Bibles for China
June 21-July 1, 2009
You will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.
I, together with Bryan Revor and William Ripple, have just returned from an unforgettable 10 days in China. Since I have returned I have been pondering on the experiences in our trip and especially on what God is doing in that part of the world, despite decades of communist regime. For the three of us it was hard to comprehend some of the things happening in China thus making it very difficult to fully describe and unpack it all in one letter. With the help of the many notes I took and the post research I did I hope to paint for you an accurate picture of the growth of Christianity and the role of the Communist regime as we saw and heard. First, I would like to take you on the journey with us and then take a few steps back and reflect on how I understood what was happening.
Our trip was a follow-up trip to the one Rob Brown, William Ripple, and Constantin Lupancu did in 2008, which resulted in 1,000 bibles being distributed in rural area of China. We left Chicago on June 21 and after 14 hours of flight, we reached Shanghai. We were only allowed off the plane after people masked in white confirmed there was none with high fever on the plane. 4 hours later, we took another 2 ½ hour flight to Xi’an, in the Shaanxi province, from where we took a taxi towards Baoji. That took another 2 hours. From the moment we landed into China I was impressed by the friendliness and respectful manner of the people and the advanced stage of development. Our hotel room in Baoji was small with hard beds but was nevertheless well taken care of. We used this hotel as our home base, taking our trips to various village churches to distribute bibles and fellowship with the local believers.
Because of dire experiences in the 2008 China trip and other grim reports on religious persecution in China I was very disturbed in the morning to find out we are sharing the hotel with over 200 policemen in training and that our Christian hosts who came to pick us up in cars were loudly talking about how the Bible distribution would occur. Among the people who accompanied us was the lady who kept the bibles in her apartment until our arrival (seen at the bottom right corner) and Xie Gong (lady with the purse) who was instrumental in founding and growing many of the churches we visited in the Baoji area. Pastor Xie Gong is 67 years old and has dedicated her life for the churches around Baoji. There were other ladies in the leadership of the churches who came with us daily in our 2 rented vans, for which they arranged.
Baoji is surrounded by hills, mountains and lots of small towns where people make a living by agriculture. For many generations they have cut large parts of the hills and transformed them into flat agricultural land. Caves are cut into the high side of the mountain and transformed into homes where some people still live. It was harvest time and most believers were in the fields. We were told that it sometimes takes hours before they could descend and ascend many hills to get to the nearest church. Therefore, we met only with the leaders/pastors of the churches and some people who lived in proximity. We worshiped, prayed, laid hands on the sick, and most importantly gave them the word of God: The Bible.
Description of some of the churches we visited:
Shuang Baiyang Church started with just $5 and 48 people. Now they were numbering at about 180 and growing. They were very grateful for the Bibles as they could not afford to buy literature for the new believers. In 1998 they bought land and started working on building their place of worship. By 2002 they had finished their building all by volunteer work. They had built a house for people that came from far away so they could stay for a couple of days and study the bible together. As most peasants have only crops and no money, they had to borrow money for the church construction which they are repaying quarterly. Their love for Christ was evident in their singing, praying and hospitality. They did not let us leave until we received their gifts in nuts, beans seeds, and cucumbers. The Bibles and small gift we brought were received with great joy and thankfulness.
Xinjie (New Street) Church began in 1978 with 10 people in an old English church which was later tarred down by the government. They received a new property on which they built the current church which had 250 members. Because their old church was torn down, we asked them about persecution, they answered that there is none and that they could worship freely. They also said that the people in the mountain get together in their houses during the week and on Sunday they come down to the church for service and to eat together. I rejoiced at their smile and strong, YES we believe, after we read from Acts 2 – the day of the Pentecost.
Ganyu (Mountain) Church is well deserving of its name, as it is right in the heart of the mountains, almost at the very top. The small parcel they received from the government was not big enough to build a church so they cut the mountain over a period of 3 years and then built their church. They numbered over 100 members. About 20 lived in the town at the bottom of the mountain where they meet during the week in a small house of a lovely sister in Christ. We left a box of Bibles at the church and one in the small town where they direly needed them for the new believers.
Guchuan Church started in 1995 with 2 people when our host Xie Gong went to pray with another believer for a sick person in that town. The sick person got well and some people believed. Later someone came to Pastor Xie Gong who had inflated hands. They were hurting so bad she could not touch anything. When Pastor Xie Gong washed her hands she did not hurt at all, and two days later the hands were back to normal. Some turned to Christ. Later, another 15 families believed after a diabetic was healed. A local lady told us another story about how she had cancer and only had 3.5 yaunn (50 cents). After a dream she had she gave 2 yaunn to the church and used the 1.5 left for one piece of medicine to treat her cancer. Right after taking the medicine she was healed. Pastor Xie Gong continued visiting this town twice a week until the church grew stronger and a local leader was established.
What a joy to see the gospel of Jesus Christ go forward with power and penetrate in places that otherwise would have never opened to Christian beliefs. They brought forth some other sick people and we prayed for them. The presence of God was there. Later we visited a family where Willie prayed over the wife who had cancer. Even still, we pray God will receive her tears and accord her healing because of our Lord Jesus. Later we asked them about governmental interference in their church activities or beliefs and they said there is none as the government itself sold them the land to build the church. They laughed when we mentioned pastors being imprisoned for being Christians. Praise God for the liberty he accorded!
The people seem to be living well by working the land. They have very good food. For each lunch we got about 10 different kinds of foods: all kinds of vegetables, chicken, pork, wild plants, noodles, and rice of the highest quality. All this food for only $30 for about 25 people.
Baofu Road Church in Baoji started in a house with 5 members (first lady from the right was one of the founders) 15 years ago and now it has over 500 people. Our hosts told us this church meets every night, and we should visit it while we were in the city. When we got there they were having bible study on the first level and choir practice on the second level. The choir was singing so beautifully about their love for Jesus, how good of a friend He is, and how they will never let go of Him. I was so much reminded of the days when I grew up in Romania. It was the same atmosphere, only the faces and the language were different. One of the leaders, Sidney, who was holding the Bible study, came to talk to us when he was done. He spoke English so we could talk without translation. He had become a Christian through a professor at a university and now he had given up his job to dedicate himself fully to the ministry.
We had a long conversation with him about their church belief and the needs of the churches in China. Sidney showed us some of the Christian books he bought from US; specifically a Chinese version of The Moody Hand Book of Theology. It was clear that Sidney and Baofu Road Church had a clear understanding of the Bible and a strong belief in the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. What a delight to see that God has His “seven thousand in The World, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal.” Sidney told us that the church around China is in dire need of qualified ministers that could teach in local small churches, many of which have no pastors. After the last earthquake in southern China, Sidney with a group from his church went there to help and pass out Bibles. Those who believed were coming the next day to their church to stay awhile so they could be taught in the Scriptures.
Sidney reiterated that in general there is no persecution or governmental interference in the church. Furthermore he stated when it comes to getting a job Christians tend to get the upper hand because they are thought to be better trusted. He also assured us we would have no problems buying Bibles within China and passing them out in the churches.
Shijaai Church was founded and pastured by a family who has been Christian for the last 5 generations. There was a 79-year-old lady (I will call her Grandma) whose grandparents converted to Christianity when the British arrived. Since she was 15 she helped her father spread the Gospel. She said she would cry because people will not listen nor believe, when told about Jesus. They made fun of her and told her she was crazy because she did not wear earrings and bond her feet like everyone else. When communists came to power they took her Bible away and told her not to believe. Because she did not give in, they did not pay her for work and would not sell her anything. But God took care of her needs through other people. With a heartbreaking expression on her face, Grandma said those were such bad times she does not want to remember them.
The Cultural Revolution ended in 1976 and in 1982 they called her to a 3-day meeting to inform everyone about the new religious policy. She was very sick and told them she can’t go. They insisted because she was famous in that area for her strong belief in God. Grandma went but could not talk because she had throat cancer. That whole night believers prayed for her and the next day she could eat rice. While walking up to the meeting on the third floor, she spat a clot of blood in the garbage at each floor and afterward she was fine. The meeting promoted the Three-self patriotic movement in which the religious believers were called to self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation, in order to remove foreign influences and assure religious believers would be patriotic to the Republic of China. Grandma declared that after the meeting in 1982 they did not have anymore trouble with the government.
She was such a sweet lady. While she told us her story she sang the songs in the story, she recited the poems in the story, and at the end she sang Oh Happy Day in English. She showed us her Christian material she had kept hidden. Some were as old as 1935. Grandma had 6 sons who were all believers. They built a building behind the church where they could hold Sunday school classes and host a children summer camp. Later we ate at one of her sons houses. The food was delicious and the friendliness was wonderful. As we left there were tears in Grandma’s eyes as she asked us to not forget them and return.
From Baoji we took a 15-hour train to Ling Shi, Shanxi province, an area which was visited in the 2008 trip to China. We were able to transport cases of Bibles in plain view. The cardboard boxes that contained the Bibles had large Chinese words: “Chinese Bibles” on the outside. The government workers at the train station inspected the boxes and passed them. The local believers in Ling Shi waited for our return with such a great joy that some could not even sleep at night.
After a friendly welcome and some breakfast we were told by our translator that we have to go to meet the local Minister of Religious Affiars, Mr. Ma. He was the one involved in the interrogations that took place in the 2008 mission trip, and now we were going back to sign in with him before any activity. Because he was aware of our coming he invited Mr. Cheng, his boss, and officials from 3 other counties to meet with us. I felt intense pressure as we walked in the meeting room with the 7 governmental officials and 3 church representatives but as soon as we started talking I felt very peaceful. Mr. Ma wanted to know what our itinerary was, and what interests have brought us back to that area. Willie explained that we were there to give more Bibles and help the local churches progress and grow, which will work for the benefit of the entire area. One of the projects Willie discussed with him was his plan to bring two young Chinese men he had met on his previous trip to China, to study at Moody Bible Institute. Willie showed them the application and discussed with the officials what it will take for these students to come to the US.
Bryan shared how we minister in a large jail in Chicago, and that the Bible says that if any man was in Christ they become a new creation. Bryan explained how Christ can change a person’s heart and that only He can give them a new heart. He told the story of the “Son of Sam,” a mass murder who terrorized New York City. He is now a new man in Christ and is completely changed from the inside out. He told them how we have seen Christ deliver people from drug addiction and alcohol abuse and that this would help the people to become better, more productive citizens. Willie gave Mr. Chang a Bible and the church representatives showed him Romans chapter 13: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but from God; the powers that be are ordained by God…” When asked about the possibility of a Jail Ministry in China they did not seem open, but they brightened up a bit when Willie suggested we could train the pastors how to minister in the jails, rather than go into the jails ourselves. Who knows? Maybe the Lord is opening up the door for Chaplains for Christ to start a training program in China!
After the meeting the officials treated us to a grand dinner during where we were able to get very friendly with Mr. Cheng. He was very nice and well educated. I really believe God had been and is working at his heart and the King of Heaven is ready to enter his life. Because our translator knew the former mayor of Ling Shi, and the great help he gave during the last trip’s interrogations, we went to visit him at his house and brought him encouragement as he was sick.
In the Ling Shi area we fellowshipped with some of the churches visited in the last trip, plus others such as: Yuchen Church, Yanan Church, Zhangjazunag Village Church. It was encouraging to hear again the stories of God’s work and to see the growth in the numbers of believers. Constantin and Willie had made a donation last year to Yanan Church and now they were very excited to show us how the money was used to improve the place of worship. It was quite amazing what they did. The Ling Shi Christian Church was numbering over 400 believers, but the building they were meeting in was not fit for more than 100 people, if even that. The government was tearing down the entire area where the church was because it was very old and the coal industry left its very big marks of pollution on it. A new land was reassigned to the church on a top of a hill with very nice view. The leader of the church asked us to send architectural plans so they could build a nice church for the Ling Shi people. We brought Bibles to all the churches and encouraged them to stay strong in the faith.
The Trip Home
Another 3 hours of driving and we were in Tai Yuenn. From there we took a train to Beijing. Luckily the train was traveling at 150 miles an hour and we got to Beijing in just 3 hours. There we visited some of the attractions and then took our plane which brought us back to the US in 13 hours.
One of the first things we were told when we started our work in China was: everyone is in the fields because its harvest time. And yes our brothers in China are busy working the fields of souls. The church is growing and encompassing old, young, intellectual, and peasant. How? Chinese Christians are encouraged to demonstrate Christ’s love in the way they live. Most evangelism in China takes place in one-to-one contacts, by telling the neighbor about Christ or inviting him to church where he/she finds a loving community.
After a period of complete ban of religious life, in 1979 China restored the right for Christians to hold their own religious beliefs and to engage in regular worship. Many of the churches we visited where started within couple years of 1979 and now there are new churches constantly being organized and built. These are the so called “registered churches”, which have chosen to comply with the government regulations for registration of places to worship. There are churches which choose not to register – the underground church. Most if not all churches we been to were registered therefore it is hard to understand the reason for not registering. It seems that it has to do more with a theological disagreement of any civil registration which may be due to the long time hostility between the government and church. A similar position was taken by many Romanian believers who had lived through the harsh times of communism there. Sadly, the unregistered seem to still be a target for the Chinese government.
The unregistered (underground) church is not to be confused with the “House Church” or “House Meeting”. As described above most of the churches started as house churches. One believer told us “it’s just a Bible study session, nobody will stop you for it”. In other cases House Meetings are just supplementary to the church meeting, and those Christians also join congregations in churches.
As we have seen believers in Baoji are living their Christian life with no interference but this is not to say there is no persecution at all in China. The laws in China protect the people religious rights, but China is a country of 1.3 billion people. The interpretations of local government may differ from province to province or city to city. If in Baoji the officials did not worry of us being present there, in Ling Shi we had to go register and explain why we are there. The Communist Party is very suspicious of any activity against them therefore foreigners are not allowed to proselytize. As we were told, the Catholic Church is having more trouble than the Protestant Church because of their outside allegiance to the Pope. Other religious groups like Falun Gong are being shut down, the reason being a lot more than simply religious belief; hence please use discernment when reading/watching the news.
I pray the information found here would open many eyes as to what the situation is in China. It may not be the freedom we find in US but God has opened the door enough for His gospel to go forward just as it went for all the centuries before: through a life well lived, and one-to-one. The great challenge for the Church in China is not freedom anymore, but the lack of leadership and Bibles. During the Cultural Revolution many leaders were put in jail and no training of new leaders happened. The current training of pastors does not sustain the great growth of the Chinese church. Even more many poor believers in China’s rural areas simply cannot afford even the cheapest Bible. So scarce is God’s precious Word that any one Bible distributed may eventually be used by hundreds of people. Some churches don’t even have one Bible for their entire congregation.
God is not calling us to change the whole world, He is doing that, but He has split His work in portions. Our portion in China has to be in Bibles and sponsoring the training of pastors. Are you doing your portion?
“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he who is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”