YUNNAN, China – Tucked in the Honghe (Red River) Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, southeast of Yunnan Province is Mile (pronounced Mi-le) County – a beautiful place known for its hot springs, rolling hills and the Red River, which runs through it before reaching Vietnam.
The historical county is so named because of an ancient legend saying that a deity had once visited the place. Since then Mile has been a religious site for Buddhists and tourists alike.
Recently a 19.99-meter tall statue of the deity has just been erected in the county, which is being developed into a tourist center.
This is also where Pan Luqing, 25, a Miao preacher from another county has been serving for the past one year in Honghe Church, a small congregation of 30 members. The church is located in an iconic old style courtyard house (siheyuan), a walled structure that usually houses three families. “As it is a very old place, the other two families have moved out and converted their houses into an ancestral worship hall, coming back regularly to perform some religious rites.” related Pan, who lives in a small room in the church premise.
Lessons from entering into a “Mess”
What led Pan to move to Mile County and to serve at Honghe church? It was through a seminary classmate who told him about the need of the church there. The decision to serve there meant moving away from his family members. When he first arrived, he was greeted by a handful of hapless elderly believers, and a host of other problems, one of which was financial as the church was in debt.
“Some of my seminary classmates chose to serve at coastal areas where the conditions are better, but I believe it is God’s plan to mold me by bringing me here into the mess.” Some preachers who serve in the coastal provinces receive more support. So one big lesson for Pan was learning humility and frugality. Besides the small number of believers, the church had actually just been closed down due to internal conflict, lack of pastors and a debt problem after some renovation work.
On top of being the preacher, Pan has to double up as the church administrator- handling all the legal and property issues- which he sees as a good training ground for him. So when the government approval came for the re-opening of the church last year, he and the church members were elated. But the problem was not over. “Our first visitors upon re-opening were the creditors! We had a debt of more than 70,000 yuan (US$10,000). One of the few urgent things I needed to do was to solve the debt problem!” shared Pan. To date, the church has managed to pay off nearly one third of the debt amount.
Another lesson is to live below his means. As his church members are elderly people, they are not able to support him. Pan receives some money from his family who are farmers and UBS donors who support him with 500 yuan (US$77) per month. “The support from UBS is helpful in paying for my transport as I make regular visits to the believers’ home or when they are ill and can’t come for Holy Communion.”
Influence from Father’s faith
Living apart from his family, he keeps in touch through phone calls. Sometimes, he has to assure his mother of his well being and safety in his conversations with her. Indeed, in an age where personal comfort and career prospects take priority for most young people, Pan’s decision to stay at Honghe church makes him stand out.
Pan attributes his faith to the influence of his father who was a relief teacher. “He did not apply for a professional teaching license because he believed that by doing so he would compromise his faith,” explained Pan. Despite persuasion by his family members and colleagues, Pan’s father did not apply for the license. As a result, his father received a meager salary of 300 yuan per month (US$45) and led a frugal life, choosing to remain faithful and true to God.
“My dad loved the Lord. He went around with other believers to minister to people in the villages and was part of the church choir. When he passed away, he left behind stacks of hand-written notes and journals containing his writings and reflections of the Christian faith. That was one of the greatest treasures for me,” shared Pan, who is a fourth generation Christian.
Joy In Serving
For the recent graduate from Sichuan Seminary, one of the greatest joys serving among the elderly believers is to see their spiritual growth. “Initially they were very shy and did not dare to pray aloud. Now a few of them are bolder in prayer and we have two members who are actively volunteering,” shared Pan who meets his church members every morning for prayer and devotion time. “It was initially a challenge for these believers to receive such a young preacher like me, so I thank God that they were able to accept me eventually.”
In fact, Pan has seen an increase in church membership from five to 30 within a year. Here, Christians account for less than 0.2% of the total population of 500,000. Despite the odds, we believe that Pan will continue to brave through the difficulties and fulfil his God-given calling, finding joy in the mess.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edit: Angela Teo
2016 © United Bible Societies China Partnership