When Church Planting Is Perilous: East Asia

This is part one of a two-part series following MTW teams responding to God's call to plant churches in closed countries.

It’s a country with a long and bloody history of religious persecution stretching back centuries. As recently as 30 years ago, being a Christ-follower in this East Asian country meant accepting the risk of being killed for your faith, and Christians were routinely tortured, jailed, or “disappeared” in large numbers. Though rarely martyred anymore, some Christians are still imprisoned for their faith and all live under the constant, looming threat of a crackdown.

Despite the danger and the fear, the Church is growing and thriving more than ever.

“There’s an incredible, unprecedented opportunity in this country for church planting,” said MTW missionary Tom Middleton.* “It’s unlike any other country in the world, both in its challenges and its fruit.”

Tom and his team serve as facilitators, helping nationals plant churches and playing an instrumental role in developing a nationwide network of presbyteries and Reformed churches. This year, they’ll be examining more than 30 men for licensure or ordination as pastors throughout East Asia, and the list of qualified church leaders keeps growing. Yet security issues and persecution are still present.

“Most of these churches start with 20 or 30 people meeting in someone’s house for a Bible study,” said Tom. “But as a church gets larger they’ll have to move to some larger facility, and then they have to deal with the authorities trying to resist [their] meeting.”

And there’s the rub. The tremendous and exciting growth of churches also makes them more visible—and more imperiled.

“The government doesn’t like to see large, well-organized groups of people, especially when they’re nationwide, which is the case with both our church-planting network and our Presbyterian network,” said Tom. “Those are challenging things to maneuver.”

According to Tom, the Church has grown so large across the country that the government can’t control all that’s going on. Instead, they choose their targets strategically.

“They have a saying here: ‘You kill the chicken to scare the monkey,’” Tom said.

In other words, when the government decides to punish someone in a church, they make sure that everyone hears about it.

“Throughout the history of this country, missionaries have gone through an amazing amount of persecution, struggles, and difficulties, and have seen very little fruit,” Tom said. What they’re seeing now is the fulfillment of their work and the answer to years of prayer.

He adds, “This is an age where Christianity really is able to change [this country] and it’s because we’re coming alongside and helping the local Christians, not because we’re leading the charge.”

*Name has been changed. 

Next week we'll look at part two of our series, When Church Planting is Perilous: South Asia.

Andrew Shaughnessy in East Asia on Nov 21, 2017

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Pray for our church-planting ministry in East Asia, as missionaries and national partners seek to build a nationwide network of Reformed churches in a country where security issues and persecution are present. 

Pray for the Japanese men and women impacted by the gospel during recent homestays in the U.S. to continue in faith as they return to Japan.

Pray for the church-planting efforts of the Nagoya, Japan, team to be effective and that God would grow the Church in Japan.

Pray for missionary kids as they develop friendships with local children to have an impact for Christ.

Pray for those in ministry trained by Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan. Pray that they would live and proclaim the gospel.

Pray for Asia Pacific leadership in exploring options to expand MTW work in the South Pacific islands.

Pray for new cross-cultural personnel to bring the good news to Cambodia.

Give thanks for Harbor City Church in Sydney, Australia, which is thriving with four campuses after years of struggles getting established.

Pray for our church planting ministry in a South Asian Muslim majority country. Despite persecution and increased restrictions, Christianity is growing. 

Pray for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and our church-planting work there. Pray for God to grow, expand, and deepen the churches and draw many to Himself.