SHANDONG, CHINA – Mdm Niu Qiulian and her family endured intense persecution during the Cultural Revolution for their belief in Christ. Her father was publicly shamed and paraded through the streets as a warning to other believers. Today, Mdm Niu, in her nineties, is blessed with five generations of her family living under her roof. Many of them serving the Lord including one of her great-grandsons who recently completed his Bible school training.
A Beautiful Childhood
Mdm Niu was brought up in a God-fearing family led by her father, a man whom she considers the greatest influence in her life. Mr Niu Jianmin had been a faithful servant of the Lord since he became a Christian at 18. After being born again, he studied theology for three years at the Hebei Da’min Bible School, a school associated with China’s renowned revivalist John Sung.
After his training, Mr Niu started to preach fervently all over China. As he did so, he also dutifully ministered to his own family. Mdm Niu still remembers how her father taught her and her siblings the Chinese language from reading the Bible. With pencil in hand, he would go through each character in the Chinese Bible and teach his children to read. To help them memorise Scripture, her creative father would convert Bible stories into nursery rhymes too.
Tribulation, Persecution and Danger
But everything changed when the Cultural Revolution started in 1966. All religions were classified as superstitions, and pastors and church leaders were persecuted and condemned. For his role as a Christian leader, Mr Niu, then in his 70s, was often publicly humiliated and tortured, in what is now known as a ‘Struggle Session’.
During one particular Struggle Session that lasted for four days, Mr Niu was taken to the streets wearing a placard identifying him as a Christian. Throughout the session, he had to lower his head and bend over, as if he were confessing to a great crime. To ensure he was bending properly, bricks were hung around his neck. And when he was not bending over, he was forced to pick up animal and human waste and put them into a basket strapped to his back.
During those times, public Christian gatherings were banned. Believers met in secret, if at all. But a small group of people risked their lives to meet with Mr Niu so they could continue to study the Bible. They would gather in a small room at one believer’s house in the dead of night. To maintain secrecy, they would come at different times from different entrances. One by one, they took turns to stand watch while the meetings went on.
Taking out their hidden Bibles or whatever fragments of the Bible they possessed, they would read God’s Word in hushed voices. Mr Niu would then explain the Scriptures quietly, encouraging and reassuring these troubled believers with the Word of God. When the meeting was over, the one who stood guard would make sure it was safe before everyone left as quietly as they came.
And when they were caught at such meetings, Mr Niu had to endure even harsher struggle sessions, before being confined to ‘the cowshed’, a place for people used to imprison enemies of the state. As a Christian leader, Mr Niu was called a ‘cow demon and snake spirit’. Helplessly, Mdm Niu watched her father suffer. People would not hesitate to lash their hatred at her, mocking her for believing in a foreign religion. Silently, she would pray and ask for comfort and strength. She reminded herself of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who cried out to Jesus: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’
Remembering God’s Love
During those days, believers caught were publicly persecuted, just like her father. Some even denied the Lord after the intimidation and brutal treatment they received. As for Mdm Niu, she has never regretted the suffering she received because she knew God’s love is real.
“Jesus died for us and we should never be ungrateful,” she said, with tears forming in her eyes. She knew this love could not be separated from us, not even through tribulation, persecution, danger or the sword (Romans 8:35).
Clinging to God and his promises was the only thing that made sense. Mdm Niu still remembers how she was encouraged by Paul’s letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, which urged them not to lose hope: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God…Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, ESV)
Her Love for His Word
“They burnt seven of my Bibles,” she said, her voice quivering as she recalled the loss and the pain of losing her Bibles.
In order to keep their copies of the Scriptures, their Bibles had to be torn into parts. Each believer would hide away their own portion of the Scriptures, both for safety and so each person could be encouraged and strengthened by the Word. When she first received a ‘whole’ Bible again after the Cultural Revolution, she just leapt for joy.
A New Dawn
Christians in China started to meet again from the late 1980s. 100 days after Mdm Niu’s father passed away, she saw him in a vision prompting her to re-establish the church there. Eventually after many obstacles, a church was founded on July 2, 1999 in Liaocheng, Shandong when Mdm Niu was 71. The church started with about 40 people, but now there are more than 200 people attending on a regular basis. From time to time, this lady of faith still speaks to encourage the congregation and remind them of God’s love. Not surprising, God’s familiar word is never far from her lips,
“Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:1-2 ESV)
Story: Marcus Xiao
2020 © United Bible Societies China Partnership