Serving the Lord Faithfully: Interview with Pastor Niu

Pastor Niu Tianping
Pastor Niu Tianping (photo: Zhang Xiaohua )
By Zhang XiaohuaNovember 24th, 2020

As a well-known pastor in Shanxi province, Pastor Niu Tianping serves in the Christian Church in Yangcheng County, Shanxi Province. He once served as the Vice President of Shanxi Christian Association, Chairman and President of Jincheng Christian CC&TSPM, and Chairman and President of Christian CC&TSPM of Yangcheng County.  

Here is an interview that Pastor Niu’s gave on October 31:

(1) Third-generation believer

The ancestral home of Pastor Niu is Linzhou City (former Lin County), Henan. He is a third-generation believer. The first believer in his family was his grandma. At the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic, there was a major drought. Foreign missionaries released food for disaster relief, and each believer could get a liter of rice a day. In order to live, grandma and the family believed in the Lord.

When his father was seventeen years old, he rented some land to plant watermelons and earned a lot of money. His uncle was good at building and quite famous in the local area. Every year he worked elsewhere as a contractor. At that time his uncle built a military camp in Luoyang for Wu Peifu, a warlord. When the project was completed, he thought he would get the money, so he wrote to ask his father to build two houses in his hometown. He was ready to go home and prepare for his and his brother’s weddings during Spring Festival. When his uncle returned home in December, the two brothers held their wedding ceremonies in their new houses. They were very happy and did not mention the money. After the year passed, his uncle finally said that Wu Peifu’s army had been defeated by Zhang Zuolin, an influential Chinese bandit, soldier, and warlord during the Warlord Era in China. Zhang had received the military camp. At the very moment when the flood project was destroyed, the money was “lost in the water”.

With a mountain of debt due to the construction of houses, his father had to rent the rich man's land to plant watermelons. However, a long period of cloud and rain caused all the watermelons to rot in the field. All of his property was pledged to the creditor. In the greatest crisis of his life, his father began to believe in Jesus. Niu was ignorant and once burned his father's Bible while the tears streamed down his father’s face. Who would have thought that he would be chosen by God to be His servant?

(2) To be chosen to know the true God

Pastor Niu also had a special experience of being chosen by God. He was an atheist until 1961 when the school he was attending disbanded and he dropped out. He first worked as a business accountant. However, the financial personnel became key targets in the “Four Clean-ups” Movement. After the movement, he was no longer willing to be involved in this work, so he began doing technical work.

During the latter period of the Cultural Revolution, there was an engineer who graduated from the Civil Engineering Department of Tsinghua University. He was determined to design ten projects using different structures for the county. But he died before he achieved this goal. The reason for his death was mysterious. His father-in-law had received approval for 0.3 acres of land to build a house. The day they were going to survey the property and set the boundary stakes, Brother Niu and an elderly technician from the company went to observe. The technician was well-acquainted with the concepts of yin and yang and feng shui.  When the technician saw him set the boundary pin, he said that something bad was going to happen, predicting that he would become ill and perhaps be in danger of dying if the illness was serious. Soon afterward the engineer died. This matter aroused the Niu's curiosity. Was this superstition, or just a coincidence? Or was it something else? Is there a God somewhere? Niu liked reading very much. He often went on business trips, so he bought books about Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam to read. However, he couldn’t understand all of what he was reading, and he was still “confused” about whether God exists or not.

In 1983, Niu and two colleagues from his company went on a business trip to Shanghai and other places. There was no ticket for them to go home. They had no choice but to buy tickets to Tianjin instead. He had a cousin named Ji Jinguang, who had graduated seminary before Liberation and had been serving in the Tianjin church after graduation. She was seventy-four years old then and had had diabetes for twenty-five years, but God healed her. This meeting lasted only about four hours, but it took his cousin three and a half hours to talk with him about the gospel. Then it dawned on him that there is a true God who has a deep love for every sinner. He was willing to accept Jesus as the Savior of life. When he left, his cousin very reluctantly gave up her favorites (because of all her Bibles and theological materials were burned up by the Red Guards, leaving her with only a New Testament and Psalms, which had just been printed by the Hong Kong Bible Society at the time of the CC&TSPM, and issued to the clergy) and two collections of the magazine “Tianfeng” to him. He read them with great satisfaction.

(3) Footsteps of his faithful love and loyalty to the Lord

Back in Yangcheng, Niu insisted on reading these books carefully. A neighbor also preached the gospel to him. Every few days they would get together, and the Niu would read them a Bible passage and teach them to sing hymns of praise to God.

The late 1980s saw more and more believers came to the Lord, and meeting places were set up in the countryside. When things were inconvenient for believers and they had problems, he would deal with them one by one. In 1989 the number of believers grew to 140. A section chief of ICBC, called Qin Hanyu (his father was the elder of the Church in Jincheng before Liberation), saw that there were more and more believers, and he negotiated with the United Front Work Department of the County Party Committee to apply for the establishment of the county CC&TSPM. On December 17, 1993, the county government approved the establishment of the Yangcheng County Christian group. In 1996 Niu was appointed to be an elder in the Bible training class held by Licungou Church in Changzhi City. In 1997, the county government also approved the establishment of the county Christian Three-Self Patriotic Movement committee and the county Christian Association. In the county Christian congress, he was elected as the chairman and president of the county CC&TSPM. Under the Three-self Patriotic Committee, there are three groups that promote love, service, and evangelism. Within the association, there are three groups. They are responsible for pastoral care, Bible and Christian book distribution, and work in rural communities. The financial working group is directly under the county CC&TSPM. There are seven groups in total.

Niu set up 11 meeting places, including locations in Chengguan, Baisang, and Yinzhuang.

The development of the church has not been without difficulty. For a time, the  “Eastern Lightning” cult disturbed the ministry of the church. Overnight, more than 100 people were pulled away from a church. Pastor Niu hurried to the meeting place of the “Eastern Lightning” and argued with them that they were not following Biblical teaching. Finally, after battling with the cult members, he was able to rescue most of the people and they returned to the church. After that, he decided he needed to further his education and took correspondence courses in theology provided by the Jinling Union Theological Seminary.

In 2007 Niu was appointed as a teacher by the provincial CC&TSPM. He was ordained as a pastor in 2010. He was elected chairman and president of the Jincheng CC&TSPM. He also served as the Vice President of the Shanxi CC and chairman and president of Yangcheng County CC&TSPM. He was re-elected to these positions many times. He was also a deputy representative to the People’s Congress of Jincheng City, a member of Yangcheng County CPPCC, and a member of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC.

(4) To build the church with one accord

According to the Chronicle of Yangcheng County, “Christianity came to Yangcheng county in 1905. The Lawsons, who were missionaries from England, bought a small courtyard house where they set up a chapel in the back lane of Dongguanxing. The church began with only two members but the numbers increased to 91. Gladys Aylward came to Yangcheng in 1931 to organize a church affiliated with the Zezhou General Church. In 1933, there were 172 believers. The following year, there were only 150 believers. In 1938, when the Japanese invaded Yangcheng, Aylward left Yangcheng. There were 127 believers in 1944. After the liberation of Yangcheng County, Christian activities stopped, and there was no one to manage the church property. The church property was distributed to the people of Dongguan Village during land reform.

Until the time of reform and opening up of China, there had been no church in Yangcheng County. In the countryside, each meeting point is built after the negotiation with the local village committee, and the village committee provides an empty building or house where believers can meet. After the establishment of the “county Christian group”, the Chengguan church met in the hotel and at the Chengguan food station. These places were crowded and risked the security of the believers. Pastor Niu repeatedly appealed to various government departments for assistance. After 23 years of continuous persistence, finally the authorities agreed that the church could have ten acres of land located on the side of a hill in the village of Pingtou. The foundation stone of the church was finally laid on June 4, 2017.

In the western suburb, where two roads meet, a four-story church facing the east stands with a novel gothic spiked cross. A three-story building was put up behind the church.

According to Niu, the cross is hollowed out so that the light can be seen even when the lights are off, regardless of the weather.

The total construction area of the church is more than 3,700 square meters. The land was purchased for 1.1 million yuan, and the cost of construction has reached 11 million yuan. Niu said this was only possible because of the love and dedication of brothers and sisters. In 2017 the CC and TSPM set a goal of erecting a church building with a spiritual palace located inside the building. God prepared the way as believers contributed 10 or 20 yuan each or there were those who gave several thousand or eve ten thousand yuan.

(5) With Heart Attached in the “Inn”, Searching for Its Relics

The small mountain county of Yangcheng, located at the southern foot of Taihang Mountain, is famous as the location of the "the Inn of Sixth Happiness.” Gladys Aylward came to Yangcheng in 1931 to serve as a missionary. She ran an inn in the back lane of Dongguanhang with no name. A 1958 American Hollywood film called the establishment “The Inn of Sixth Happiness.” The movie won three Academy Awards. Later, the origin of “The Inn of Sixth Happiness” was the story that the “small woman” Aylward led 83 orphans to cross the Yellow River near Taihang Mountain, hop on a coal train, and travel to Xi’an. Finally, they were safely sent to Fufeng Orphanage, founded by Madame Song Meiling. The income of the inn supplemented the church's meager funds and was used for daily expenses. Besides working with adopted orphans, Aylward assisted the county government in working against foot-binding.

Pastor Niu visited the older believers at that time and put forward suggestions on protection and development of relevant relics at many meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. He accompanied many international friends and people related to the church to visit and study together. After years of research, he came to the conclusion that the legend of 100 orphans was not true. There were actually 70 or 80 orphans, and some were not orphans but were sent to the orphanage by parents who wanted their children to go to school free of charge.

In May 2012, he and Ms. Lin Yun from Jincheng revisited the footsteps of the orphans led by Aylward, visited people and took a lot of rare photos. Later, Ms. Lin Yun wrote the book "The Inn of Sixth Happiness that Shook the World", which included some of Niu’s pictures and materials.

Their repeated appeals have also been taken seriously by authorities. Tourism organizations have been set up in the local area and renovation of relevant relics has been put on the agenda.

The Reverend Niu, who is in his seventies, is writing the History of Christianity in Yangcheng County, including photos. He has written nearly 30,000 words. As he visited the church, he frequently spoke with the pastors and engineers and offered suggestions.

(The original article is published by Gospel Times.)

- Translated by Nicolas Cao

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