“Raymond” from China

Dear Friends,

This week, “Raymond” (name has been changed for security reasons) from China shares about the hope that enlivens and encourages believers in times of turmoil.

 The world’s most populous nation, China is home to over 1.4 billion people. Within 15 years, China will likely also have the world’s largest Christian population, as unregistered and registered churches continue to grow rapidly. According to a 2014 Peking University study, 74% of Chinese are irreligious or practice folk religion, 16% are Buddhist, 3% Christian, and 0.5% Muslim. In recent years, the Chinese government has tightened control over religious minorities, detaining at least a million Muslim Uighurs in concentration camps, shutting down and demolishing churches, arresting and surveilling prominent leaders, and censoring religious literature.

Raymond is pursuing a PhD in Systematic Theology from the London School of Theology in the UK. His research focuses on portrayals of Christ in the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, and their implications for Christian worship and missions in China. 

Raymond shares the following devotional and prayer requests:

Hope in a Time of Turmoil
It was a time of turmoil when Joseph and Mary had to manage that long trip back to their hometown to complete their registration with the government. They were living not in an autonomous country, but rather under Caesar Augustus, one of the most powerful Roman emperors in history, and under the cruel Herod and his puppet regime. 
This poor couple had to rush through a huge stream of migrants, not only because of Roman emperor’s order, but also due to the urgency of Mary’s advanced pregnancy. Perhaps as a result of the unbearably tough journey, the baby arrived before they could reach their destination, unexpectedly yet according to a divinely ordained timing. 
In their haste, the couple located a tiny nameless inn, where no normal accommodation was available, but only a manger left for their newborn baby, the Son of the eternal God. It is uncertain whether there were any relatives around to be of help. Before any sort of feeding or sleep routine could be set up for the baby Jesus, the new parents were forced to leave in a hurry and start their new life soon in exile. 
This Christmas season is also a time of turmoil for the Church in China. As the government specifies its new agenda against the Church in China, house churches (to which most Chinese Christians belong) and other underground churches (including Catholic congregations) are being forced to register with the government. The issue of whether or not, or to what extent, we should comply with these new regulations has become a heated controversy among churches across the nation. 
It is customary for Chinese churches to reach out to local communities at Christmastime. However, as the situation worsens for many churches, and as Christians are constantly discouraged and even threatened, I am really not sure how we could sit around the table again this year to sing Christmascarols and retell the story of the Nativity. We Christians are in tears, crying as the psalmist once cried out in overwhelming desperation: “How long, O Lord, will you look on…” (Ps. 35:17).
Yet, God never ceases to hear our prayers and lamentations, and He does not leave us as orphans. Ezekiel was once possibly even more overwhelmed by desperation as he saw, in a vision, the valley full of dry bones. The living God then reignited unquenchable hope and joy within Ezekiel by breathing His Holy Spirit into the slain, causing them to arise as a mighty army! 
God has also reignited hope and joy within us when He broke into human history and as Jesus Christ physically carried that weighty cross along the path to Golgotha. As God the Son was hanging on the cross, from his side flowed the blood of salvation and the water of life (John 19:34). By the living hope and unending grace we receive from him, we are able to withstand turmoil either within or without. As the giver of the Spirit with God the Father (John 1:33–34), Jesus Christ is still breathing His Spirit into us, that we might continue to witness God’s love and grace prevailing over fear and desperation! 
Oh Lord, please cheer us up again through your Spirit, especially in this Christmas season, and teach us to sing of heavenly peace and to shine your light in dark places! 
Prayer Requests
Pray for the churches in China, that we would have wisdom and unity as we continue witnessing to Jesus Christ in the face of strategic persecution. The Gospel is still exceedingly needed and welcomed by the people there, yet we are under threat and risk losing our identity. 
Pray for the wellbeing of my family, as my studies could not be completed without their support. I am grateful that I am quickly approaching the second half of my PhD journey and am planning to submit my thesis by the end of the next year. 
Pray that God would prepare us for ministry back home in the near future, that He would lead us to wisely invest our lives into what is genuinely needed there, and that He would protect us as we faithfully follow Him as a family together with the Christian communities around us. 

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