Millions of Bibles for China

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This article is an installation in a series titled “75 Years of Serving Together: Through the Decades” exploring the pivotal moments in each decade of United Bible Societies’ 75-year history (1946-2021). As a United Bible Societies Fellowship, recalling this history is both an important way to celebrate how God has guided and sustained us in the past, as well as a reminder of the mission that we steward today and into the future.

Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between UBS and Chinese Church leaders on the intention to establish a Bible Printing Press in China. March 1985, Hong Kong.
Seated in front: Dr Han Wenzao (China Christian Council Vice-President), Rev Chan Young Choi (UBS Regional Secretary), Rev James Payne (UBS Executive Committee Chairman), Bishop K.H. Ting (China Christian Council President), Rev Dr John Erickson (UBS General Secretary).

The 1980s would see the ushering in of an opportunity in China that would change the future of Bible ministry: a press to print millions of Bibles for Christians in China.

The historical challenge of Scripture access in China

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Bible Societies worked together to try to meet the needs for Scripture in China. However, the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 caused a cessation of Bible ministry in the country. Even following this period, access to Scriptures was difficult.

Yet when restrictions eased, at the start of the 1980s, the church was only able to print a limited number of Bibles using state-run presses. This could not come close to meeting the demand of the growing number of Christians in China.

Meeting the need for the Word of God
Laying of the foundation stone for Amity Printing Press, attended by leaders and representatives of UBS and Chinese Churches. 1986, Nanjing.

The vision of the Chinese Church was far greater than just a few million Bibles. They desired for all Chinese Christians to have a copy of the Word of God.

The view of the United Bible Societies was similar. “Our goal is to enable Christians everywhere to fill the needs for the printed Word of God by their own efforts”, explained Rev. Dr Ulrich Fick, the then General Secretary of UBS.

What followed was an incredible collaboration between the Chinese Church leadership and United Bible Societies that aimed to establish and equip a Bible printing press in Nanjing.

The ambitious goal was described as “the largest single project of the United Bible Societies” and it was realised in a remarkably short space of time. Official discussions about building a printing press for China took place in 1985. The project launched the following year, with a major fundraising drive to finance the development.

The UBS Fellowship response
Amity Printing Press factory floor. 1987, Nanjing

Providing the equipment and working capital for the Amity Printing Press was a massive financial undertaking: one that was beyond the scope of any single Bible Society or even a group of Bible Societies. However, it was an opportunity that could be grasped by our global Fellowship.

By October 1987, the first Bible was produced at the new Amity Printing Press. In just over a year, half-a-million Bibles had been produced.

Delivering Bibles to China and the world

Following the fundraising support and help of the Fellowship, Amity Press became self-sustaining; 25 years after the first Bible rolled off the production line, Amity Press celebrated the production of 100 million Bibles. A mere seven years later, in 2019, celebrations were held marking the 200 millionth Bible milestone. Of these, 85 million have been distributed in China, with the remainder distributed to Bible Societies and other Bible ministries and publishers around the world.

This incredible venture, between the Chinese Church, Amity Foundation, and United Bible Societies, would not have been possible without the courage and faith to proceed, and the partnership of the Fellowship, who worked together to ensure the enormous demand for the Word of God might be met, both in China and around the world.

Story: Andy Wallace, UBS
Photos: UBS
2021 © United Bible Societies China Partnership