HUNAN, China – Reverend Zhang Weiliang lives in Linxiang city, a city district of Hunan, under the administration of Yueyang city. He is only 41 years old but not only is he serving as the pastor of Linxiang Church, he is also the Chairman of the Linxiang CC/TSPM.
A Rough Start in Life
Life was not always straight and smooth-sailing for this servant of God. Zhang quit school early and was a teenage hooligan; every day was spent loitering on the streets.
In 1991, he got into a fight and was wanted by the police for causing injury. To escape arrest, he ran away from home. Not knowing where to go, he bought a train ticket. Providentially, he met a couple from Wenzhou on the train. When they found out that he had nowhere to go, they invited him to Wenzhou. Having no other option, the young Zhang agreed and stayed with them in their home.
Being Christians, Zhang’s new-found friends took him to church with them that Sunday. That was a turning point in his life. He recounts, “I still remember the song the choir sang that day was about the return of the prodigal son. The lyrics made me think about my own life and what the meaning of life was.”
When he asked his friends those questions, they introduced him to their pastor who then shared the gospel with him, pray for him and also gave him a Bible. It was his first Bible. From then on, he started to attend church regularly with his friends. [Above photo: Zhang (1st row, middle) with the fellowship he started in 1994. Words on the photo: “Can we just sit on the floor like that?” The beginning of a church fellowship in 1994.]
Starting a Fellowship in Linxiang
Zhang returned to Linxiang in 1992. At that time, there was no church there. The nearest Christian fellowship was in Yueyang city, 50 kilometres away. So Zhang travelled by bus to Yueyang every Sunday morning.
Because the journey was long and the bus tickets financially draining, Zhang prayed to God for a church in Linxiang. He also asked his friends in Wenzhou to pray along with him.
They not only did so, they even came to Linxiang for a visit, with a pastor in tow. Those were days before mobile phones or the Internet were in use. When they arrived at the Linxiang train station, they had no idea how to contact Zhang and randomly asked someone whether he knew Zhang Weiliang. Miraculously, he did! “I don’t think there are so many people who know me even today, but the person they asked actually knew me and brought them to my house,” Reverend Zhang mused.
On the fifth day of their visit, Zhang invited his friends, relatives and family members including his mother-in-law to his home. About 60 persons turned up. This became the first Christian fellowship in Linxiang.
Growing a Church in Linxiang
The group met for fellowship every evening until the day his friends from Wenzhou left. Before their departure, they gave him RMB 300 and encouraged him to keep the fellowship group going. Reverend Zhang recalls, “Although my heart was willing to do the work, I had no idea how to lead the group. The first week, 20 people came. The second week, only ten turned up. Finally, everyone stopped coming on the third week.” Upset, Zhang asked them for an explanation. The blunt reply he got was, “You don’t know how to sing the hymns or preach or lead the fellowship.”
With the money left by his Wenzhou friends, he invited the fellowship members for dinner. After the meal, he made a request saying, “Don’t leave now. I have treated you to dinner. Now, you must listen to me read the Bible aloud.” And in that way, Zhang ‘forced’ his friends to listen to him. But listen they did. Subsequently, more and more people began attending the fellowship at his house. Thus, God helped Zhang plant the first church in his hometown.
When he realised the need for some theological training, Zhang went to Hunan Bible School for a 2-month training course. Later a piece of land was bought to build a church and God has been adding to their numbers for the past 20 years.
Linxiang Church’s Response to Current Challenges
Now there are 5000 believers worshipping in 30 churches and meeting points in Linxiang. But there is only one pastor. There are also rural districts that need help to build their own churches. In 2012, Reverend Zhang launched a project called “Love In Action”. RMB 50,000 from church offering was used to buy rice and oil which was then distributed to poor families in rural areas. Regardless of religious background, each needy family was given two bags of rice and one bottle of cooking oil along with a gospel tract. The objective was to encourage them with God’s Word and share the Christian message.
In 2013, Zhang’s church mobilised 1,000 Christians to clean the streets dressed in shirts with the slogan “Jesus loves you”. It was a sensational event for the whole town. Participants were divided into twelve groups to not only clean the streets but also share the gospel with passers- by. With such community outreach events, Reverend Zhang hopes to expand the influence of the local church.
Living by faith
When Zhang began his Christian ministry, he had no income at all. It was only in later years that he acquired a pig farm to support his family’s financial needs. As a young preacher, he was sorely tempted to go the same way when he saw other young men leaving Linxiang for work in larger cities. But one day a few church members came to his home and confronted him, “Why did you share the gospel with us? Now that we have become Christians, are you leaving us? Don’t go!” It was then that he realized his calling to God’s work. He has since remained faithful to God’s will for his life.
Story by: Angela Teo
Edited: Cynthia Oh
Photos: Courtesy of Rev Zhang Weiliang
2015 © United Bible Societies China Partnership