Winds of Change in China

The following article is reproduced with permission from the Asia Harvest website. Please visit their site for more information and to donate to the China Bible fund.

Winds of Change in China

Christians around the world continue to be fascinated by the Church in China—the world’s most populated country. The nation is going through rapid transformation economically, socially, culturally and spiritually. We examine how these changes are affecting the kingdom of God in China, and specifically how it may affect some of the projects we implement there.


Often as people grow older they long for things to stay still, so they can get their bearings, put down roots, and enjoy a consistency in their lives. Things never seem to work out that way, however. The world is in a constant state of transformation, and our time can easily be spent trying to catch up with the changes going on around us.

Of all the places in the world we know, nowhere is changing as swiftly and as dramatically as China. In part, this is because of the draconian decades of hard-line Communist rule, when the nation closed its doors to the rest of the world from the 1940s to the late 1970s. Feeling left behind by these lost decades, China has frantically been catching up since at breakneck speed.

newsletter_june_2014_img1

China Today -- One of countless new shopping malls that fill the cities of modern China.

We have been greatly privileged to serve the Lord Jesus and His Church in China since the late 1980s. The pace of change has been so swift during that time that often when we meet younger missionaries starting out, it’s difficult to describe what China was like back then without sounding like ‘old fogies’ reminiscing about things “back in the day”!

Just a little more than 20 years ago the streets of cities like Beijing and Kunming were filled with bicycles and donkey carts. Today they have become mega- municipalities with glistening skyscrapers, congested highways and all the latest shopping malls and facilities like any other major world city.

More changes seem to occur in five years in China than in a generation in other parts of the world. Consider this for example: The first place many visitors to China see is the town of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. It was a farming village in the 1970s, then a sleepy town with about 50,000 people in the 1980s. Remarkably, today Shenzhen is a massive, modern city, home to more than 8 million people!

New Challenges for the Church in China

The rapid transformation in Chinese society is inevitably also influencing the way the Church functions. For decades the Body of Christ experienced the largest revival, numerically speaking, in the history of Christianity. One of the foundations for the revival was suffering and sacrifice. The Church gave their all to Jesus, and He used them for His glory in a marvellous way so that today there are at least 100 million Christians in China.

Late last year the government made two announcements. The first was that they were relaxing the one-child policy that has been in place since 1979, and which has wreaked havoc on the family structure of the nation.

The second announcement they made did not receive widespread coverage in the media, but it has major ramifications for the Church: The Chinese government announced it was immediately closing down all prison labor camps.

For decades, prison labor camps were dark, abominable places where hundreds of thousands of Christians were sent as punishment for their belief in Jesus. Many were never heard from again.

Countless faith-filled testimonies, like that of Brother Yun in his biography The Heavenly Man, included accounts of the brutal punishment metered out in those awful places, where prisoners were forced to work 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

A few years ago I was present at a meeting in a remote area of China with about 30 house church leaders. At lunch time the main leader stood up and announced, “Let’s thank the Lord for the food, and then everyone who has spent time in a prison camp for the Gospel can start eating!”

Every head turned around and stared at me, and people began to chuckle under their breath. They knew their foreign guest had probably never been imprisoned for the Lord before. All the other men and women in the room had spent time in prison labor camps, some for decades.

Sensing that I was feeling a little anxious, the Chinese broke into hearty laughter and then lovingly served me first.

Labor camps caused untold suffering to multitudes of believers and their family members in China. Now, all of a sudden with the stroke of a pen, they have been consigned to history!

Of course this change doesn’t mean that persecution has ceased in China. In fact, just recently reports have emerged of church buildings being demolished and of believers being arrested and fined. As long as the kingdom of God continues to clash with the kingdom of darkness there will be hardship and suffering for those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Christians in China continue to be fined, harassed, and discriminated against because of the Gospel. While prison labor camps have been closed, please note that these were not the same as general prisons, where people can still be sent without trial for up to three years. The labor camps, however, were the staging point for the most severe persecution.

newsletter_june_2014_img3

newsletter_june_2014_img4

The Chinese Church has now entered into a new phase. It is wonderful news that the labor camps have been abolished, and severe persecution has undoubtedly decreased from the levels of the past.

We should be thankful for the positive changes. They are the direct result of the Lord’s intervention and His gracious response to decades of prayer.

Most of us would agree that if our lives were under constant threat of being fined, beaten and imprisoned, then news that labor camps have become a thing of the past would be greatly welcomed!

As the winds of change continue to blow throughout China, a fresh and difficult challenge has emerged.

A wise friend of ours summed it up this way:

For more than 30 years God tested the Chinese Church with persecution, and they endured faithfully. Their faith was purified and they won tens of millions of people into God’s kingdom. Now God is testing the Church in China with an even greater challenge: Prosperity.”

Church history shows that Christians are strongest when they are united against opposition, but when times are easy our faith tends to grow weaker. Is this principle true in your own life, and in the churches in your part of the world?

It was also true in the Old Testament, as Israel struggled to break free from the cycle of pride and laziness caused by prosperity. God summed up the plight of His chosen people this way: “I cared for them in the wilderness, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:5-6).

A Note of Caution

Friends, please continue to pray fervently for God’s will to be done among His children in China.

Even though believers now face some different challenges than previous generations, the Body of Christ in China remains huge and influential.

Recently, The Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom ran a surprising story under the headline: ‘China On Course to Become World’s Most Christian Nation Within 15 Years.’ The article claimed: “Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this. It’s ironic—he failed completely.”

newsletter_june_2014_img5Although the Chinese Church may function differently going forward, the fact remains that there are tens of millions of people who have been purchased by the Blood of Jesus throughout China. They love Him, and they will continue to testify about what God has done in their lives.

These disciples of Christ are well aware that there are more than one billion lost souls in China, among hundreds of unreached ethnic groups, and that their work is far from finished!

Although systematic, government- orchestrated persecution of Christians is definitely decreasing in China, it would be a mistake to assume that there is no longer any persecution. It persists, especially in rural areas away from the public gaze.

The Need for Bibles

We constantly review and tweak the projects we help with, as we desire to be involved in the most strategic opportunities for the advancement of God’s kingdom in Asia.

While things are changing quickly in China, one project that will remain a great need for some time to come is the China Bible Fund. There are other factors at play which cause the dire shortage of Bibles in China, especially among the rural house churches we are privileged to serve.

While the economy is growing in many parts of China, all Bibles printed outside the control of the government- approved church are considered ‘illegal’. Those involved with their production or distribution continue to risk arrest and prison without trial.

Secondly, almost all of the Bibles we print inside China are for rural believers in farflung provinces. Despite the economic boom in other parts of China, people in rural farming communities remain extremely poor by any standard, and in fact their plight has been exacerbated by the soaring cost of living. Millions of house church Christians remain unable to afford Bibles, even if they were able to access them. These factors have resulted in millions of believers being starved of God’s Word. They are forced to survive on the few crumbs they are able to gather from beneath the table of the registered churches.

As long as the need for God’s Word exists, we pray the Lord will give us resources and opportunities to help meet that need. One of our key leaders recently told us, “For as long as God gives me breath, I want to continue providing Bibles to believers who are unable to obtain them from any other source.”

Advertisements

Why my blog is called Isaiah 41 verse 10

I was about 10 or 11.  I was staying with my parents who were missionaries in the kind of country where people don’t usually go for a relaxing holiday.  I never felt like I belonged anywhere.  Not in that culture, because I couldn’t speak the language, and I looked different and was foreign, and not at the boarding school for missionaries’ children, where the other kids often picked on me or disliked me. At an early age I had stopped believing in my mother’s love for me, and the lie that I was unloved was causing me to grow up crooked, like a tree that overcompensates for an early injury.

But I had heard that God loved me.  I also had heard that He would speak if one listened.  One day, when I was by myself in the room I shared with my sister, I took my Bible and sat on the bed, and asked Him if it was true.

“Is it true that you love me?  Do you care about me?”

I waited.  Then a verse reference popped into my head: one that I didn’t know.  I looked it up.

Isaiah 41 verse 10

So do not fear, for I am with you;

Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you; 

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

 

Then I knew that it was true.  He does speak, and He does care, and He is not only the one true God, Creator of the universe, He is my God, the one who watches over me.  He is Love.

He has kept His promise to me.  With Him I am strong.  He is always with me, and He holds on to me.  I’ve wandered off the pathway lots of times, and got distracted, and disobeyed His instructions, but He has not given up on me, and He never will.  Some songs say, “I will never let you [Jesus] go.”  I always change the words when I’m singing to “You will never let me go,” because the truth is that we often let go, but He doesn’t.

I’ve found that if I hold onto His love, I can love other people, and not be afraid of them hurting me.  It’s hard to unlearn old habits of mistrust and criticism, but slowly He is making the change.  If I ask Him to show me how He sees a situation or a person, it’s like He changes the perspective, making clear what was blurry, changing the colours, and sometimes revealing details I did not notice before. 

Sometimes I look back and wish I had pursued Him earlier, when I knew this from an early age, but for a long time it was about following rules and being a ‘good Christian’.  I was too busy trying to fix everyone else, and swinging from self-hatred to pride and back again.  But they say that nothing is wasted with God, so I will trust that He is making something beautiful with the mess. 

Radical Obedience

I would like to recommend the audio book of What Happens When Women Say Yes to God by Lysa Terkeurst.  It is available free this month from christianaudio.com.  Lysa talks about her journey of learning ‘radical obedience’ to God.  This is familiar to me, as God has also been graciously leading me on this uncomfortable but joyful path.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Psalm 23 v 3

What does obedience look like?  Many of us want to ‘do great things for God’, hoping that He will call us to do something extraordinary and wonderful.  But what if the path of obedience is more mundane, such as washing dishes for Jesus, or learning not to lose my temper, or being honest when no one else is?  What if it means choosing not to respond in anger with my children when they disobey again, or are careless?  What if it means choosing not to complain or grumble about people who don’t pull their weight at work or at church, but being thankful for them and blessing them instead?  What if it means getting up early to pray rather sleeping for another hour?

I’m starting to see that the life of radical obedience that God is calling us to is made of many choices, day by day, but that these often trivial matters point back to one choice we must make – will we live to please Him or to please ourselves?  The little things matter.

Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much.

Luke 16 verse 10

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!”

Matthew 25 verse 21

Lessons from Daniel

As a family we have been re-reading the book of Daniel.  The story opens when Daniel and three of his friends are among the captives taken from Jerusalem to Babylon.  The best-looking, fittest and most intelligent young men are chosen to receive the finest education the Babylonian court can provide, and Daniel and his friends are among this select group.  They are to be fed on the choicest foods and wines from the king’s own table.  However, this is a problem for Daniel and his three friends.  They are forbidden by the Law given to Moses to consume certain animals, and may not eat meat that has not had the blood drained from it.  Daniel asks that they be fed vegetables instead.  The officer over them is reluctant, because he thinks that they will not fare as well as the other young men who eat the king’s food, but Daniel asks for a ten day trial.  After ten days the four young men who are obedient to God’s law look healthier than all the others.  They are allowed to continue eating their plain diet rather than the king’s food.  God blesses them with understanding and wisdom above all their fellows, so that they rise to prominent positions in the king’s court.

How many young men from Judah were in that court?  There must have been many more than four.  However, only Daniel and his friends were willing to be different from the rest.  What words may have been thrown at them?

“Why are you making a fuss?  We’re in Babylon now.  When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians do.”

“You’re making the rest of us look bad.  I suppose you think you’re super holy or something.”

“Why are you bothering to obey God when he couldn’t save us from Nebuchadnezzar’s armies?”

It was only a ‘little thing’, but it mattered in God’s eyes.

Taking a break from blogland

For the next month I am taking a break from blogging and from visiting other people’s blogs.  It seems to be what God is asking me to do.  In fact He’s been asking for a while, but I’ve been struggling to stop.  However listening to Lysa’s book has encouraged me to take this step.

Some things I’m hoping to do in my blog-free month:  gardening, spending more time with my family, craft projects, praying, writing songs and poetry, cooking and reaching out to others.   Who knows what else God has planned?

Jo.

What Happens When Women Say Yes to God by Lysa Terkeurst

– See more at: http://christianaudio.com/free/#sthash.dVOS37dS.dpuf

What Happens When Women Say Yes to God by Lysa Terkeurst

– See more at: http://christianaudio.com/free/#sthash.dVOS37dS.dpuf

A letter from China

Written by an evangelist in Shandong province:

When the gospel was first shared with us in 2012 we did not have any Bibles but we felt such a hunger to know more about the Truth.  We cried out to the Lord with burning desire to know more about Him.  In May 2013 the Lord answered our prayers and all our fellowship leaders and evangelists have received Bibles.  We fell down on our faces before the Lord weeping with joy as we thanked the Lord for providing us the Bread of Life. 

It was explained to us that God’s Word was provided by Christians around the world who sacrificed their hard-earned money so we could have Bibles.  We are just peasants from the countryside, so we don’t understand much about the world outside of China.  Everything outside China seems so foreign and strange to us; but we now feel a strong connection to God’s people around the world that provided us with Bibles even though they have never met us.  Although we don’t know you by name, we thank you from the depths of our hearts for providing these Bibles to us.  We believe that in heaven God will introduce us to those who provided Bibles and we look forward to worshipping the Lord with you!  Until then may God’s grace and peace be with you.

There is a critical shortage of Bibles in China today because of the massive growth of the church in rural areas.  Tens of millions of Christians are still without God’s Word.  Asia Harvest is partnering with house church networks throughout China in a long-term strategy to print Bibles for these new believers.  They are distributed to all parts of China, helping establish new believers in the faith and adding fuel to the revival that continues to burn throughout the world’s most populous country.  Each Bible cost just US $1.80 to print and deliver.

Information and evangelist’s letter from Asia Harvest’s March 2014 newsletter.

Banishing the black dog

Depression, I know you.  You’re a fog that seeps into my mind, obscuring the view, stealing my hope.  I think I’ve escaped you, but you want to return, an unwanted visitor who won’t take the hint and leave.  You tell me that there’s no future for me and that my life has no value.

Some days there’s a battle in my mind, when the thoughts come and attempt to destroy me.  I fight with words and songs and on my knees.  I cry out for deliverance, for my King to save me from my despair.  He speaks His truth to my spirit and restores my hope.  He dispels the fog, giving me a vision of the future so that I can persevere.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah 29:11