China (MNN) – You’ve heard it said that the Church in China is one of the fastest growing in the world. At the same time, you’ve heard tale of ever-present government scrutiny and enforcement of new religious restrictions. This time, Bob Fu of China Aid, a religious rights watchdog group, says the Chinese government is planning to make Christianity more compatible with socialism—with plans to “rewrite” the Bible within five years.
The story has ramped up the urgency of resourcing Christ’s followers throughout the massive, diverse nation. How massive is the task? Eight years ago, the Pew Research Center calculated there are sixty-eight million Christians in China, approximately 5 percent of the country’s population. Today, those numbers are coming in closer to 80 million Chinese Christians and, notes Bibles For China, as many as 20,000 are coming to faith every day.
Of those thousands, demographers suggest 70 percent live in rural, isolated areas. The challenge, then, is how to mentor new Christians without access to God’s Word. While the Bible is available in China, thanks to the efforts of Amity Printing Press in Nanjing, it’s not very affordable or accessible for the rural farmers.
For these, it takes a special trip into town to try to find a place selling Bibles…and often, even if one is available, it could cost several months’ wages to purchase. So, for many, access to Scripture is restricted to reading pages of a Bible they have copied, passages they have memorized, or tattered Bibles shared among the village.
It’s important to note that there exists both an Underground Church and an Above-ground Church in China. BFC works through the registered churches in China, providing Bibles for them to use for learning and inspiration.
God Calling Everyone To Do His Work
But who teaches the teacher of the registered church? How do these new Christians learn how to understand God’s Word? These are questions Bibles For China has long been trying to answer. BFC President Wendell Rovenstine says that over the years, relationships are built because what they’re interested in doing is letting the Church be the Church in China.
“We go there as observers to see, feel, and hear the heart cry of the Chinese people. Each time that we’re willing to show up, God gives us opportunity to come again.”
The Three-Self Patriotic Movement states that churches in China need to be self- governed, self-supported, and self-propagating. BFC is careful to be respectful of these requirements, while also seeking out gifted leaders who have been well-trained.
Rovenstine says they’re always asking, “Who are those individuals that we could come alongside of, that we could pray for, that we could bring into the family of Bibles For China?” They turn to the wealth of seminaries graduating new pastors and leaders and create networks that way.
In fact, he adds, “One of the distributions we have at the end of the year is in one of their seminaries. We’ll be presenting Bibles to the seminary graduates to take to the rural areas where they will be. They do a good job of teaching; we’re just sowing God’s Word and providing Bibles.”
Because of the constant growth of the church, these new church leaders and pastors are praying for additional pastors and leaders. It’s a matter of stewarding the resources available, a core value of Rovenstine’s previous employer, the Reverend Billy Graham.
“Mr. [Billy] Graham said, ‘Anything that we have, or I have, or we share, with the Billy Graham Association, is not mine. It’s the Lord’s. Use it where possible to extend, embrace and equip churches and people to present the Gospel.’”
Equipping The Equippers
Previous generations simply did not have the opportunity to openly distribute Bibles to the Chinese people, says Rovenstine, explaining that the vital connections that make it possible today, didn’t just happen overnight.
“Those connections and those relationships that we have and cherish in China were possible because we went to China; we sat down, we ate in their homes, we ate in their churches. We listened to them and developed a relationship that is very keen on accomplishing what God gives us to do in China.”
What he describes goes deeper than ‘partnership’, deeper than ‘network’ — it’s community, based on relationship. There’s vulnerability and sacrifice that goes along with this kind of relationship building. It’s on the spiritual front, it’s on the financial front and it’s on the resource front. Partners from 41 countries have connected with Bibles for China to provide resources for the purchase of Bibles written in Mandarin, the reading language of China. Legal Bibles in China are provided by working through the Chinese Christian Counsel.
Five Bucks, A Seed Well-Sown
At a cost of $5.00 each, Bibles for China purchases Bibles and works closely with Christian brothers and sisters who have the responsibility of providing Bibles to the Christians in rural China who hope and pray for the opportunity to have a Bible of their own.
Aside from the seminary visit, there’s one more trip on the calendar for this year. For both of those, Rovenstine invites us to “pray with us as we seek to be in the Center of the Lord’s Will as He walks us through. What we’re facing in this relationship — as foreigners who are wanting to do ministry in China — within China, they’re working through the same process [that] we are to be able to accomplish what God’s called them to do also.”