China (MNN) – If you Google the question: “How many Christians are there in China?” the first answer reads as follows:
2010: the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life estimated over 67 million Christians in China, of which 35 million “independent” Protestants, 23 million Three-Self Protestants, 9 million Catholics and 20,000 Orthodox Christians.
However, that number is rapidly changing, complicated by different methodologies for keeping track of the people, their religion, and their politics. On the heels of the previous question come the follow-up queries: “What about the persecution? Is it getting worse?”
“If you’ve heard it about China, it’s probably true.”
Supply, Demand, and Pressure
The answer to those questions is equally diverse. China is an enormous country with a teeming population of nearly 1.4 billion. Bibles For China’s president Wendell Rovenstine has previously noted, “If you’ve heard it about China, it’s probably true.”
There’s an above ground (registered) Church and an underground Church. Stories have recently been surfacing about increasing pressure on both, as the religion laws and new restrictions take effect. When asked what Bibles For China has observed, Rovenstine responded, “The registered churches that we work with… and are developing relationships with are still able to do Bibles and still able to preach the Gospel and to operate with the freedom and support of the United Front people that they’re working with.”
As the message of Christ spreads and more people embrace it, little gatherings start happening…or these new followers find a church where they can learn more about their faith, which presents another challenge. In the rural, mountainous, isolated regions of China, Bibles are scarce.
That’s not to say Bibles aren’t available in China. They’re just often inaccessible. Rovenstine thinks many people are unaware that, even if a person living in remote areas could afford one, there is no public place to purchase a Bible. He says the only place that Bibles can be legally printed for purchase is at Amity Press in Nanjing, China. Amity prints 4,000,000 Bibles a year for China. The company is the world’s largest printer of Bibles, but those are earmarked for countries around the world.
So, where can a poor Christian, living in a rural area of China, get a personal copy of God’s Word? “Bibles For China has a real passion to do all that we can to make sure that those people in rural areas, where Bibles do not exist unless they are actually distributed and sent to those areas, are available,” Rovenstine says, adding, “We do that through the registered church.”
Be part of the solution
Rovenstine says their approach succeeds when they focus on developing relationships that are officially recognized by the government. They are invited into the country and allowed to celebrate what God is doing among believers, even as they respect the proud culture of China. Remarking on the impact of the new restrictions, he says, “The struggle exists when people want to bring something in to teach China that they already have within China (for us) and that is Bibles– that we want to get to them.”
It’s a tricky dance, and yet, at the same time, ridiculously simple. Mission and purpose are stated in the name of the organization: Bibles For China. Teams go in to help the Church resource people with the Word of God. “Basically, anybody that gives five dollars, we’re going to see that five dollars converted into a Bible in China,” states Rovenstine. He goes on to ask people to pray about new opportunities. “I’d like for partners to pray that we continue to receive favor and direction and leadership from the Lord as we’re obedient to His call.”
“Basically, anybody that gives five dollars, we’re going to see that five dollars converted into a Bible in China.”
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the challenges facing the underground Church in China.