Since churches in China reopened in the 1980s, there has been an exponential growth in the number of Christians – from 2.7 million in 1949 to more than 46 million today. What has contributed to such tremendous growth?
Besides the fervor of believers who share their faith to their loved ones and people around them, it has been observed that the Bible is playing a critical role in leading people to Christ and contributing to the mushrooming of churches in China.
Since the 19th century, there have been many testimonies of people who heard the gospel and were convicted of their sins and need for God either by reading the Bible or by joining a Bible reading group or listening to the Bible being read to them. And this has led to the growth of churches dotting the map of China.
One is reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 13:31-32, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
Here are four stories of how individuals came to faith and how a church was founded because of the Book.
“After six months of reading the Bible to the believers, I became a Christian”
Rev Yin Jianhui, 51, Hunan Province
The year was 1983 and Yin Jianhui (right) had just graduated from high school. She was asked by a group of seven or eight elderly people in her neighbourhood to read the Bible to them because they were illiterate.
At that time, the churches had yet to reopen in the area after the Cultural Revolution. As she felt that it was a good thing to help people, she agreed. Soon, she came to enjoy her Bible reading sessions with them.
“I would read a passage of the Bible to them and then they would discuss and explain it. One elderly lady – the one who owned the Bible – had been a Christian for many years before the Cultural Revolution, would explain what we’d just heard. I would sit and listen to the explanations, then read for them another passage and so on. But when they prayed, I’d leave the room. I felt it was silly to sit and pray to a Cross on a wall,” recalled Rev Yin.
“The elderly believer also owned an old hymnal but they didn’t know the songs and couldn’t sing it, so I taught them too, because I knew how to read music. So we’d sing together and read the Bible.”
Then some time later, Yin’s baby nephew fell ill and cried all the time. It seemed nothing could help him. By then, she had learnt the Lord’s Prayer by heart. “I didn’t really know how to pray so I just recited it to try and help the little boy. It worked and he got better! So then, after six months of reading the Bible to these believers, I became a Christian.”
Today, Rev Yin Jianhui is the Chairman of the Yiyang Christian Council in Hunan Province, overseeing the work of 265 churches and continuing to read and teach the Bible to the believers in China.
“The Bible Moved Me to Repentance”
Zhang Tao, 35, Yunnan Province
With no financial worries to trouble him, life should have been comfortable and smooth sailing. However, an early entry into the work force at 15 led him into bad company and drugs.
Once hooked, this destructive habit of substance abuse was to plague him for the next 16 years. “During those 16 years, I suffered tremendous physical and mental torture.
For countless times, when the hope of overcoming the addiction diminished, my despair would become unbearable,” Zhang Tao recounted. Not wanting to see his parents’ despondence, he left home, only returning when he was at his wit’s end.
However, even in this dark crisis, God was not far away. In October 2011, he received his first Bible at the Drug Rehabilitation Center. “I held it carefully in my hands because it felt like I had just received a sacred gift. My heart was filled with joy and I was very touched.”
Curious about the Book and its contents, Zhang began reading in earnest. “Scripture showed me my own sinfulness and the liberation from sin I could have through the grace of Christ. The Bible moved me to repentance. In that process, I also received hope and comfort. It helped me get out of my drug addiction which had tormented me for 16 years.”
The Bible has so spiritually invigorated and motivated Zhang that he is currently aspiring towards gaining a theological education. To him, the Bible is the guiding compass of life. “Without it, a person loses his direction in life,” Zhang shared with conviction.
Today, Zhang looks back to his dark past as a reminder of what he had been saved from and how God had reached out to help him confront his problems.
“Without the Bible, my life would not be transformed at all and I would still be living in my past pain and struggles, caught in a chaotic lifestyle, steeped with interpersonal problems. Now, I can live a truly joyful life in Christ. The Word of God has strengthened me to face the challenges of life and not be fearful of failure. Because of His Word, I can press on courageously.”
“Without the Bible, there is no solid ground”
Wu Zhe, 29, Shanghai
“I was learning taiji then with the hope of starting a business. Because I did not have any capital, I was also selling rosemary at a roadside stall to support myself. However, one day while manning the stall, I was beaten up by some thugs! Then, I worked as a dish washer in a restaurant for one week but was not paid for my labour.”
Exasperated, Wu went from Changsha to Shenzhen and finally to Shanghai where he worked as a copywriter. It was during his time in Shanghai that he first read the Bible.
“I got to know a Christian whom I thought had something quite special. Curious about Christianity, I bought a Bible from the church bookshop. I wanted to understand the teachings of the Bible by reading it myself and not just listening to people’s view of it.”
So Wu started his journey of discovery, reading the Book from cover to cover as well as consulting other Christian materials and interacting with believers; bringing it everywhere he went. “I reckon that in order to understand the message of the Bible I need to at least read through it once. It was through reading the New Testament that I come to know Jesus personally – I realized that what he did and said couldn’t have been done by an ordinary person. But I still could not understand why Jesus, being sinless, had to die on the cross till I came to the book of Romans. There I was deeply convinced that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. Tears rolled down my face as I began to understand that it was for my sins that Jesus was crucified. That was how I came to faith,” recalled Wu.
Wu was so moved by God’s love for him that he has since been buying Bibles as gifts for non-believing friends around him who expressed interest. “The Bible helps me understand what moral standards in life I ought to have and gave me a sense of belonging and meaning in life. I wish more people would come to know the Truth and receive life from God. Without the Bible, there would be no solid ground, I would be in the dark without any guiding light.”
“It all started with one Bible”
Qin Xiaoping, 51, Hunan Province
The year was 1977 – just after the Cultural Revolution. Three people in a remote village gathered to read the Bible together in stealth. Qin Xiaoping (left) who was 14 then, was one of the trio. The other two were her mother and her mother’s friend. It all started with one Bible, she said, and she was the only one who could read.
“My Mum had hidden away a Bible so that the authorities could not find it during the Cultural Revolution. There it lay for over ten years, in a storeroom. But when I was 14, she found the old Bible,” shared Qin.
Qin’s parents were farmers and had never learned to read. So her mother asked Qin to read for her and for a friend who was also a Christian. Soon, the trio started to meet every evening to read the Bible. In one year they had read through the entire Bible.
“Initially, I could not read the old characters because in school we learned only the new, simplified characters. But gradually I learned to read the old characters too,” she said. “As the government began to relax the rules, more people came to listen to the Bible reading. Word went out to the neighbors, and soon there were five who gathered, then ten and fifteen.”
When the group grew to thirty, there was not enough room for them at the home of Qin anymore. So they bought an old house to use as a church. In 2006, they were 80 members. Today, they are 270 members in this church and three other new small churches.
“During the Cultural Revolution, the Bible and all Christian books were forbidden. If the authorities found a Bible in a home, the Bible would be confiscated and destroyed, and its owners punished”, says Qin Xiaoping. “But my Mum’s Bible was preserved from destruction and became the seed of a growing church.”
Story: Based on interviews by Andrea Rhodes, Angela Teo, Zhangli, Xiao Chongfeng and Hans Johan Sagrusten
Edited: Cynthia Oh and Angela Teo
Photos: Dag Smemo, Andrea Rhodes and UBS CP
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership