Lately, I talked with a pastor in Anhui who told me he was busy with the farming season starting this month.
Not an exception, he is one of many grass-roots pastors in Anhui, Henan, Hebei, and other provinces who have to devote most of their energy to harvesting ripe wheat and planting new crops during this period.
When visiting Anhui and Henan provinces in June 2016, I saw that many local grassroots evangelists had to return for a month to their hometowns to participate in farming.
Some of the pastors who serve in urban churches or those who serve while doing secular work in East and South China face the same situation. They have to take time off from their work and church ministries, rushing home to be involved in agricultural work for about a month.
A pastor in Anhui said that he was thankful that in recent years more and more machines had been used in rural areas to help cultivate and harvest so that the busy farming season was less stressful than before.
However, there is still much to take care of during this period. A pastor who has been serving in Dongguan, Guangdong, all year round lately returned to his hometown in Henan Province. He said that previously they had asked others to help work his family’s land, but they had taken it back to manage it themselves in recent years. In addition, his parents-in-law were getting older and needed more care. Thus, at this time of this year, he would go home to farm the land and spend more time with his family.
In the past few decades, it has been common for rural grassroots pastors and church staff to adapt to a kind of “amphibious” lifestyle that they “serve in the church off-season, while labor in the field during the busy season”. Yet, in the past decade or so, this way of life has been impacted by urbanization and labor migration.
Many of these pastors and their hometown folks have been farmers for generations. In faith, they embarked on the road of serving. Therefore, while maintaining their peasant identity and corresponding lifestyle, they also took on the responsibilities of pastors and co-workers. In the context of urbanization, in order to support their families, many rural evangelists and church workers have left their hometowns for cities where they serve the church and do secular work at the same time. Those who stay in the countryside continue the “amphibious” way of living in busy and less busy seasons. Nevertheless, all of them have to face the pressure of urbanization and secularization.
Many middle-aged pastors in this group said they had difficulties in making a living if not working as farmers since most of them had to provide for their families, which is a relatively typical situation in Henan, Anhui, and Shandong provinces, and other areas with a long Christian history. The Chinese church's tradition of "living by faith and serving as volunteers" prevails in these regions. It is difficult to preach about offerings and implement the system of paying pastors. Such traditions and concepts urgently need to evolve.
- Translated by Shuya Wang