Editor’s note: As China opens its border to the world and resumes international flights, many foreign organizations and ministries are coming back to China. Dr. Gene Wood, founder of Word4Asia, which dedicates itself to providing consulting to non-profit organizations to help them achieve their purposes in China and Southeast Asia, and his team visited China in early April. In this interview, he shared about his recent trip, how his firm wishes to build bridges of understanding, and his observations about the church in China.
China Christian Daily: Can you introduce yourself and your organization to us?
Dr. Gene Wood: I’m an Evangelical Christian from the United States, and I was a senior pastor for 30 years. Many of the national leaders have been in my pulpit to bring greetings. In 2011, I resigned as the pastor of a local church, and since then I have worked full-time with Word4Asia Consulting International.
Word4Asia is a for-profit consulting firm registered in the United States to help non-profit organizations achieve their purposes in China and Southeast Asia. The word in our logo refers to God’s Word, so we want to help clients who have an interest in the Word of God. The number 4 defines our guiding principles. 1) Our clients must be willing to work legally, following the principles and regulations of the PRC. 2) Our work endeavors to include, when possible, the rural areas of China where they have the least affordability and accessibility. 3) Our work should be highly verified, giving all involved confidence in the integrity of the work. 4) Our efforts are always free to the people in China.
To ensure legality, we monitor written policies and maintain a good relationship with CCC&TSPM and the officials. We helped chair the first China Bible Exhibition in the United States and hosted delegations from China in the USA when requested. I've been honored to know three generations of leaders in the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA, now renamed the “National Religious Affairs Administration”) and four generations of CCC&TSPM leadership dating back to Dr. Han Wenzao.
China Christian Daily: What kind of services does your organization provide for Christian organizations in the Western world?
Dr. Gene Wood: It's important for me and my clients to understand that it's the Christians in China that do ministry in China. Let me share an anecdote. Years ago, there was a leader in the national TSPM office in Shanghai named Deng Fucun. When I was much younger, I was talking with Rev. Deng, and I stated brashly, “I just want to help the churches in China!” He sat back in his chair and replied, “Dr. Wood, the churches in China don’t need your help. But if you wish to serve the churches in China, we welcome that.” Since that time, Word4Asia has attempted to serve the churches in China. We are trying to meet the needs of the churches in China that express their needs and ask for support.
I want every Chinese Christian to have a Bible that is legally printed in China. I would like for every teacher, elder, pastor, or whoever is in the pulpit, whether in small churches and meeting points or in big churches, to have sufficient study tools and training so that they can teach the word of God in a way that creates a healthy Chinese church, and then those churches are able to make a valued contribution to a harmonious society. Thankfully, if leaders need study tools, there are many good ones printed legally in China today. Bibles are also available in China today. In some cases, the challenge may be affordability and accessibility.
China Christian Daily: What do your clients do to help China?
Dr. Gene Wood: Each of them has a different focus and set of priorities. Our firm has a non-disclosure agreement with our clients, so it is up to them to disclose and share their work. But many of them are concerned about the Bible’s availability and provide training and study tools for teachers and leaders. Often, we can help them achieve their objectives through relationships with the CCC/TSPM and official channels. Again, all our clients must agree to respect the policies and regulations of the PRC.
One thing I stress with clients is the critical importance of a low-key (低调) attitude. Not only is this appropriate in Chinese culture, but it also reflects the heart of Jesus.
We don't desire recognition or attention. We have a good relationship with the government and with TSPM, and we want to keep that. I strive to keep the focus on the work of the churches in China, because that's what the world needs to understand. There are an innumerable number of good Chinese leaders who are sacrificing greatly, loving the Lord, and growing evangelistic churches according to the law. This is a largely untold story. I appreciate what the China Christian Daily is doing to share this.
China Christian Daily: What are the difficulties your clients face, and how can your organization help them?
Dr. Gene Wood: If we’ve brought any value to the Body of Christ as a whole, with regards to foreign relationships and the church in China, it may be our story. I made a decision 25 years ago to work legally and openly in China.
I believe that God’s train is running today on two tracks in China: the registered church with which we work and some unregistered churches. Philippians 1:18 says, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.” We shouldn't be critical of each other. Officials in China are very aware of both. This is no secret.
What makes Word4Asia unique is the fact that we have chosen to work exclusively through the registered church. In 1998, I was the chair of a mission board in the United States. Most missions in the United States worked with unregistered churches. That's one reason the government had a view of Evangelicals. They assume that if we are Evangelicals, that means we will sneak around the country and cause headaches.
Dr. Han admonished me on my first visit to China. “If you are a Christian, act like one. Don’t say one thing and do another. Be honest. If you wish to work in China, come and ask.” I determined I would take him up on that challenge.
I advise our friends here in America that if you pretend you're working legally in China and you're not, you'll cause pain and heartache to the unregistered church leaders, and you'll lose your friends in the registered church in China. What we say should match what we do.
Part of friendship is being open and honest with one another. I think that's true between countries as well.
China Christian Daily: We know that you visited China in April and visited CCC and some seminaries; what were your takeaways from this trip?
Dr. Gene Wood: We enjoyed a VIP welcome in China. We were treated like old friends, from the national level to the cities. It was good to be back with our friends.
I think that in my three-year absence from China, it changed quite a bit. I think we need to be very careful about taking one quick trip into a country and then assuming we know everything. My focus is on the church, and I think the big question for the churches is going to be—what does “Sinicization” mean for them?
There were so many different answers to this question. Does it mean one thing to the government and another to the church? Does it mean one thing at the seminary level and another at the local level? I believe "Sinicization,” or Zhongguohua, is a topic we are all trying to understand and learn more about. I ask multiple questions while there to numerous groups. One example. Does sinicization mean a complete reinterpreting of the Bible to something completely different in China than what it means in France or Russia, or are we talking about the application of Biblical truth to fit a Chinese context? I think those are interesting discussions that the church in China is going to explore for the next couple of years.
China Christian Daily: You’ve visited China many times, and what do you think are the problems the Chinese church faces, and how can they solve these problems?
Dr. Gene Wood: That's too general of a question to allow me to give an intelligent answer. The challenges at the grassroots level in the countryside and the large city churches may be significantly different.
At the grassroots, perhaps a need exists for good Chinese study tools and for equipping and training lay preachers. Some of these preaching points in the past have had over 1,000 people in them. These aren't small churches. Volunteers carry a great deal of responsibility. For some, perhaps all they have is a Bible. They don't have a Bible atlas. The least we could do is give those committed local leaders one or two good study tools to help them in their sermon preparation. For example, a study Bible that has an atlas, so they know the difference between Nazareth and Nineveh; they just haven't had Chinese-authorized study tools. The absence of good material contributes to unhealthy teaching for the church and the Christians in China. For the big city churches with highly educated and capable pastors, it depends on where and who. No two situations are identical. I am confident they will or are figuring out what sinicization means and will adapt to continue leading their congregations well.
China Christian Daily: What do you think was the difference between the church in China before and after China adopted the zero-COVID policy?
Dr. Gene Wood: I don't think I changed my opinion at all about the church in China. Obviously, some of the big churches are still practicing social distancing even on Easter, but the ministry goes ahead. I heard some sermons that were powerful and encouraged the body to reach out and touch their community. The Bible warehouse at Amity Printing is full of Bibles waiting to be distributed. The leaders are ready to get back to work. I am concerned about some rural churches wondering when they can meet. Some of those pastors are having trouble financially, and that is something we can pray about.
China Christian Daily: Do you have any words for the church and Christians in China?
Dr. Gene Wood: Joshua 1:1–9. The admonition repeated three times is to “be strong and very courageous.” That would be my word to the church in China. Verse 8 says, “Let this word not depart from your mouth, but you should meditate on it, day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it.” Be strong and courageous. Keep your Bible open; keep reading it, thinking about it, and doing what it says. If the church in China does that, it's going to be just fine.