Long queues of people waiting to go to church, sermons broadcast on loudspeakers in a busy public place… These are two of the many extraordinary things that I witnessed on a recent visit to China.
I travelled there with Bible Society colleagues from 7 different countries at the invitation of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). It was an important official visit to cement our already good relationship with SARA, which has enabled us to work closely with the Church in China to print more than 100 million Bibles at the Amity Printing Press in Nanjing since 1987.
From Beijing to Nanjing and then onto Shanghai we spent time talking to officials from SARA and meeting key Chinese Church leaders from the Three Self Patriotic Movement/China Christian Council (China’s Protestant Church) and the Catholic Church. It was fascinating to hear about the incredible growth of Christianity in China, in part fuelled by the wider availability of Bibles.
But the most memorable thing for me was to see this for myself. I’ll never forget the sight of queues and queues of people waiting to enter one of the 6 Sunday services at Haidian Church in Beijing. Located in a busy IT area of the city, the church attracts around 1,000 people to each of its services. Around 600 people can fit into the main church service on the first floor, while the overflow – another few hundred people – sit in the basement, watching the service on a large screen. Even this is not enough – many more people sit or stand outside to listen to the service, which is broadcast on loudspeakers. To me this was incredible – there, in a busy IT area of China’s capital city, the Gospel is being broadcast in a public area!
It was also moving to see Chinese Christianity in action in another way through the Bible and medical van ministry. Bible Societies have provided these vans in several Chinese provinces but it is local Christian volunteers, including nurses and doctors, who go into poor communities to offer free medical help.
Hundreds of people in Baoding City in Hebei Province queued up outside a tent whose banner read, ‘Health checks and medicine from Christians’. And the delighted look on the faces of those who received Bibles at a local church said it all!
A fact that may surprise many
During our visit to the country’s national and largest theological seminary – Nanjing Union Theological Seminary – I heard an interesting fact that may surprise many people: the campus and buildings, where 500 future Chinese church leaders, pastors and teachers are in training every year, was paid for by the Chinese government, to the tune of US$16 million! That’s a side to China that not many people hear about.
And as I travelled home from China I reflected on this and gave God thanks that he is truly at work in this nation that not so long ago was closed to the Gospel.
Director General, United Bible Societies