(This is the story behind the first video in our One In A Billion series.)
I first met Mark when we were teaching English at the same university. My husband and I were working in a large city in China, choosing to spend some time ‘tentmaking’ on our own there before searching out a possible mission organisation to join. Mark and his then girlfriend quickly became friends with my husband and I – hanging out, eating meals, playing sport, celebrating birthdays together. It was life on life, as we shared aspirations, thoughts, jokes, and the everyday. Mark knew we were Christians. I found it interesting that whenever we talked about being Christian, he would refer to being a Party member, as though it was his equivalent thing, his version of ‘faith’.
One day he said to us: You just seem so happy all the time — what is it about you guys? This began a journey, which, over time, saw him and his girlfriend come to Christ. And in fact this journey had even begun over 10 years earlier, as people had come in and out of his life – a foreign teacher giving him a Bible, international students spending time with him as an undergraduate. We were just privileged to be one of the links in a chain. Their zeal for Christ, and what the Holy Spirit was doing in their life, in the initial days blew us away.
We left China not long after, feeling called to seminary and taking some time preparing to join a mission organisation. Meanwhile Mark had gotten married, moved to the US on his own to study a while, where he grew further as a believer, then moved back to China. We intersected a few years later when they visited us in the UK. It had been a number of years since his return from the US. Without being in Christian community, they had really been struggling in their walk. Mark asked us – am I still a Christian if I don’t do anything Christian? The relief on his face of being reminded about salvation by faith alone was immediate.
We came back to the field eager to connect with them. We’d see them occasionally, but being in hugely different parts of the vast city we lived in (20+ million people living in an area of 15,000+ sqkm), with full-time responsibilities, it was tricky. And nowadays, with both of our families now with young kids, getting together is even more difficult, and to be honest, quite rare.
The time we see them is precious, often leading to conversations about family, faith, challenges at work. But as much as we want to do life amongst them, we just can’t get together that much. China is China. We need a platform to be there. A lot of our ministry revolves around keeping it. Our ministry, amongst business people, amongst church leaders, doesn’t leave us as much time to do ‘old friend ministry’. It hurts, sometimes, to think about how much we feel we fail him. And as he said, getting to church, working out what it means for him… it’s complicated.
So what does that mean for Mark? Is that the entirety of God’s journey with him? Is Mark to be left in this void of faith without discipleship? Without fellowship? Without community?
What would happen if a mature, committed, follower of Christ, joined Mark’s faculty? To intersect with him daily, to do life on life with him, to together tackle the issues of being a believer in a communist environment, to know his work colleagues and pray together with him for them? What would happen if together, as teachers, as people of influence there, they could have a vision for their school to be impacted by Christ?
As we think about Mark, and the sea of urban billion around him, we long to see people – of all professions – teachers, engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, IT people, accountants – come and literally work amongst people like Mark. To work alongside, and as they do, to minister amongst them – in their workplaces, in their universities – and share life together. Because in the city, bringing the gospel to all sectors of society includes the intellectual, as well as the impoverished. The powerful and the powerless. And because there are a multitude of them – believers and seekers – just like Mark, who are waiting.
He is #oneinabillion.