Mothers’ Role in the Making of a Chinese Christian Leader

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Rev Zhang Keyun (front row, 6th from left), with UBS delegates seated in the front row and some of the students and lecturers of Jiangsu Bible Seminary where he serves as President.

JIANGSU, China – The Churches in China are facing an unprecedented era of growth. Despite historically challenging circumstances, God has been and is still working mightily in the lives of His people there. To shepherd the huge number of believers, Christian leaders have to be raised from amongst them. There is a Chinese saying that says, “It takes ten years to grow a tree and a hundred years to grow a man.” From a human perspective, that is a very long time frame but from the timelessness of God’s providence, it means some of these leaders are raised right from early childhood in the lap of Christian influence in their family thus preparing them for future service in His work.

One such leader is Rev Zhang Keyun, the current Chairman of Jiangsu Provincial TSPM[1], as well as the President of Jiangsu Seminary. He is an exemplary visionary leader who rose from the ranks of a village lay preacher to become the top leader of the Jiangsu Protestant Church and the Vice-President of China Christian Council.

When asked about his own Christian journey of first coming to faith and then entering into vocational Christian work, he attributes it to the influence of two women. “My mother and an elderly believer, Mrs Wang,” shared Rev Zhang.

The Influence of his Mother 

The first woman he gives credit to is his mother, being the one who brought him to Christ. She and her family came to faith in the late 1950s when the Christian numbers in China were low. Theirs would be the only Christian family in the whole village. Notwithstanding that, God fortified her with a strong faith and a spiritual conviction. She frequently prayed for her three girls and Zhang, her only son, committing them to God’s care and guidance.

“I remember how as a young boy, I would be vaguely aware of my mother’s presence by my bedside, in the wee morning hours or late at night, uttering fervent words of prayer for me,” Rev Zhang recalls fondly. Such inspiring acts of faith imbued him with Christian devotional practices early on in life and prepared him to weather the culturally and politically tumultuous times into which he had been born.

Three years after his birth, the Cultural Revolution started in 1966 where all churches were closed and Bibles were banned. Because of the closure of churches, his mother started hosting Christian meetings in their home on a weekly basis.

Rev Zhang Keyun (right) with Kua Wee Seng, UBS China Partnership Director.

“There were about 20 believers who met regularly during that period and they shared a Bible, beautifully handwritten by my grand-uncle. My mother was schooled and was therefore able to read it. She treated this special Book with utmost love and regard; putting it away carefully each time she had finished reading it,” shared Rev Zhang. Seeing how his mother valued the Scriptures made a tremendous impact on Zhang and led him to cooperate and partner with organisations such as the United Bible Societies (UBS) in Bible ministry.

The Impact of his Spiritual Mentor

The second lady who influenced Rev Zhang’s spiritual development during his childhood years was an 80-year-old elderly lady he addressed as Mrs Wang. She was the one who led him onto the path of vocational Christian service. This elderly believer was a lay leader who led Christian gatherings in the absence of pastors during the Cultural Revolution. Because of her Christian ministry involvement, she was prohibited from leaving her home. In order to support her financially, Christians in the district gave donations and tasked the then 10-year-old Zhang with the job of delivering the money to her.

Eventually, Mrs Wang was called up for public interrogation. During the hearing, Zhang witnessed first-hand the harsh treatment she was subjected to for refusing to deny Christ publicly. The scene of Red Guards dashing this frail old lady against the floor haunted the young boy. Too traumatised to sleep that night, Zhang prayed to God that he would one day serve Him as a faithful preacher like brave Mrs Wang.

This prayer, uttered with child-like faith was forgotten for about 10 years. In his twenties, after going for a college entrance examination, he met with a terrible traffic accident in which he nearly lost his life. For about one year after that, he was bed-ridden even though none of the doctors he had consulted could diagnose the problem. Amid this unexplainable bewildering physical debilitation, a notification letter came. He had been selected for a preacher’s training course in Nanjing. From his late teens, he had been preaching in church. It had always been his dream to serve God as a preacher. But how was that dream going to be fulfilled now in his current physical state?

Rev Zhang decided at that point to sign up for that course. During his time in training, his health improved by the day so that when he finally completed it and went home, he had a clean bill of health. It was from this miraculous turn of events that he remembered the prayer he made as a young boy to serve God as a preacher. From then on, he began his journey of vocational Christian service.

Finally, Rev Zhang also paid tribute to a third woman – his wife. It was her consistent encouragement and support that helped him persevere in Christian service despite setbacks and challenges.

Rev Zhang’s story testifies to the role of Christian mothers in bringing up a child in faith and in their godly influences in a child’s growing up years.

Today, in his capacity as Chairman of the Jiangsu Provincial TSPM and Jiangsu Seminary President, Rev Zhang has initiated and partnered with UBS in many projects, particularly the training and equipping of pastors and preachers, the running of Scripture Literacy classes, the establishment of Bible Resource Rooms and the distribution of Bibles and Gospel Booklets.

May God continue to raise more Christian mothers to nurture and raise up a new generation of workers like Rev Zhang Keyun for His kingdom purposes.

 [1] TSPM together with the Christian Council is the umbrella organisation of the registered churches in China.

Story: Angela Teo and Cynthia Oh
Photo: UBSCP
2020 © United Bible Societies China Partnership