China after COVID-19—‘The spiritual hunger is tangible’

May 27, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

On December 31, 2019 in central China’s most populous city, the Hygiene and Health Committee of Wuhan City publicly announced they had received 27 cases of an “unusual type of pneumonia.” By January 20, hospitals in Wuhan were already overwhelmed by hundreds of patients each day, each showing symptoms of the new virus.

That same day, Professor Nanshan Zhong (a pulmonologist from southern China and the eventual face of China’s fight against the virus) confirmed in the media that the virus could be spread from human to human and was highly contagious. Three days later, Wuhan City went into lockdown on January 23. To date, China has officially registered more than 82,000 cases of coronavirus and almost 5,000 virus-related deaths (though experts believe actual numbers are much higher).

Now the country is opening up again, though all church buildings remain closed. Almost five months since the first cases were reported in late December, what’s happening in China now—and what can we learn from persecuted believers there and how the church has responded? Our team in China answers our questions—giving us a detailed look inside the country and church life.

What is life like in China after COVID-19?

China has been gradually returning to normal life with restrictions lifting across the country, but citizens are still very wary of a potential second wave of coronavirus cases, particularly in the original epicenter, Wuhan. As the country opens for business again, China has had to be much more vigilant about international visitors and their own nationals returning home with the virus.

To ensure there isn’t a second outbreak at the epicenter, China is now testing all 11 million residents of Wuhan. While a prudent course of action, long lines of residents waiting to be tested show little regard for physical distancing.

Travel restrictions inside China are gradually being lifted. There are still partial lockdowns in some areas, counties and villages, but the situation varies from place to place. In some places, more extensive restrictions are still enforced, such as outsiders not allowed into residential buildings, isolation of 14 days at home when citizens return home from another region, etc.

Local authorities in some cities are encouraging citizens to return to normal life and for businesses to start up again to lessen the effects of an already plunging economy.

What would Americans be most surprised about?

The health barcode. This is a QR code issued by health centers to individuals who have tested negative to coronavirus. The code is downloaded to the person’s mobile phone, and scanning the code gives them access to public places and facilities such as public transportation, office buildings, shopping centers, etc. The barcode app tracks the person’s movement, which facilitates faster identification of virus outbreak clusters.

Most Chinese people in cities live in modern apartment buildings within residential zones that are managed and monitored by a residential office. Under COVID-19, these offices have issued families with a residence card that restricts the area and number of times each family can shop for food each week.

What is family life like in China?

As in other countries, families have had to deal with educating their children at home, dealing with loss of income and isolation, and the inevitable relational challenges that arise from whole families being restricted to very small apartments with no gardens to escape to.

Parents in modern China who often work long hours have had to stay home, and children who get up very early for long school days followed by excessive amounts of homework have enjoyed some reprieve. It remains to be seen whether family relationships have improved or suffered during the lockdowns, but we hope that families have grown closer and learned to love each other better during this “enforced” time together.

What is the spiritual temperature in China?

Christians who are able to connect online are doing so much more regularly than before. Prior to the pandemic, it was quite normal for Chinese Christians to stay connected with each other and encourage each other spiritually on Chinese social media, and even listen to sermons and attend Bible classes online.

Overall, during lockdown believers from many Christian communities across the country have joined online services, listened to/watched online sermons, prayed and used the Word of God to encourage one another online in greater numbers than usual. The spiritual hunger and growth are tangible.

With church buildings still closed, what is church life like in China?

Churches around the country have mostly stopped physical services, but many have started to use online platforms to connect, pray and study the Bible together. As sad as this pandemic is, church life has been given a boost as believers congregate online regularly to care for each other and serve their communities.

Some local churches joined together to set up prayer platforms. They encourage believers to pray more fervently for their local communities, cities and government. One pastor from Wuhan told us that the more than 15 cell groups in his church used to meet once a week, but during the pandemic, they were all meeting daily online! The pastors in his church are preaching online every day too. They introduced a two-hour prayer meeting each week, and now offer a range of online Bible classes. In fact, all church meetings in this Wuhan church are being held more frequently now. The pastor said they feel closer than ever before!

In regions where restrictions have eased, Christians have begun to meet in small groups of four or five people to enjoy each other’s company again, pray, sing and help each other.

While many churches have the capacity and motivation to conduct online services and fellowship, some small churches choose to stay offline and keep a low profile. They are more likely to connect believers one-on-one or in small groups on social media, and meet with a few fellow believers in public areas when the situation permits.

We’ve heard reports of the Chinese government attempting to shut down online worship services or limit them.

Many churches, like this one in Wuhan, have been told to stop holding meetings online a number of times by the local authorities. But given that they still can’t meet in person, and because the authorities don’t have the resources now to enforce this, the meetings continue.

Watch Open Doors CEO David Curry’s interview with Pastor Wang Lei from Wuhan, China. 

How are churches responding to their communities?

Churches have realized the pastoral needs of brothers and sisters in their churches in a way that may have gone unnoticed if there wasn’t a pandemic.

And more and more churches, including those at the virus epicenter, have risen to the challenge to serve their communities. They have reached out to provide food, face masks, protective clothing and friendship and comfort to those directly affected by COVID, as well as to poor and isolated residents who have no other support networks.

How can we be praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters during this time?

Here’s what Christians have asked:

  • Please pray that Christians across China continue to reach out to their neighbors and communities with the love of Jesus. We shouldn’t have to wait until a pandemic erupts to do this! We have so much to offer, but we so often just keep it to ourselves.
  • Please pray that our government makes wise decisions about the ongoing challenges of this virus, and that rather than persecuting the church, they would see us as a positive force of love and support.
  • Can you also pray that this new hunger to connect with other believers and grow closer to God on a daily basis would gather momentum? The New Testament church used to meet together in their homes all the time—we need this so much.
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