We had the privilege of going to Eric’s hometown. We were the first foreigners ever to go there. Being of Chinese appearance, the curiosity factor piqued when our kids looked like theirs but spoke and acted completely differently. It was not an entirely poor place, but Plum Tree Village in the middle of the fields was worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the city where we met Eric.
We were there for both his wedding and Spring Festival, the start of the Chinese year. With these two big occasions overlapping, it was a great opportunity to understand where he came from. We met his parents, his grandmother, his uncles, cousins, high school best friend. We set off fireworks together, holding our hands over the kids’ ears as they whizzed up and crashed in the black sky. In the cold of a Chinese winter, we feasted on dumplings, soups, noodles, all cooked at the dining table. We watched as they burnt sacrifices to their ancestors, watched as Eric and his new wife politely declined to do so. We watched the New Year’s Eve television programming together while they all sat and sent text messages and virtual red packets to their friends all around China.
What struck us was something Eric had told us during our visit. His father had been the first person from the village to go to university. His father eventually moved to a neighbouring region and was now the local mayor. Eric had been the first person from the village to do post-graduate studies. He now held a PhD in engineering from one of China’s best universities. Eric was the source of pride and hope for the people from Plum Tree Village.
When Eric was deciding whether or not to turn down the high paying job of his dreams, that would require lots of travel and likely impact his church life and marriage, he asked me for advice. I did not want to be the one to make such a big decision for him. It was challenging — I had been discipling him for the last year, training him up as a small group leader, seeing him grow to become a mature believer, and a capable leader — I wanted to say ‘Don’t take it! Don’t sell out! Don’t leave this ministry that you are really great at!’ And yet, I knew how much pressure he was facing from his family. He was everything to them. His success would be their success.
I just listened, and prayed with him.
Two weeks later, when I caught up with Eric, he shared with me his decision. To turn down the high-flying job, and take the lower pay. For the sake of his young family (his wife was now expecting), for the sake of the church. He knew this would disappoint his parents, but he was at peace, knowing that serving God came first.
Two years later, Eric and his wife still have jobs that require a lot of their time and a lot of travel. That’s still the reality of urban China. Their child’s grandparents are the day to day carers for their child. They go to church regularly on Sundays — their only day off from work, the only day they have to spend with their child.
So, as Eric asks you to pray for the church, will you pray also for Eric? That as he balances work, family, church, and life, he will continue to put God first. That he will be making an impact for Jesus in his workplace in the many hours he is there. That he will love his wife and child and lead them in the Lord. That he will respect and honour his parents, and so doing, lead them to the Lord. That he will remain a strong, influential believer. Because the whole of his village is counting on him.
He is #oneinabillion.