SHANDONG, China - Ms Zhang Yanmei, 47, is a calligraphy teacher. To her, it is more than just a profession; it is also where she builds friendships with people and shares the story that God is writing in her life.
Zhang used to be hesitant in telling others about her faith. Although she grew up in a Christian family and followed her mother to a church in Feicheng city, Zhang didn’t have a close relationship with God. “I only read the Bible or attended church services when I was around my mother. I didn't have a real Christian life myself.”
However, in 2013, her spiritual journey turned around. The grandfather of one of her calligraphy students started coming to Zhang with a Bible and asked her about the characters he didn't know. "Although I hadn’t read the Bible much at that time, I knew it was the Bible. At first, I felt embarrassed to admit to him that I have read the Bible before. However, he kept coming to me and finally I admitted that I was a Christian myself."
God had lovingly used this elderly believer to bring Zhang back into the fold. “Looking back, I realize it's what the Scriptures say - that God doesn’t leave or forsake us. He knew that I was weak, and He carried me through so many times.”
God continued to pursue Zhang and draw her into a deeper relationship with Him. Following the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in China in 2020, the local church suspended on-site services and believers began to meet in small groups. To spur one another in their spiritual walk and growth, they started using the discipleship materials, The Abundant Life and The Abundant Grace, supported by the United Bible Societies, as part of their studies and discussion. This proved to be an important step in Zhang’s faith journey.
"The small group study and discussion provided me with a clear fundamental understanding of the Christian faith. Previously, I hadn’t paid attention to many of these basic truths and I didn't know how they could apply to my life."
After completing the Abundant Life and Abundant Grace studies, the church encouraged Zhang to lead her own groups. Initially, she had a lot of worries and felt inadequate. But she agreed anyway.
"Oftentimes, I feel that I didn’t have any deep insights to share during the small group studies. So, I simply followed the Leaders' Guide, sharing from my personal experiences and inviting the group members to discuss freely and openly. And whenever I encounter problems or challenges, I consult my previous group leader."
While on this journey, Zhang was heartened to see that the members of her groups were experiencing the same spiritual growth as she did. She shared, "We gain a deeper understanding of our faith by studying these seemingly simple Christian doctrines in small groups. Even though we have listened to God's Word for so many years, it has become clearer to us now after we study and discuss it in a small group setting."
Amazingly, God also used Zhang to lead a friend to faith through using the Abundant Life and Abundant Grace materials. About a year ago, a young lady studied calligraphy with Zhang. They became friends and the young lady asked Zhang about her faith. Zhang shared her life and faith with her. “One day, I invited her to study the Abundant Life with me. We studied and discussed the questions provided by the textbooks.” From there, the young lady learned more about the Christian faith and thereafter accepted Christ. Later, she joined one of Zhang's small groups and was baptized the following year!
Through the small group ministry based on the Abundant Life and Abundant Grace discipleship materials, God has brought a revival in the church in Feicheng. There are unbelievers becoming Christians, backsliders returning to the Lord and committing themselves to serve in the church, and believers rising up to become leaders of multiple small groups.
Many lay leaders, like Zhang Yanmei, feel inadequate and unqualified. Yet after being equipped and empowered in small group studies, the truth of God emboldens them to lead others to experience the abundant life. Like a paint brush in the hands of the Master Calligrapher, God is using each of these lay leaders to do great wonders, adding to His Church people who are saved. Please join us in prayer for both the participants and leaders of these small discipleship groups that they will continue to encounter the Lord personally in their studies.
Story: Marcus Xiao and Cynthia Oh
Photos: Provided by Ms Zhang Yanmei
2023©UBS China Partnership