Life of a Lay Preacher

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YUNNAN, China – Preacher Pu Zhidui, 50, still remembers those days when he would light a candle in the dark of the night to read the Bible on his bed in the dormitory of Fugong Bible School.

“It was after all the lights were turned off. I was reading through the entire Bible for the very first time and I was very moved by God’s Word,” recalled Pu, who studied in the Bible School in early 2000.

Incidentally, on that Saturday when we visited, Pu was preaching passionately with expressive hand gestures, from John chapter 1 on Christ, the Light that shines in darkness. “Christ is our Light of life; He has overcome the darkness,” he exhorted the congregation at Ou Lu Di Church, a mountain church perched 1,900 meters above sea level.

Indeed, Pu and his family had experienced the light and hope that comes through the gospel. He related to us how his mother was healed of her long-term illness after coming to Christ. Later, when he was away studying in the Bible school, he witnessed God’s protection over his wife and young children.

“I was hanging on to Matthew 6:33, ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’ I just had to commit my family to the Lord.” He was not informed that his wife had fallen ill and was hospitalized. She had kept him in the dark so that he would not be distracted from his studies.

With the support and blessing from his wife, Pu completed his studies successfully. He was ordained a lay preacher five years ago by the Fugong Christian Council/ TSPM. He is one of the 67 Lisu lay preachers serving in the Fugong county, northwest of Yunnan Province, part of the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, and borders Myanmar to the west. The region is also one of China’s poorest.

The people in Fugong, including the lay preachers, are mostly subsistence farmers, eking out a simple living by planting corn, potatoes and vegetables. Due to the demands of church ministry, some of them devote themselves full-time in church ministry but they are not financially supported by the church. “Seeing that I spend so much time in church, my non-Christian friends had actually asked me if I received any monetary support as a preacher!”

Besides facing financial challenges, Pu also has to confront the rough terrain. He currently oversees eight churches, totaling 2000 believers. However, getting to where the believers are is no mean feat. The Nujiang Prefecture is flanked by two 4000-meter high mountains with many peaks in between. Moreover, three rivers traverse the prefecture, making construction of roads difficult.

Mountain churches are mostly situated in the deep and remote areas, inaccessible by any form of transportation. Many Lisu lay preachers like Pu often go on foot for several hours, trekking narrow paths and navigating slippery stones in rushing streams. At times, landslides and falling rocks force them to even scale mountain cliffs.

“The needs of the churches are great and there are not enough preachers and pastors to go around,” shared Pu, who preaches in Ou Lu Di church once every two to three months. There are 360 churches across Fugong county with a Christian population of 80,000, served by 67 lay preachers and four pastors. “With limited access to other resources, believers who live in the mountains tend to rely more on the preachers for spiritual feeding.”

Amidst these challenges, Pu is clear about his calling to make sure that Lisu believers continue to experience the light and hope of the gospel. “God loves us, I’ve seen His grace and goodness in my life and my family. Philippians 3:8 says it for me, ‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’”

Story: Cynthia Oh
Edited: Tan Lay Leng
Photo:  UBS CP
2018 © United Bible Societies China Partnership