Rural Christians in China

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Members of Luo Shui Church crossing the stream to get to church

HUNAN, China — Luo Shui Church is nestled in a valley with a breathtaking view of the mountains in the distance, surrounded by lush green paddy fields. However, the only way to get to this little church is by stepping on stones in a stream that leads to it. It is challenging enough to cross the stream on normal days, so when it rains it becomes no mean feat to get to church, wading across the waters. Yet, this is a weekly routine of the members of the church, about 30 of them, most of whom are subsistence farmers.

One of them is 58-year-old Madam Wu Xiuying who with her husband, makes ends meet by planting rice and corn. She came to know the Lord two decades ago when she and her husband got very ill. “Our family was so poor we couldn’t afford treatment for both of us, so we were very upset. I went to church looking for comfort. When I arrived, I immediately felt a deep sense of peace and was touched by God’s love for me,” Madam Wu Xiuying recalled.

About 70% of China’s Christians live in the rural areas where many live in poverty. Despite the economic reform that made China the world’s second-largest economy, there are still about 200 million people living below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. According to World Bank statistics, in terms of GDP (PPP) per capita, China ranks 85th in the world. Most of the wealth is in hands of the State and a small percentage of the population. Madam Wu Qiangjin, 73, who started the fellowship at Luo Shui Church shared, “There are about 70 Christians in this area but many of them cannot afford to take time off from working in their fields and so could not attend church.”

Poverty has driven many to the cities too. Like millions of people across China, many adult church members have left to seek for better paying jobs in the cities, leaving their young children behind under the care of the grandparents or relatives. Church member Li Yueying, 47, has to take care of her two-year-old niece because her brother and sister-in-law are away in the city and are only able to come back once a year. It is reported that there are about 250 million migrant workers across China and 61 million left-behind children.

Li Yueying, 47, takes care of her two-year-old niece.

The rural poor in China not only suffer from low income; most of them also live in areas with inadequate infrastructure. This is seen in the difficulties and risks members of the Luo Shui Church face each week coming for service. A church member recently injured her arm as she had slipped and fell while crossing the stream. Another church member would walk a couple of hours to the house of a visually impaired sister to bring her to church every week. Young children are carried in specially-weaved baskets on the backs of their caretakers as they travel on rough terrain for hours to get to church. And during a recent Bible distribution trip, boxes of Bibles were carried across the stream on the shoulders of some church members.

Despite being poor, the members of Luo Shui Church are happy in the Lord. “The brothers and sisters pray for me and I enjoy singing the hymns. Soon after I join this church, Qiangjin took me to the church in town to buy a Bible. To my surprise, it was quite affordable, thank God,” shared Madam Wu Xiu Ying, whose favourite passage in the Bible is Psalms 47 and continues to read the Bible despite her failing eyesight.

Another believer, Wang Juxiang, 68, shared, “Before becoming a Christian, I could only read my name. But now, I have learned to read most words in the Bible. I try to follow the text when the preacher reads from the Bible in church, and little by little I learned to read.” Li Yue Ying, 47, turning her Bible to John 3:16, declared, “I love to read how much God loves us. I love him too!”

There continues to be a great need for affordable Bibles in China.

There continues to be a great need to make Bibles affordable and available to the poor rural Christians. One of the reasons is the influence of cult groups in the rural area where meetings are easily held in the secrecy of homes. Madam Wu Qiangjin, shared, “Cult groups like the Disciples Sect are attracting many people to their house churches. They teach that believers in registered churches are not saved.”  Hence, believers need the Word of God as a defence against false teachings. In fact, it was the Bible that saved Li Yueying from a cult group. Due to the long distance between her home and the Luo Shui Church she had gone to another church that was much nearer not knowing that it was a cult group. “They preached strange things like Christ has come a second time and the doors of heaven are closing fast. But I know that the Bible doesn’t say anything like that and so I left,” shared Li Yueying.

There is still a great need and demand for affordable Bible.  UBS has been helping the Church in China keep the prices of Bible affordable by funding the Bible paper.  But the funding of Bible paper has been declining over the years.  The Chinese Church leaders are appealing for more funding of the Bible paper to ensure the continued provision of affordable Bible to the millions of Chinese.

 

Based on interviews by Hans Johan Sagrusten and Andrea Rhodes during the Bible Society of Norway’s and UBS Communication’s Trip to China in Oct 2014, arranged by UBS China Partnership.
Photos: Dag Smemo
Story: Cynthia Oh
2015 © United Bible Societies China Partnership