Circling in A Pilgrimage - Song Jun
Director of Chinese Culture Research Center
PhD 2016, MDiv 2010
Interviewed and written by
The younger years of Rev Song Jun.
While studying in Japan, the local students were shocked to hear him speak Putonghua, “So you know Chinese!”
The companionship and encouragement of his wife gave Rev Song much comfort and strength.
“1, 2, 3…” “O, you have taken the photo already?!” Rev Song’s family of cats. Mother-cat on the right looks displeased.
“I was an early generation of ‘double-not’* child!” A casual remark took us back in time to the 1950s.
Rev Song Jun was born in Hong Kong. His parents came to work in Hong Kong from the Mainland, and gave birth to him as the fourth child in the family in 1965. The family returned to Beijing when Rev Song was in primary school.
The historian sitting before me not only specializes in the history of churches in China, but also an expert in the history of religious social organizations in the Ming-Qing dynasty, “Look at the White Lotus Society and Ming Cult in Jin Yong’s novels! I love the fun-filled history!” These rather obscure but intriguing explorations became his expertise and also the first turn in his life. Rev Song attended a high school that specialized in training translators and diplomats. Afterwards he studied Japanese in the School of Foreign Languages at Beijing Normal University. In those days, fluency in foreign languages almost guaranteed a smooth and prosperous future, but Rev Song made a decision that shocked his parents, “I love history so much, ever since I was small, that I went on to study at the Institute of Qing History at Renmin University of China.”
Devoted to the study of history, he also got immersed into a historical event in the final year of his postgraduate studies.
Encounter with history
In the early summer of June, 1989, a chance decision led to very different outcomes for two young lives. “Feeling exhausted that night, I went home to sleep while my friend joined the crowd.” He was a classmate and good friend of Rev Song. His life ended that night on Chang’an Avenue, Beijing; even his school records were later destroyed, as if he had never existed. “He went out and died. What was his worth? I lived, but what is the meaning of life? And what is the meaning of being alive?” Emptied of values and dreams shattered, with a sense of loss Rev Song went to study in Japan and then returned to China to teach. “I still did not have a sense of direction in life, and I could not see the value of life. I was a teacher, and if a student would ask me, ‘Why do we live?’ I had absolutely no answer to that! I thought I must not misguide the students, I might as well quit and return to studying!” So Rev Song was transferred to the Institute of History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and tried to numb his pains by devoting himself to academia. He thought he was living the ‘right’ life, “Then I believed in Christ!”
During Christmas of 1997, his friend invited him to join a home-church gathering. Upon hearing the breaking of the unleavened bread that symbolized the Lord Jesus’ body, his tears rolled down continuously, “It was such a great love that before I knew Him He died for me!” On the bus ride home his mind was filled with the message, all of a sudden the bus ticket collector shouted, “Where are you going?!” His heart shook, “Indeed, where am I going?” There and then he decided to walk in the light. He started attending Bible study class and was baptized at Easter the following year.
A few months later he jotted down his dream in the diary, “To write a history book for the churches in China.” In fact, at that time Rev Song was still immersing in his work of folk religions, but he asked himself, “Is there meaning to this? I lived for myself in the past, now I ought to live for the Lord. But how should I live? What should I do? Then the answer came.”
Refuge of rest
Looking back, the calling was wonderful indeed. Not only did the Lord answered his prayer of stopping the rapid hair loss, He also teased him by providing him a great gift and a nickname. One day, Rev Song was riding his bicycle as usual, praying that God would provide for him as He had sent the ravens to bring Elijah bread and meat. All of a sudden a load of bird droppings landed right on his head. Looking up, he saw the culprit raven flying off, leaving him greatly amused, “Right then I understood: whether in the form of poop or bread, He answered my prayer. Indeed, I am never in want.” A lover of cats, also known as the ‘cat pastor,’ he now has a second nickname, ‘bird poop pastor’. Sometimes, a love gift stated ‘your bird poop’ would come to him from brothers and sisters.
To Rev Song, his parents were the major hurdle for responding to the calling, “But they said, ‘That’s fine!’ I was so surprised because they were communists! My father further said, ‘Your God is worth your life’s pursuit.’ And mother was happy as long as I had food on my table.” This hurdle was over, his research work was also completed and resignation arranged. He began full time ministry on September 1, 1999. All his experiences became his ‘Bethel pillar’ that supported him through the harsh discipline and growth, “As a pastor, I often want to run away, it’s just too much for me! I can refute any human reasoning but I cannot deny the proof of God’s call. Each time I could only stand still and wait for God to renew my strength to go on.”
In 2005 Rev Song led his fellowship group to join Beijing Shouwang Church but left two years later. They returned in 2010 but left again after one year. The joining and departure involved internal tensions and issues such as registration and outdoor worship services. During these days of turmoil and darkness, the Lord time and again placed him in CGST: studying MDiv in 2007 followed by the PhD course. “When I had nowhere to go, I fled to CGST. She was not a hideaway but one that gave me rest and space. This is a very safe harbour that feels like home.”
Circling and overlapping
Rev Song joined CGST in 2014 to teach and research, as well as training pastors. He would spend half a year in Hong Kong and half a year in China. Teaching Chinese Church History here allows him to witness the recent drastic changes in Hong Kong, “Hong Kong people seem to find churches in China external and unrelated. In fact, there are overlapping stories. Our gospel is to overcome those walls. Perhaps the most important change is to connect. Being with them is far more important than merely attending a class.”
After completing the PhD thesis last year, Rev Song began to plan for the rest of his life. “As I looked at the Lion Rock in Hong Kong, I was thinking: if I have the time and God permits, what would be the last thing that I could do for Him?” As he prayed, Rev Song realized that the dream of the past remains. “I keep asking God why He would not let me write about history, in contrast with serving in a church? He kept me persevering for 18 years, all the time holding me down and not letting me go.” Reminder from a friend led Rev Song to see things afresh, “Data collection was part of my work, but for a well-written history requires sentiments. And sentiments for churches in China grow from ministry, that’s what I have been doing these 18 years!” Just as he once thought that what he learnt in the past was not applicable, he now realized that the knowledge he acquired from the research on folk religions is exactly what hit hard on the believers’ fears and values. “Those eight years have told me, ‘It is useful!’ and that was the first circle. Then 18 years went by and He says, “Alright, you can write now!” and that was another circle.” The only thing that Rev Song has studied but yet to be utilized is his Japanese, “I am trained to listen, speak, read, write and translate, but all these so far are only used for reading comics and watching TV dramas! I am curious. But He does not work in vain. I believe that He gives me these for a purpose and plan. I have been waiting for this circle, waiting to see how God works, and there will be pleasant surprises!”
* Also known as “doubly non-permanent resident children.” It refers to those children who were born in Hong Kong but whose parents are non-permanent residents of Hong Kong.