Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, BUT the LORD directs his steps.” Ironically, and with some surprise, unplanned circumstances over the past few months dictate that we begin this update with this Scripture and its attendant meaning!
We unexpectedly returned to the States due to a significant trial in the club we are serving and the potential fall-out arising from our presence. We enjoyed an extended season of rest in America over the past several months and were ticketed to return to China September 9th, only to have our departure flights cancelled by Hurricane Irma – which struck our home on the West Coast of Florida with a fury. By God’s grace, what first appeared to be an inevitable direct hit from the eye of the storm was rerouted a mere 20 miles to our east, sparing us from the most fearsome effects of the winds, rain, and storm surge.
The airlines rescheduled us to depart September 14th – only to suffer another unexpected setback. Mr. Jones had been battling an unexplained hand infection for about a month. Making a long story short, he required immediate surgery on his right hand on Wednesday, the 13th. The surgery was successful! After a short, but intense, period of prayer, we determined that Mrs. Jones would return as planned and her husband will remain in the States until the wounds have fully healed, and he has completed his physical therapy to restore movement and range of motion to his pinky finger. This is expected to be anywhere from 6-12 weeks, depending upon how the finger responds.
Now these two things alone would be trying enough… but two days after Mrs. Jones’ return, a sister club (with a foreign influence working with them – just like us!) received a foreboding message from government authorities. Translated into English, the notice says, “You are to immediately cease conducting worship services and you are “requested” to gather for services at the Three Self Church. You are further “invited” to a meeting at the police station to discuss your “unlawful meetings.” As you may remember, about this time last year, the religious bureau published new… and draconian… religious regulations for public comment. Like all bureaucracies, things moved slowly, but the new regulations have traversed the political system and been approved into law. They will become ‘official’ in February of 2018 – though functional immediately. Many of the regulations under this law have been in place before. What makes this iteration different is the articulation of specific enforcement mechanisms (lacking in previous regulations) and substantial financial penalties. Physical persecution did not impede the church… now they move to economic persecution. The full extent of these newly implemented regulations is beyond the scope of this update, but the net is this: Government scrutiny is returning to the Chinese house-church network after a ten year period of relative peaceful coexistence. One area of particular government focus is the presence of ANY foreign influence in the church, along with sources of church funding.
As you continue to strive with us in God’s work, please keep the following matters in prayer:
1. Pray for our Chinese brethren as they face an uncertain future and a season of increased attention… and likely persecution… from the government;
2. Pray for Mrs. Jones’ safety, stamina, and “invisibility” as she ministers alone for a short period of time;
3. Pray for a quick recovery from surgery for Mr. Jones; and
4. Pray for discernment as we ponder how God will direct the ministry in the coming year.
As always, we deeply value, and never take for granted, your participation in the ministry. We say the same thing every time simply because the same thing needs to be said… namely, that without your support, we could not do what we do! We extend our deepest and most humble gratitude to each one of you.