thirty years: refinement in the factory
In 1956, Elder Yuan joined the Xi'an Sewing Machine Factory in response to the call to "support the Great Northwest". While working in the factory, Elder Yuan also participated in the ministry of the Xi'an church as a volunteer. Given the gift of music by God, he formed a hymn choir before the church resumed meetings, he moved the entire choir into the church when the Xi'an Central Chapel (now South New Street Church) reopened.
In the early days of church restoration, there was a shortage of pastors, so Elder Yuan wanted to retire early and serve full-time in the church, but a disaster unexpectedly struck his family at this time.
In 1982, Elder Yuan's wife, who was only 50 years old, was diagnosed with lung cancer, and the family was plunged into sorrow. His wife was worried about her five children, with the youngest one still in elementary school. A dream turned around Elder Yuan's wife from sadness to joy, and she knew how to entrust Jesus. As she realized that people were limited on earth and she had a better place to go. Whenever colleagues, relatives, and friends visited her and comforted her, she welcomed them with a smile, which amazed them.
The third thirty years: fulfilling a dream of ministry
Elder Yuan had a childhood dream of preaching the gospel through movies. In 1982, he retired from the factory and ran his own store, which gave him much more flexible time.
In 1986, he obtained a video of the famous movie "Jesus" from a relative or a friend. A few months later, Yuan heard a message that an American-made video recorder had been reduced to 2,500 yuan, so he hurriedly bought it with his deposit of just 2500 yuan. "Learning a church in Shaanxi Province was holding a retreat, I went to show the video at noon when they rested and ate lunch from Monday to Saturday. I also took the video recorder to display the film on Sundays when I sometimes delivered sermons.”
Elder Yuan fulfilled his childhood dream of sharing the gospel through movies.
Four years later, Elder Yuan returned to his church in his hometown of Ningbo and began full-time ministry. During that time, he promoted the reconstruction of the Church of the True God. Elder Yuan also rode his electric bicycle to serve in neighboring churches, build up bands and choirs and provide pastoral care. For these far churches, he had to transfer two times by long-distance bus.
At the age of nearly eighty, Elder Yuan began to learn how to use a computer again in 2007, scanning hymns through the computer and making PowerPoint presentations.
From 2008 to 2019, Elder Yuan has been making PPTs for 12 years, mainly focusing on the outline of his sermons and the history of the Church of the True God and his family's faith.
“Sharing on the Cloud" at 90 years old
Elder Yuan stepped down from the pulpit in 2019 to serve in a completely new way — sharing information "on the cloud".
In addition to his own devotional articles, he collected the sharing, testimonies, and teachings of pastors such as Dr. John Sung Shang Chieh (a renowned evangelist), the late pastor Huang Detang in Ningbo, and missionary Sun Daxin. On Monday through Saturday, he shared with the believers on WeChat, and on Sunday, he sent pictures of blessings.
" I stopped serving from the pulpit," said Elder Yuan, "but we meet in the air and encourage one another."
- Translated by Richard Zou