She was not a brilliant student. She was not a spitfire evangelist. But she was willing to be led by the Lord; and as it turns out, that’s all that mattered.

It All Started in Seminary

While she was serving as a deaconess in her church, Eliza* felt she needed some sort of training to be more effective. Like most people in Hong Kong, she worked full time and couldn’t quit her job to attend seminary. Fortunately, her pastor knew of an evening seminary and introduced her to the school president.

Only after enrolling did she become aware of the emphasis the school put on students to do Christian service by evangelizing in Mainland China. But she felt that had nothing to do with her. Besides, she didn’t really like the idea of going to China to evangelize. Her goal was to improve her service to her church in Hong Kong. If others wanted to go to China, it was not her concern.

That thinking changed when the school president told her she didn’t have to go to China, but if she chose not to go, she wouldn’t get credit for any of her classes. She made the journey to China at least once before she realized he had only been teasing.

One Burning Question

On her first trip, a cold, driving rain soaked her through, despite her umbrella. Eliza shivered and wondered if she could get away with abandoning her classmates. How could anyone consider going to China in such miserable weather?

But something kept her moving in that direction. Once on the Chinese side of the border, she faced a long, cold ride in unrelenting rain. After three hours, she and her classmates arrived in a village, where several young ladies who lived together in one house awaited them. The ladies were overjoyed to see their visitors, greeting them with cries of welcome.

“It’s been so long since you were here,” they exclaimed. “We’ve been waiting for you for half a year!”

Only when Hong Kong Christians visited did the Chinese believers have an opportunity to worship and sing together. But the seminary students were not free to go to China every weekend. There was often a span of several weeks between visits, and when they did go, they visited different areas. So the new believers in China frequently waited several months between visits.

Eliza forgot about the rain and cold as she contemplated one burning question: Why is it, she wondered, that Hong Kong Christians, who have every opportunity to worship whenever they want, don’t take advantage of their good fortune, whereas the believers in China yearn to worship together but have to wait as long as six months for the next opportunity?

Eliza returned to Hong Kong with that question eating at her. “Lord,” she prayed, “I have great compassion for these ladies in China. I don’t know what I can do, but I want to help them.”

Very seldom does that kind of prayer go unanswered.

One Need Met, Another One Perceived 

Eliza worked as secretary for a parachurch organization in Hong Kong. Most Hong Kong people get Saturday afternoon and Sunday off work. But because this was a Christian organization, her employers were willing to allow her one weekend a month in China.

The next time Eliza visited China, she had a plan. She would go to the same group of believers once a month, to lead them in Bible study and singing. No longer would they have to wait half a year between worship times.

This initial commitment spanned two years. She went on Saturday mornings and returned to Hong Kong Sunday evenings. Obviously, one weekend a month was a much better situation than what the Chinese believers previously had. But Eliza was increasingly aware it was still not enough. People had needs that could not be addressed in such a limited time. So she committed to going more often to do visitation and minister to individual needs. At first she did not commit to more scheduled time. But whenever there was a specific need, she would go and do what she could.

This ministerial role lasted until she graduated.

Moving to China

In her final year of seminary, Eliza began considering the possibility of serving in Mainland China full time. Her reasoning was quite logical. Every year, qualified people graduate from Hong Kong seminaries and find Hong Kong churches to serve. Most of them will not consider a ministry in Mainland China. But Eliza already had a viable ministry in China, and abandoning it was not an option.

At graduation, she immediately made the unprecedented decision to quit her job in Hong Kong and move to China. With support from her mother church and one other church in Hong Kong, she began searching for a suitable public facility she could rent for church services. God provided housing through a friend in China with whom she roomed.

In her home church, Eliza seldom had opportunity or inclination to take an active role in leading worship. She felt there were others smarter and more qualified than she, so she sat back and let them take the lead. But in China, she did not hesitate to lead Bible study and singing. Most important, she loved to visit people in their homes. She never felt inadequate or unqualified.

Sometimes the Bible study guide or sermon she had prepared turned out to not be what was needed that day, so she would have to talk about something else. But because she was willing to let God work through her, what she said was what people needed to hear for their comfort and edification.

Now, she trusts God to use her to speak His words into whatever situation she finds herself. Eliza’s confidence is based on the way she has always perceived her relationship with God. She does not feel she has extraordinary faith or any special calling to serve in China.

“If one is willing to serve God, He will lead them,” she asserts.

Ministry Opportunities

Eliza’s initial Bible study group developed into a house church, where she sometimes worked with Eric*, another leader of a nearby house church. They eventually married, continued their ministries, and raised three children.

Together, Eliza and Eric have planted several house churches and trained Bible study leaders. Of course, visitation has always been the backbone of their ministry. When visiting people in their homes, it is possible to also influence other family members, which leads to church growth.

Perhaps Eliza’s crowning achievement, so far, came when she and Eric had the opportunity to train Sunday School teachers for a legal government church. Some of the leaders knew them personally and were aware their house church had Sunday School. But in China, it is technically illegal for any church to hold Sunday School because it is illegal to teach religion to anyone under 18. Nevertheless, the government church leaders asked Eliza and Eric if they would train Sunday School teachers for them. They prayerfully undertook this challenge.

Not long after, other government church leaders heard what was happening and approached them to teach their people. Ultimately, Eliza and Eric had the opportunity to train people from over thirty-three government churches. Because the government decreed that one district gets only one church, these churches tend to be quite large and run multiple services. They average as many as 2,000 people or more on any given Sunday. Training Sunday school teachers in just a handful of these churches meant the opportunity to influence thousands of children and young adults.

But this created a different problem.

There were no Sunday School materials available in China for children and young adults. The differences between the traditional script used in Hong Kong and the simplified script used in Mainland China meant most Chinese could not read materials available from Hong Kong. So Eliza and Eric set about writing lessons for the new teachers to use. This time-consuming ministry lasted just over a year. By then, suitable materials were becoming available online. And the first group of teachers Eliza and Eric trained have, in turn, trained others in their churches who are continuing to train others.

Eliza’s desire to serve her church led her to seminary, and the crux of her ministry in China rests on her willingness to serve. God never said, “Eliza, you are to serve me in China.” But when she saw the need, she did not hesitate to do what she could. It is what Eliza considers to be following God’s leading.

“When you are already serving where you are, you see something that needs to be done, and you do it,” she says. “This does not take a special calling or extraordinary faith. It just takes faithfulness.”

Today, Eliza and Eric are still serving, and God seems to be constantly blessing their work and opening their eyes to further avenues of service

If you’d like more information concerning house versus government churches in China, please click on these articles:

House Church and Three-Self: Cooperation Across the Christian Community

The Three-Self Church and the House-Church Movement: Examining the Divide

                                                                           *Names have been changed.