When Jesus saw the crowds in need of shepherding, he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ (Matthew 9:36,37, ESV)
The message of Jesus is still true in China, if not more so, just as it was two thousand years ago. Over the past few decades, China has been one of the countries with a fast-growing Christian population. However, preachers and Bible teachers are in short supply to minister to the rapidly growing Christian communities. It is noteworthy that the national average ratio of ordained pastors to believers is 1:6700.
With a shortage of ordained pastors, many Chinese churches have taken action to equip their lay workers with basic Biblical teachings and resources. However, many lay preachers live in rural communities where they have limited financial resources and access to Biblical tools for ministry.
One of them is lay preacher Zhang Jishun who graduated from one of these training centres and began serving in a rural church in central Yunnan. Recently, he was one of the beneficiaries of a programme where churches equip lay preachers with Bible resources through the support of the United Bible Societies (UBS).
‘It’s difficult for us to access these books. We do not have the money to buy them. These books are indeed valuable and helpful.’ The shy man broke into a smile as he shared a glimpse of his ministry journey.
Zhang also expressed his appreciation for the support, ‘We often feel inadequate when we minister to believers, lest we lead the congregation astray. [because] People like me (from the countryside) do not have much formal education and enough theological training.’
Coming from a remote rural community, Mr Zhang who’s in his late forties earns a meagre income farming the fields. He admits that there is often the temptation to give up on ministry as the local rural church does not have enough funds to support him financially. Therefore, he faces the constant dilemma of wanting to provide a better life for his family by moving to the urban areas to look for a job.
‘Yet whenever I see elderly believers in the church who have been Christians their whole lives – some of them whom I have known for many years – I am afraid that if I leave the church to work elsewhere, they will be left without anyone to shepherd them.’
So, Zhang chose to trust God to provide. And the Lord provided Zhang with the much needed Bible tools for ministry.
‘There are limited channels for us to acquire reliable Biblical resources. Now I have trustworthy reference books and resources to minister to believers.’ Mr Zhang expressed his gratitude to UBS for the Bible tools as heretical teachings tend to be rampant in rural areas.
It is encouraging to see lay preachers like Zhang sacrificing the opportunity to earn more if they take on city jobs, in order to answer the call for needed labourers for the churches in rural areas. Please continue to pray for Mr Zhang and other lay workers who have chosen to stay and serve where the needs are great.
Story: Marcus Xiao and Zoe Zu
Photo: UBS CP
2022 © United Bible Societies China Partnership