God at Work in China
About the Guest
Jed Renfroe, a long-time missionary to China, talks about the rapid spread of Christianity there. Jed reveals the challenges facing the house churches and underground churches, and explains how Christmas is celebrated by unbelievers and believers alike.
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Jed Renfroe, a missionary in China, talks about the rapid spread of Christianity there. Jed explains how Christmas is celebrated by unbelievers and believers alike.
God at Work in China
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition—
Tuesday, December 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey. I'm Bob Lepine. We are taking a little bit of a different look at Christmas this week—expanding our vision with a little bit of a global look at Christmas.
We’ve got your wife, Barbara, who is joining us again on the program today. Welcome, Barbara.
Barbara: Thank you, sir.
Bob: And part of the reason we’re looking globally is because this has been on your heart, really, for a long time.
Barbara: Yes. Yes, we’ve been, for the last three years, creating Christmas ornaments that help families focus on Jesus at Christmas, which is a novel idea; right? [Laughter]
Barbara: This year, what we wanted to do was—we wanted to help families, not just focus on Jesus at Christmas, but help families think about the fact that Jesus came for the whole world—
—not just for America or for a country in the West in which you might happen to live—but to think about other countries / to think about other parts of this globe for whom Jesus died. So, we’ve got a set of ornaments this year in five different languages. On the back of each ornament is a description about that people group who speak that language and a suggested prayer that we might, as a family, engage, in thinking about other peoples for whom Jesus came. Jesus came at Christmas, and it wasn’t just for us—it was for the whole world.
Bob: When you thought about the languages to use—
Bob: —because only five ornaments—
Bob: —and there are hundreds—I don’t know exactly. How many languages are there?
Barbara: I don’t remember, but there are a lot.
Bob: So how did you narrow it down to the five you picked?
Barbara: We chose the top four languages / spoken languages in the world other than English.
Barbara: So English was disqualified.
Bob: So you’ve got Spanish.
Barbara: Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, and we chose Arabic.
Barbara: Then the fifth language group is Hebrew because that’s the language that Jesus spoke. So we included Hebrew, even though it’s not in the top language groups.
Bob: And your thought was these ornaments can actually spark some conversation. Moms and dads can use these for education / for discipleship; right?
Barbara: Yes, you can. And, you know, it’s just such a wonderful thing to be able to have a meaningful conversation at Christmas. What these ornaments allow you to do is to talk about a country that we, really, probably don’t know much about—to look it up on the map / maybe to do some research online—but to think about the people in these countries.
For instance, the country of China and the language of Mandarin—it is spoken by more people than any other language on the globe. Yet, how much do we know about Mandarin-speaking people? Yet, Jesus came for them when He came at Christmas too.
It helps us, I think, to expand our understanding of the Christmas season and the holiday and why we celebrate the fact that Jesus was sent to earth for all people when we think about other people groups besides our own.
Dennis: Many of these countries we hear about on the evening news and we read about in the newspaper or online. Some of them are described as enemies. Yet, we’re commanded, by the Bible, to go to the world and proclaim Jesus Christ to all people.
Dennis: I think what this does, Bob, is it takes our eyes off of us versus them and realize that a follower of Jesus Christ is a citizen of an eternal kingdom; and he must be about the King’s mission. That means we need to be training our children how to think about those from China and, of course, now, in the Middle East—Arabic-speaking folks who are making news all of the time for some of the horrific things that they’re doing to people, even killing Christians.
Well, how are we to respond? We should have a desire to proclaim John 3:16 to the people of all these countries and all of these nations—of every tribe and every tongue around the world.
Bob: We thought it would be a good idea for our listeners to get a perspective on what’s going on around the world from somebody who is living in another part of the world. We’ve got a guy who is with us on the phone today. As soon as our listeners hear him, they’re not going to believe that he’s been living in Asia for the last 20 years because he still sounds like he comes from Alabama—and he does.
His name is Jed Renfroe. I should mention here, Dennis, that that’s not actually his real name. We can’t share his real name on the program because of the work he’s doing in Asia.
Dennis: He has been in Asia since 1992. They have two children, who are on their way to college.
I would like to welcome you to FamilyLife Today and also—say, “Hi,” to my wife, Barbara.
Jed: Good to be here! Good to talk with all y’all!
Barbara: Well, it’s great to have you on the broadcast, Jed.
Dennis: You have given much of your adult life to reaching people of another tongue / of other customs—a massive nation of over 1.2 billion people—I believe that’s where it is right now. What led you to go overseas to China in the first place?
Jed: Well, actually, it goes back to when I was 15 and hearing a missionary speak and just saying, “Would you go?” The Lord just kept pressing that question on my heart. He kind of placed a vision on my heart of that part of China. That’s guided me since I was 15.
Dennis: What was your initial mission that you went on? You went to Mongolia first.
Jed: Yes, I went into the country of Mongolia. It had just come out of Communism—dominated by the Soviet Union.
I was in there on the spearhead of bringing the gospel to people who had never, ever heard the word of Jesus before.
Dennis: Did you speak the language?
Jed: No, we went in there and I learned it there in the country. Necessity is the mother of invention. When you’ve got to speak to eat, you learn to speak pretty quickly. [Laughter]
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Barbara: And your wife was also in Mongolia; correct?
Jed: Yes, she was. She actually came nine months after me. We both had gone as single missionaries, just dedicated to being there as long as the Lord wanted us. We’re still amazed that He brought us both together in Mongolia. She’s from Oklahoma originally.
Barbara: That’s fascinating. So you both learned the language together and you learned the culture together. You started a family over there. Is that right?
Jed: That’s correct. In fact, we were married in the culture—had their civil ceremony—and then a missionary performed the Christian ceremony. We had the first Christian wedding service in Mongolia.
Bob: Jed, share with our listeners a little bit what the experience is of the gospel in Asia—in China, in particular—as you have been interacting with both Mongols and with Chinese. Is there a significant underground church happening? Is there an above-ground church starting to appear? What’s going on in China?
Jed: Well, in China, you can kind of think of it in two ways—one is with the Han, that’s the majority—that’s what we call the Chinese. There is a very significant church movement going on in China. We call it the underground—the house church or the underground church. You have registered churches as well, but the biggest is the underground church.
And then you have the minorities of China. There is a movement of God among the minorities of China, hearing the gospel for the first time. It’s not as pervasive as it is among the ethnic Chinese, but it is beginning to take root and spread rapidly in China.
Bob: If we were to attend a house church, how would that be different than the Sunday morning service that we’re used to, here in the United States?
Jed: Well, of course, it has many of the elements we’re used to—I mean, you know, prayer, and preaching of the Word, and giving of our offerings. But I think some of the primary differences are you’re in a smaller setting—a house, or a building, or a restaurant some place. You’re singing with passion; but you’re singing with low tones because, if you get loud, then you’re going to draw a lot of attention to yourself and the neighbors could call the police. Then you’d get into all of that trouble. The preaching of God’s Word—it typically runs for about an hour-and-a-half / two hours.
Most people who are listening to this broadcast have no idea that a believer—someone who is following Jesus Christ—can be arrested for his or her faith. What would be the justification for being arrested there?
Jed: Well, in China—in their constitution, you have freedom of religion—it’s stated. So, they would initially say that it’s not for your religion—it’s because “We’ve determined, as a country of China, you need to worship in one of our registered churches.” That would be one of the primary things that they would come in after the house churches.
Bob: And would there be something wrong with going to the registered church instead of to the house church?
Jed: Well, in registered churches, you find a whole variety of preaching and pastoral skills. Because they’re registered, the government decides who the pastor is going to be.
Sometimes, I’ve been to some registered churches, where it’s pretty clear, in talking with the pastor, that he most likely is not even a believer. But the other good thing that happens—that “pastor” of the registered church—all he cared about was his monthly salary—so the associate pastor, who was very evangelical, did all of the preaching.
All of the government churches, also, would have somebody in there who is designated to spying and report back to the government on who is attending and what’s going on. As I said, everything you hear is true somewhere in China—nothing is true everywhere. [Laughter]
Barbara: Good point.
Jed: So when I say that, I mean some of the registered churches are very evangelistic. They’re just putting everything on the line and saying: “Alright! Come and close us up if you want to.”
Barbara: You know, Jeb, I think our listeners are curious, just as I’ve always been curious: “What is Christmas like in other parts of the world?
“Do Christians in China—in the East and in countries you’ve been in—do they celebrate Christmas in any way at all like we do, here in the States?” I think that it would be good for us to hear that because Jesus came for the whole world. So I would be very curious/ very interested to hear how the people that you know in Asia celebrate Christmas.
Jed: Well, in society of China, it’s interesting—they have adopted the decoration / the celebration of December 25th and December 24th as a holiday and of Christmas. They’ll have a Santa Claus out and all of that; but interestingly, in the stores, you will hear Christian Christmas praise songs being played right out in the stores with the lyrics. Of course, they are in English—so a lot of people don’t understand what is being said! [Laughter]
But the schools will want to know, “How do you celebrate Christmas?” So it’s one of the primary times we can get into the schools.
One school—the principal said: “We want you to come and tell us three things: ‘What is Christmas? Who is Jesus? and What does Jesus mean to you?’ We’re going to have all 1,000 of our students there so we can understand the American culture of Christmas.”
The Christians—they plan events. Usually, their celebration of Christmas is on Christmas Eve. They plan events where each member of that church / of that local church is inviting somebody, who’s not a believer, to come with them. They see it as a primary time to communicate the joy and the new life of Christ.
Barbara: Do the Christians that you know—those who are believers in Christ—do any decorating for Christmas in their homes for these Christmas Eve celebrations?
Bob: Are there even Christmas trees in China?!
Jed: Well, yes, they’ve adopted the Christmas tree primarily because all of our Christmas trees are manufactured in China. [Laughter]
That’s pretty obvious; right? [Laughter]
Jed: So you could get the Christmas tree and the lights—they like that decoration there! The Christians have gotten to where they like to decorate the tree and, then, they like something that has symbolism—for the minority, something from their culture / for the Han, something from their particular culture—that would symbolize something about Christ, similar to Chrismons.
Dennis: Yes, and what might that be? What kind of symbols would you see hanging on a Christmas tree?
Jed: Well, with the Mongols, they live in the round tent structures—it represents hospitality. So they will buy—make or buy—a little small Mongol ger they’re called—these little round tents. They’ll hang them on their tree as ornaments to symbolize how Christ gives us / surrounds us and makes us into a home. It provides the hospitality, just as the Mongols do on the grasslands.
They’ll have little sheep / some kind of little symbol of sheep because they’re a shepherd people—how Jesus is our Shepherd and Jesus finds the lost sheep. These are just some examples of what the Mongols do.
Dennis: Jed, I’d be interested in knowing, “How do you pronounce the Mandarin name of Jesus?”
Jed: In Mandarin, it’s “YAY-su”; and in Mongolian, it is “Yay-SU.”
Bob: As we think about what God is doing in Asia, and particularly in China—again, I know that’s where you’re investing your life—you and your wife being there—raising your kids there—how can we be praying for the work of the gospel in China?
Jed: I think, with the Mongols, I would ask you to pray for—we call our “Mongol son.” He’s been a part of our family for the past 12 years—we raised him in our home.
He’s now about 27, but we’ve been away from him for the past five years. In these past five years, he has been responsible for starting another 140-170 churches across inner Mongolia.
Barbara: That’s impressive.
Jed: He is traveling like Paul—and seeing Mongol believers / gathering them into a church—evangelizing.
Jed: So I would say pray earnestly for him. Their one desire is to be faithful to the Word of God and to live a life of obedience that is changed by the Word of God.
Dennis: There might be—a young man, maybe he’s 15, maybe he is younger or a little older / or a young lady, who’s listening to us right now—and they may be sensing the stirring of God in their soul to invest their life in a foreign country—maybe it’s not Mongolia or China. What would you say to that young man / that young lady?
Basically, Jed, I’m saying, “Why don’t you throw down the gauntlet and give them a challenge?”
Jed: Yes, I would just say to you: “You want your life to count for something, and God wants to make your life extraordinary for Him. Don’t be worrying about the what-ifs and what’s going to happen in the future. Will you just lay your life out there and say, ‘God, whatever You want me to do / wherever You want me to go, I’ll go’? If you will do that, you will see Him impact the world through you as He displays His glory through you.”
Dennis: So what I’m hearing you say is—you’d do it again.
Jed: Absolutely! Absolutely! In fact, I have to tell you—one of the blessings God gave me recently was to hear my 19-year-old daughter—she is going to be a junior in university—she said just last year, in speaking to other young people—
—she said, “I didn’t enjoy the struggles I went through; but had I not gone through those struggles, there are depths of God’s joy and peace I would not know.” Now that’s worth it all right there!
Barbara: It sure is!
Dennis: Well, I want you to know that Barbara and I admire you—your faith, your courage, your faithfulness, your perseverance. Thank you for following our Savior’s orders and for being a good gospel soldier in a far-away country. Please pass along our greetings and our appreciation to your wife and your daughters.
Jed: Thank you! Thank you for your encouragement; but, to be honest, we don’t deserve any accolades because all we’re doing is being obedient to what He’s directing. He’s the One who deserves all the glory for what He’s accomplished.
Barbara: Yes, he does.
Jed: And I apologize; but I’ve lost my Southern drawl—I haven’t lived over there for 23 years. [Laughter]
Bob: I’m just sitting here, wondering, “Do you think Mandarin sounds different with a Southern accent than it sounds if you have a Yankee accent or something?”
Dennis: I just wonder how he’s managed to remain in Mongolia?—how many guys from Alabama are in Mongolia?
Bob: Yes. But once again, the thought that a family could hear what we’ve talked about today and then, at the dinner table tonight or tomorrow, you sit down and say, “Here’s the name of Jesus in Mandarin.” Of course, your kids aren’t going to recognize—the letters don’t look anything like—
Barbara: No, they’re not letters—they’re characters.
Bob: They’re Chinese characters—so they’ll see that. And you flip it over on the back, you talk about God’s work among the Chinese people. In fact, you’ve got it right there, Dennis. What’s it say on the back of the ornament?
Dennis: It says, “Christianity has spread rapidly among over one billion Mandarin Chinese-speaking people of China. Centuries of missions work by courageous men and women, such as Hudson and Maria Taylor, have set the example for thousands today.”
Then, Barbara quotes Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.”
Bob, I’m just thinking here of a child, looking at this, and holding this in his or her hands. God may be speaking to a child, as they hang this on a tree, and look at that name, and think about over a billion people and where God’s at work. Many believe there are more Christians in China than there are in America.
Bob: I’ve heard more than 100,000,000 people who profess Christ are living in China. Of course, we’ve got listeners here, who have children in their home who were born in China.
Barbara: Yes, we do.
Bob: To be able to have one of these ornaments on your tree—
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Barbara: —from their native country, yes.
Bob: —and tell them about their country—how thrilling is that?
Barbara: Yes. We thought about that as we created these ornaments—how fun that would be for a family with adopted children to be able to have something that says, “Jesus,” in their native tongue. And even for those of us that don’t have children from those countries—
—just to be able to begin to recognize the name of Jesus in Mandarin, to recognize it in Russian, to recognize it in Arabic. I just think that’s really good for our souls / I think it is good for our perspective of the gospel—that Jesus came, at Christmas, for the whole world. It’s a reminder that He came for the whole world—not just for me, and my family, and my country.
Dennis: This whole idea was dreamed up by her—kind of a burden, I think, God put on her heart, more than 25 years ago, as she looked at all the Santa Clauses, and reindeer, and candy canes and said, “Why isn’t there something that, isn’t just symbolic of the Christian faith, but that truly does proclaim Christ on our trees and to others who come into our homes?”
There are now 26 names that she’s created—the first year with the “Christmas Names” from Luke and Isaiah. Year two was “His Royal Names” in the shape of different crowns. Last year was “His Savior Names” in different crosses from different continents/ different eras of history.
I promise you—by the time people are filling their tree with these ornaments, they will have studied a lot about Jesus and about His work among different people around the world in ways they’ve never done it before.
Bob: In fact, if people would like to see what the Adorenaments® look like—from year one, year two, year three, the current year—that’s easy to do. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and click on the link for Ever Thine Home® and see the Adorenaments that are available. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order over the phone—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
By the way, when you get your tree set up, and you’ve got the ornaments on it, take a picture and send it to us; will you? We’d love to see the different trees throughout the country that are proclaiming the name of Jesus at Christmastime.
Now, I know at our house, one of the things that happens—as the Christmas season comes along—is that Mary Ann and I start to talk about yearend giving. We have just made it a practice—a part of the rhythm of life—that in the month of December, we pull back and we talk about different organizations/ministries that have had an impact in our lives over the previous year. We consider making a special yearend financial gift in support of those ministries. We always start with our local church because that’s where we think giving ought to begin. Then, as we have the opportunity, we consider other ministries that God has used in our lives.
I don’t know if that is something you do at your home or not; but I do know that a lot of our listeners, each year, consider making a yearend contribution in support of FamilyLife Today. The reality is—we depend on those yearend contributions. More than one-third of the revenue we need to operate the ministry comes in during the month of December.
So hearing from you this month is vital for us. The good news is that we’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have come to us recently, and they are providing us with a little additional incentive to encourage you to make a yearend contribution. Whatever donation you send in, between now and the end of December, these friends are going to match that with an additional donation that is twice as much as whatever you give. So, if you give a $50 donation, these friends are going to add an addition $100 to that—we will wind up with $150 donated to FamilyLife. They’ve capped this matching gift at
So, to take full advantage of it, we’d like to ask you to make a donation today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY and support the ministry of FamilyLife, knowing that your donation is going to, effectively, be tripled when you support this ministry today. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone; or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to continue to look at how Christmas is celebrated all around the world. We’ll head to Ecuador tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as we peer into the celebration of Christmas in South America.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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