China (MNN) – China’s President Xi Jinping has ambitious plans to reform the economy. Among those plans is a rapid urban sprawl, with hopes to see the new cities attract better jobs, better wages and a bigger middle class.
With the fast expansion, though, comes a price. Income inequality in China is now ranked the 29th highest worldwide. This new middle class need housing, schools, and space for building new business. According to World Urbanization Prospect predictions, nearly 70% of the population will live in urban areas by 2035.
Often, the land needed for the growth is coming from rural farmland. The rural–urban fringe is often described as the transition zone where urban and rural uses mix and often clash in places like Northern China. In the middle of that clash sits the rural Chinese church. The visits on this day were to three churches caught in the transition of urban and rural. The church leaders spoke of challenges and growth that has forced some creative solutions to sharing the hope of Christ in their communities.
Our Bibles For China team first stopped at an 18-year old church tucked just over the river in a small community that was surrounded by impressive and extravagant growth on all sides. A right turn off the paved road brought us to a slum area that was a sharp contrast to the new condominium high-rise buildings going up on just the other side of the road.
A winding road took us to the church which sees an average of 600 to 700 Christians worshipping together each Sunday. However, as the pastor shared, their body has weathered a lot of change in the last three years.
Essentially, they’re trying to answer the question of how to get yuppies (Young Urban Professional People) and the farm laborers to be able and willing to serve together in a community church. It hasn’t been easy.
A majority of the people in their church body lost their jobs when the government took the farmland they worked to build the high rises. Many went into the city to search for work. Their families stayed in the community, so the church developed youth fellowship, couples fellowship and small group fellowships.
So far, the pastor says they’ve seen moderate success in their efforts, but it’s a constant challenge with what is essentially a migrant congregation now. However, they thought it important that each member have a copy of their own Bible so they could keep on growing in their faith, if they should have to move.
As the pastor noted, “A Bible is the best letter from God to everyone, and the Bible is the best gift that I’ve ever received before. The Bible [gave] me a new life. It [gave] me the experience to improve my spiritual life. I hope everyone can have this chance to receive the best gift from God.”
When word got out of a group of Americans coming to serve the church, the crowd swelled, and included many visitors from the community, both middle class and poor. Our team joined the volunteers in passing out 300 Bibles to an eager crowd.
As we left, we could still see the challenges that were soon to be facing this church as urban sprawl continues. The church leaders were eager for encouragement and prayer as they come up with creative ways to address the transition between urban and rural growth in this northern city.
Our second stop was to a medium sized 15-year old church that sat against the backdrop of construction, scaffolding and a mix of old bicycles and luxury cars. This 300+ person church faces the same challenges on the other side of the city, which, in fact, built right over this town.
Both pastor leaders acknowledge it’s only a matter of time before they may be dealing with relocation issues, too. However, city development also brought younger families, and with them came their children. A Sunday School program launched and the leaders also began leadership training and discipleship training programs. They also began offering exercise programs and music programs with a choir that is becoming renowned for its talent.
Roughly a third of this congregation had their own Bibles, and word was out in the community that Bibles were available on Saturday. The church was packed to the rafters, with overflow spilling into the back rooms. By the end of the visit, over 650 Bibles had been given out and more were set aside for visitors in the days ahead.
None of these churches has been visited by Americans before. Between that and the excitement of Bibles, people walked for hours to the church and sat for hours, waiting for our arrival.
The third church was roughly eight miles from the city, and, it too, was experiencing the influence of urban sprawl. However, since the community retained more of its agricultural roots, the shift in congregation mainly came with the planting and harvesting needs.
Although the last stop was also the smallest, with roughly 100 people in the church, our team helped church volunteers hand out 310 Bibles to the assembly. This is the harvest and Thanksgiving season, and it was clear they had a lot to celebrate.
Church leaders told those gathered that these Bibles were the seed that needed planting, a statement that was greeted with rousing enthusiasm. Our visit closed with a liturgical dance to the Chinese hymn, ‘The promise of God’. Midway through the performance, the music cut out and the dancers were left in an awkward position, waiting for the next cue.
Then, one member of the church picked up where the music cut out, starting the next verse. A few people began clapping out a rhythm and the dancers finished their performance to the pure sound of acappella worship.
Bibles For China is committed to providing Bibles to rural Chinese Christians, openly and legally. The rural Chinese Christians who receive these Bibles are amazed and excited that Bibles For China partner are making this possible. From now through the end of 2014, an in-country partner is providing a matching grant that enables $5 to provide two Bibles to a believer. We’ll provide the link in our special links section to help you get started in planting seeds.