In a conversation with my mother about the recent trip I took to Yunnan with PFF, she reminded me of an important theological paradox, “Does God call the equipped or does God equip those whom God calls?” The topic of our conversation was a humbling moment during the trip when I got to translate the faith story of the Provincial Leader of the Yunnan Christian Council and TSPM (Three-Self Protestant Movement [or government-sanctioned] Church).
This man, who currently supervises the religious life of the entire province has only a high-school education, and reluctantly came to the capital over ten years ago at the urging of others in his tiny village who could see the call God had on his life.
With tears in his eyes, he spoke of how ill-equipped he felt for the ministry to which he was called: before coming to the capital, he spoke no Mandarin, only his local minority language, and had only recently become a Christian and become involved as an elder in his poor, local church. But when he heard the story of some foreign missionaries who came to Hong Kong without any language skills or few resources, and were subsequently used by God to strengthen the church there, he knew he had to be obedient to God’s call no matter his own fears or the risks.
Today, as a minority himself and a born leader, his vision for the growth of the minority church in Yunnan consists of a heavy emphasis on theological training at all levels (county, provincial, and national), from local programs for village elders who will never have the opportunity to leave their villages, to scholarships for college students who are the first from their villages to study at university.
As we traveled throughout the countryside, we saw these various levels of training schools and scholarship support in progress, and it was a challenge for we Americans, to whom much education and theological training has been given, to encourage both education and the work of the Holy Spirit in these local congregations.
While we recognized the validity of their desire to be trained, we also tried to stress the lesson that their provincial leader embodies, which is that God truly equips those whom he calls. Being in the presence of this great leader and pastor humbled me, for all the theological education in the world cannot substitute for the willingness of a person to submit to the work of the Spirit and the call God has on his or her life.