Reformed Margins exists, not only to highlight the thoughts and perspectives of those on the cultural margins of the Reformed community, but also to recognize faithful ministries that receive lesser attention. We want to facilitate the widespread sharing of viewpoints and stories that would otherwise be ignored.
Today, Reformed Margins is happy to share the lesser-known story and ministry of my friend and former classmate, Yaofang (Sunny) Zhang. Sunny is an alumnus of Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS), and since graduating in 2015, she has been serving full-time with China Outreach Ministries (COM).
Recently, we interviewed Sunny, and hope you are encouraged by her testimony and ministry as much as we are. And if so, perhaps you may feel led to to prayerfully and financially support our sister.
RM: Tell us a little bit about your life before you became a Christian, and what your initial impressions of Christianity were during that time.
I became a Christian when I was studying at the University of Maryland (UM) as a visiting student. I was in the second year of my Ph.D. program in psychology (family therapy and counseling) at one university in Beijing. Before I visited UM, I did not know too much about Christianity.
As an avid thinker and reader, I was looking for truth to better understand the world and myself. I was curious to know how to live rightly in this world. I grew up during a time in China in which we enjoyed a fast and developing economy and a lot more freedom to study secular thoughts. Among my generation, postmodernism and existentialism are the most popular ways of viewing the world.
For me, I was always looking for truth, first in Chinese classics and then in European Enlightenment, western philosophy and psychology. Nothing could really convince me though. During my time as intern therapist, I met a lot of clients, who were looking for truth from me. They wanted me to tell them what was right and what was wrong, and to tell them the meaning of their lives. I read and studied a lot, not just for myself but also for my clients and friends, but found few solid and unashamed claims of absolute truth (no book claims that it contains absolute truth).
Then I heard from a campus missionary at UM that Jesus claims that He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. The missionary referred me to Desiring God’s website. I spent several months “doing research on Christianity”, and concluded that Bible tells the truth and gives me all the answers I need. I was convinced that I am a sinner and accepted Jesus Christ as my only Savior. Then, I got baptized.
RM: Did your life and plans change dramatically when you converted? If so, how?
Yes. My original plan was to be a psychologist and university faculty in China. After I was saved, it became so difficult for me to agree with the secular presuppositions of psychology and its counseling approaches, such as the denial of mankind’s sin and our need for salvation. Once when I was with one of my clients, she was so desperate that I could not help but share the gospel with her. Evangelism is not allowed in a secular counseling setting. Although my supervisor did not say anything against me, I still decided to leave my original career plan and applied to WTS for an MDiv instead. For a while I even thought about quitting my Ph.D. in psychology due to strong pressure from the non-believing environment in a secular university.
However, my pastor suggested that I should continue this program as an apologetic practice and finish it to get the degree, which God might use in my future ministry. I accepted this suggestion. During my two years (between UM and WTS) in China, I attended and served at a house church, and enjoyed serving God through teaching the Bible and giving people counseling based on His Word. The church affirmed my calling, and WTS gave me the offer. After I got my PhD in psychology, I went to WTS with a new passion to be a faithful Bible teacher. Ten years of training in psychology equipped me to understand its unbiblical presuppositions, and enabled me to do better apologetics in this psychologized generation.
RM: What do you believe God has called you to do with your UM and WTS education, and what are the challenges and blessings of this calling?
I believe that God has called me to be a Bible teacher and counselor since I went to WTS for an MDiv. I don’t really mind what kind of setting, subject, or group of people God sends me to teach and counsel. By the end of my MDiv, a friend introduced me to a mission organization called China Outreach Ministries. They have been reaching out to Chinese students and scholars in universities for decades and have brought many to know the Lord. We enjoy each other a lot, and I joined COM as a full-time campus staff after graduation. God also prepared a mission-minded Chinese church (PCA) near St Joseph’s University (SJU), the campus that COM assigned to me. I became a member of this church and serve with them to reach out to the Chinese students at SJU and other nearby universities.
The challenges of the calling to be a missionary to Chinese students include 1) my weakness and immaturities in faith, such as impatience and self-dependence; 2) people’s hardened hearts, such as their reluctance to hear God’s Word and their indifference toward Truth; 3) lack of practical theology from Reformed perspective for campus outreach missions.
The blessings of this calling are as follows: 1) people’s questions about faith motivate me to study the Scripture diligently and deepen my own understanding of Christian faith; 2) people’s struggles due to sin or for the name of Christ makes me wiser in ministering to them and caring for their souls; 3) people’s conversion and growth in faith encourages me so much through witnessing God’s amazing grace and the mighty power of His Word. During the last two years, 9 people came to Christ and 5 were baptised, including my parents. I also wrote and released daily Bible messages to more than 250 people, taught a brief introduction of redemptive history and Westminster Shorter Catechism. It has been a great teaching experience!
RM: What are the most encouraging signs of fruit that you’ve witnessed over the past two years of ministry?
During the last two years, I have met mission partners who share the same Reformed theology, and the same passion to bring the Gospel to the Chinese and build up the church in China. It has been a great pleasure to work alongside with them. Although this is only a small-sized campus ministry, we do evangelism with a big vision to meet and equip future seminary students, Christian workers, and leaders for the church in China.
We are not just going through the Bible and Shorter Catechism with the students, but also introduce some of them to basic concepts of systematic theology, biblical theology and counseling, and have even introduced the Reformed Presbyterian church order. So far, I have met a few students in whom I can definitely see qualities to be future elders, deacons, and deaconesses. It might take another 20-30 years for them to be mature enough for these positions, however, it is always good to have a solid start.
RM: How has your Chinese heritage, culture, and identity shaped your approach to theology and ministry?
I know the language and love writing. This helps me to communicate the Gospel and Reformed Theology more effectively in Chinese. My Chinese heritage and understanding of the culture help me to do better apologetics for the church in China. Like other cultures, Chinese culture is fallen and in manifests people’s sinful response to God’s general revelation (Rom 1:18-23). Since China has a long history, it formed a very sophisticated, man-centered, God-denying culture, that needs careful discernment.
Professor Lit-Sen Chang’s books give detailed analyses of the paganism within Chinese culture. Such awareness of the paganism within the culture helps us to spread the Gospel boldly and at the same time prevents the Gospel from being distorted by the subtle cultural presuppositions, both in our own hearts and our hearers’ hearts. This ministry is composed of two parts: apologetics (what the Christian faith is not) and proclamation (what the Christian faith is). Only after knowing what kind of lies the Enemy spreads within Chinese souls over five thousand of years, we are able to present the Gospel faithfully and help the Church in China to build its biblical culture and identity.
RM: How can we pray for Chinese university students more specifically?
- Please pray that God protects them from a worldly lifestyle, destructive relationships and physical dangers, such as bullying and kidnapping.
- Please pray that more Chinese students are able to hear the Gospel through the faithful preaching of the Bible.
- Please pray that more Chinese young Christians are called and equipped to serve the Lord as future church leaders.
RM: How can people support you and your ministry with China Outreach Ministries, and is there anything else that you would like them to know?
It would be great if you are willing to receive my newsletters and become my prayer partners and supporters. I definitely need a lot of prayers in order to fight the good fight of faith. If you want to receive my newsletter, please send me an email to email@example.com. If you would like to support me with financial help, please select one of the following ways to donate:
Donate Online: Click here, then select “Yaofang Sunny Zhang” . or
Donate by mail: Make your check payable to “China Outreach Ministries” & designate it for “Yaofang Sunny Zhang Ministry.”
Then mail it to this address: China Outreach Ministries, 555 Gettysburg Pike, A200, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055.
Thank you all for patiently reading through my testimony, and may God bless you.
With many of RM’s contributors being children of the Young Restless Reformed movement, we recognize that the undergraduate and postgraduate years are often some of the most spiritually formative. This is especially so for international students. In my own personal experience, I’ve found Chinese international student ministries to be a great opportunity for sharing the gospel. So many thoughtful Chinese students, like Sunny, are coming to study in the U.S. and are curious about the factors that have supposedly made the West successful. Hence, they are often interested in learning about Christianity, which is in many ways is a forbidden fruit to them in China.
This presents us with quite an opportunity. The nations are literally coming to us in America! And not only are the nations coming, but the best and brightest of the nations are coming. China Outreach Ministries totally gets that, hence their mission statement: “Giving Christ to China’s future leaders.”
Is this not a great opportunity to invest in the global kingdom? We sincerely hope you will consider supporting Sunny and COM.