Stephen Chan

The Late Home-coming Prodigal Son – Chapter 20

A translation from ‘遊子遲遲歸’

Chapter Twenty       My Early Years of Ministry

The First Stage of my ministry

Once confirmed of God’s calling, I began training myself to be a servant of God immediately. Rev. Zhao taught us to aim at leading a few ‘lost sheep’ to Christ a year. So I targeted four classmates, tried very hard to tell them about the Gospel, brought them to the fellowship, and prayed for their souls incessantly. When I left for the theological seminary later, one of them did come to accept Jesus Christ as his savior, one promised to continue attending the fellowship, but the other two were lost. Later, I realized I was also a targeted ‘lost sheep’ taken care of by other older brothers and sisters, their names were: Mr. Shi Ya-Dong (施亚东弟兄), Miss Sun Mei-Zhi (孙美芝姐妹) (who later died in the labor camp), and Miss Yang Yi-Hai (杨宜海姐妹) (still serving in China as a pastor). I was the youngest inexperience little brother in the group.

In the summer of 1945, the Red Cross Crusade (十字军) (later became the China Ministry中华传道会) together with the Ling-Xiu Theological Seminary (灵修神学院) held the first national summer camp for all university students. Fu-Dan was one of the key organizers responsible for all advertising posters, daily news, church hall décor, and accommodation. The campsite was at the campus of the theological seminary and a junior high school auditorium at the foothill of Nan-Shan (南山).

Two older brothers in Christ, Mr. Shi Xi-Mi (史习敉弟兄) and Mr. Shi Dao-Hong (师道宏弟兄), were responsible for news and posters. They were from Journalism faculty. I was assigned to be a helper in their group. I was trained under Mr. Shi Xi-Mi in journalism. His penmanship was excellent. He often designed huge posters for the university. I learned calligraphy and advertisement from them for a short period of time. As there were many tasks to be done, I was immediately assigned to run errands like deliver parcels, write and post short notes and news, and distributing posters. I had no concept and no burden in Christian literature, only had an intense interest to learn how to serve the Lord. I felt real honor to have the opportunity to serve.

Our living quarters at the campsite was similar to the one I stayed at Leshan. In each large room, the floor was cleaned thoroughly. A space of 4’x6’ area was marked with chalk on the floor as bed. This was the area for each attending student to put his/her mat and belongings for the duration of the camp.

Living by Faith

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in the book of Luke, once converted, promised Jesus to give half of his possession to the poor, and compensate four times the amount he cheated anyone. Now I had come back to God, but I had neither money nor any possession enabling me to offer to God. I had heard of some ministers serving God with no fixed salary, living by faith. I thought in my heart, I could also serve God this way. When I was a prodigal, I was starved twice to a point of dying, but eventually managed to survive. I used different illegal ways to settle my financial problems. But now I became God’s servant, I must be honest and behave according to God’s will, living by faith to glorify God. I did not know how, but willing to learn the proper way to please God. I was deeply impressed by the poor widow who dropped all she had, two pennies, into the treasury for offering (Mark 12:4). When chapel in the campus for Fudan Student Fellowship needed funds for renovation, I sold the better pair of my two pair of pants and offered the money for the fund. I felt very joyful for being able to offer God something. That was all I had, and I felt greatly satisfied with what I did.

The Principle of Three NO’s

After my revival at Fu-Dan evangelical meeting, I was expected to enroll into a Biblical ministry soon. I was very close to Rev. Zhao and Rev. Jia Yu-Ming (贾玉铭牧师). Soon after the university summer camp, Miss Sun Mei-Zhi (孙美芝姐妹) and I both enrolled into Ling-Xiu Theological Seminary (灵修神学院) for training.

After I started the seminary, I learned that our principal Rev. Jia had a “Three No’s” principle for living by faith – no borrowing, no owing, and no hinting for poverty. I decided to follow his footsteps.

At the seminary, all students took turns to prepare meals. Each student paid his own monthly fee. I had no income, so I could not pay my share even towards the end of the month. I felt very ashamed and guilty, but had no resolution. Finally I determined not to eat if I had no money to pay. In another words, fast until I could pay. I did this for about two months. Soon I felt uncomfortable thinking this kind of fasting is the same as hinting for poverty. Later, Rev Zhao discovered my situation, offered me scholarship, and settled my meals problem. Then I discussed this matter with some senior schoolmates, felt that I was not really living by faith. So I told Rev. Zhao I would not accept the scholarship from the next semester on and would finally live by faith. I was so determined by my own conviction that I totally ignored his kindness. Looking back now, I should ask for his advice.

Later I was hired by a nearby church as an intern, helping in family meetings and visitations. I received a monthly wage of $700 Franc, which was sufficient for my living expenses at the time. Later I felt uneasy again about receiving a salary, because to me, this was not living by faith. I argued with the deacon of the church for a long time. Eventually I accepted her explanation that the money was a representation of the loving kindness from the congregation. Years later, I was still very puzzled by this concept, and continue seeking for a satisfying answer.

My Observations

According to my experience in ‘living by faith’, I later came to a conclusion: whether with or without a fixed income, all God’s servants could live by faith for God, or rely on the provision of others. The issue is not the method of provision but whether that servant has trust, loyalty, and allegiant to God. Both in poverty or in riches, there are God’s servants who truly remain faithful and trusting God’s sufficient grace, and there are those who pretend to trust in God. There are some who would be extra gentle and caring before rich people in order to please them, and there are those who faithfully preach God’s word and please God, regardless gain or loss. There were different kinds of pastors: some may loudly proclaim ‘living by faith’, but in reality living by provision from others; and some might denounce living by faith as hypocrite, a fake spirituality, but in fact he was trying to hide his own greedy desires.

Money and living provision seem to be just some human necessities, but in fact it is a very practical tool for spiritual training in faithfulness and truthfulness to God. He knows all our thoughts, and nothing will escape His eyes.

Tithing Practice

Before entering the theological seminary, even though I desired to offer as much money as I could, but my income was very small, there was no difficulty for me to tithe. From the second year on, my income increased. I used to think tithing was a law for Old Testament Israelites. Nowadays, Christians should offer their all to God. Gradually I realized that even though I thought everything I had belonged to God, in fact I was living as if everything belongs to God was mine. Percentage wise, I offered more money to God when I did not have much income. According to the Bible, tithing did not originate from God’s declaration of His commandments through Moses (Leviticus 27:20; Numbers 18:21-28; Deuteronomy 14:28). Abraham and Jacob had already tithed to God in their time (Genesis 14:20, 28:22). Abraham was the forefather of all those who justified as righteous through faith in God’s word. According to God’s grace that he was promised the land of Canaan as his inheritance, and his seed, Jesus Christ, would bless all nations in the world (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16). Therefore, today we Christians are under the same principle of grace as Abraham, we should also tithe through Abraham’s example. So I started tithing, sometimes more than one tenth. God told the Israelites through prophet Malachi (Malachi 3:8-10) that they robbed God by not tithing to Him. If they tithed, God promised He would pour down great blessings that they would have no room for them. For many years in my life, I truly experienced this promise as well.

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