Exclusive Interview: How a Rural Church Finds its Way out of Desolation

Dalu Village
Dalu Village (photo: Gospel Times)
By Martin Wang December 19th, 2016

Editor's note: Huaien Church or Grace Church, is located in a borderland of the southwestern Guangxi. Dalu Village of Babie Township, where the church stands, has more than 100 households of over 500 residents. Starting in the 1980s, the church grew to over 60 members and now less than 60. Like the majority of Chinese rural churches, the church has experienced from a revival to a decline, affected by urbanization. The Gospel Times interviewed Brother Huang Mingbiao, who takes charge of the church, to talk about the dilemma and how they strive to find a way out in a rural area lacking social resources. 

On Aug 8, 2008, Brother Huang Mingbiao who worked in Guangdong went home to visit his parents. On that day he visited a brother of the church and witnessed the desolate church. Touched by this, he was resolved to return home for the church. In 2009, he, who was not burdened to be a preacher, founded a service station of left-behind children in the county and intended to donate the profits to build the new church. 

However, the station suffered a loss of money from poor management from Sept. 2009 to July 2012. At that time, God made a way: Huang enrolled in a one-year training program for volunteers initiated by Guangxi CCC & TSPM. After graduation, he served as a preacher. What was more, the service station started turning a profit in 2013. In July 2014, he discussed the new church construction with the senior believers, planning to build a new church and promote social services to serve more left-behind children and lonely elderly people.

Gospel Times: Hi Mr. Huang. Thanks for your time to take this interview. This September the newly built Huaien Church was put into use. Why is it named Huaien Church? 

Brother Huang: We didn't think of this name because many rural churches are named after their locations, according to the custom. Our gathering was called Dalu Gathering at first, while the Spirit reminded us of the name. We planned to construct the new church in July 2014, but the church had no money..... Until July 2015, the church had 12,000 yuan and we began to prepare for the construction. When we decided to begin the construction, my service station for left-behind children, "Home of Enjiu," donated 20,000 yuan, so we had a total startup fund of 32,000 yuan. We purchased the foundation with the fund, meanwhile, we prayed and wrote letters to other churches for help. The first story of the church was completed at the end of 2015, but we were forced to stop before the Spring Festival for no response from other local churches. Shortly after the Chinese New Year, we received a donation of 50,000 yuan from Shanghai Grace Church. We determined to name our gathering as Huaien Church (or Grace Church) to thank for God's amazing providence and remember the timely help from Shanghai Grace Church.

Gospel Times: The young people migrate to cities for careers under the wave of urbanization in China for decades. The churches in many rural areas shrivel up, even face closure or extinction. Is the church in Dalu Village in the face of such a dilemma?

Brother Huang: It has been really a miracle that our Grace Church can survive till today...... Two decades ago, the cities decreased with rural growth while it turns to be opposite now. The desolation of rural churches is unavoidable. The villages and towns had 14 gatherings in the 1990s and there were only four left. There are a number of reasons for this, but the foremost causes are a lack of shepherds and a great reduction of believers. Losing believers contributed to the end of gatherings with preachers and extinguished survivals of gatherings with no preacher.

Like other vanished gatherings, Grace Church was confronted with closure in the first decade of the century when the young and middle-aged believers left their hometowns to work in other places or provinces. The more than a dozen senior believers ceased meetings due to no pastor......

Gospel Times: Having seen the situation of the church, did you want to help the church to restore the past prosperity?

Brother Huang: Yes. I returned here after celebrating the Spring Festival in Guangdong in 2009. What touched me the most was that no sermon was delivered in the Sunday service and only over ten believers who gathered and sang several hymns read the Bible led by an educated senior believer and shared nothing, then chatted with each other...... I asked if they followed the same schedule in every gathering. They answered no, claiming that they could hold a formal service when a preacher from other place attended it...... From their word, I knew that preachers are regarded as the first vital factor of church survival. 

Gospel Times: A church without preachers hardly grows and it's dangerous, leaving room for cults. Has not your church ever had stable preachers?

Brother Huang: No. There is no stable preacher in our gathering nor other gatherings......

Gospel Times: Churches used to construct a new church when the attendance exceeds the maximum capacity. In a desolate situation, why did the church of Dalu want to build a new church? Did you have a future plan for the church?

Brother Huang: The biggest difference between the work of rural and urban churches lies in that the believers of a rural church are farm laborers, a single role and the nurturing ministry appears not that complicated while the shepherding in urban churches that have believers with diversified jobs is more difficult...... We desired to hold of this character and find a suitable platform for the development of farmers, through which they could see their values and their feelings of belonging could be established so as to promote the church ministries...... In the next two years, we plan to open a substation of "Home of Enjiu" in the church and it will be coordinated and managed by the church so that more parents will know that Christianity can serve society. In addition, the church will lead to establishing a "five-loaves-and-two-fish service station" to look after the left-behind. More importantly, we hope preachers from other areas can work with us...... Today, Huaien Church did the opposite to the world: under the circumstance of lacking everything, it forged hardware construction, unlike the tradition that builds a church before the congregation grows to the full, but built the church then gathered people, so that a church development pattern of platforms going first could be established to attract people......

Gospel Times: Resources are pretty limited in rural churches. And with a severe shortage of co-workers, how does the church balance the nurturing with social service ministries?

Brother Huang: Full-time preachers are really wanted here to pastor the church. I'm not a full-time preacher, serving not only our church but also other churches in the county. What's more, I take care of the children in "Home of Enjiu", so my time and energy don't allow me to manage the church. I sincerely hope that someone can take charge of the church. Then I can have time to manage rural cooperatives that make uses of lands...... In this way, there will come economic returns and hope for payment of debts. Though our church has been completed, we have a debt of more than 200,000 yuan since the total cost reached 560,000 yuan.

Gospel Times: Rare young preachers want to serve in rural churches.

Brother Huang: This is true. I also know that there are very few co-workers preaching in the rural areas. After all, the living conditions in the countryside are no match for cities. So we have to pray in tears in these days and we desire God to move some urban preachers who will take the unusual road.

Gospel Times: Through the operation of rural collectives, how do you want to initiate social services in the rural area? Any specific plan?

Brother Huang: Through the operation of the collectives, the schedule of farm laborers can be arranged reasonably then their life can change. In collectives....... They can learn dances, skills and even form an art team, which enriches the rural life. Then the gospel can be shown through art. The performers will reap benefits and there will be one more channel to know the gospel for the watchers...... Moreover, "Home of Enjiu" has won a good reputation in these years that many parents trust us and know that we really love their children......Besides, they know that we're Christians who teach the teachings of the Bible and tell the story of Jesus to the children and even have nothing against their children learning how to pray. I believe this is a way of evangelism...... walking on two legs regardless of the nurturing ministry or social services. If we walk only on one leg, we won't walk fast nor far away, even stumbling. The disappearance of many rural churches in these years has resulted from walking on one leg and sometimes no step.

Gospel Times: Do you think if your opinion has the potential for replication for rural churches in other places?

Brother Huang: Rural churches really need to follow this pattern so they will be able to walk out of the past plight. If someone has a dream of mine, he will not be willing to go to cities. He will stay with those kind-hearted and innocent farmers under the clear sky, farming with singing hymns in the day and dancing in gatherings at night. Also, watching the fields with insects jumping, he will realize that this will be a future filled with God's grace, who won't invest his money into the lifeless stock market and uncertain housing market.

Translated By: Karen Luo

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