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 organization to join. Mark and his then girlfriend quickly became friends with my husband and I—hanging out, eating meals, playing sports, 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. 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 and 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 organization. Meanwhile, Mark had gotten married, moved to the U.S. on his own to study a while (where he grew further as a believer), then moved back to China. Our paths intersected a few years later when Mark and his wife visited us in the U.K. It had been a number of years since his return from the U.S. Without being in Christian community, they had really been struggling in their walk with God. Mark asked us, “Am I still a Christian if I don’t do anything Christian?” The relief on his face when he was reminded about salvation by faith alone was immediate.
We came back to the field eager to connect with Mark and his wife. We’d see them occasionally, but being in hugely different parts of the vast city (20+ million people living in an area of 9,000+ sq mi), with full-time responsibilities made it tricky. And nowadays, with both of our families raising young kids, getting together is even more difficult, and to be honest, quite rare.
The time we have with Mark and his wife is precious, often leading to conversations about family, faith and challenges at work. But as much as we want to do life alongside 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 among business people and 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 Mark. 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 the urban billion around him, we long to see people of all professions—teachers, engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, IT people, accountants—come and literally work among people like Mark. To work alongside and minister among them—in their workplaces and universities—and share life together. In the city, bringing the gospel to all sectors of society includes the academic as well as the uneducated. The powerful and the powerless. There are a multitude of people just like Mark—believers and seekers—who are waiting.
He is #oneinabillion.
This article was originally published on the international OMF Blog.