China (MNN) – In a country as big as China, you’re bound to find a large variety of needs across the Body of Christ. In fact, it would be extremely unlikely that in any country, there was one ministry strategy that worked for everyone in every situation.
Despite the fact that there is a way to distribute Bibles legally in China, one size doesn’t fit all. In fact, distributing from the government approved printing organization, Amity Press, is only part of the puzzle piece when we’re talking about resourcing every believer in China.
There are many Christians who agree that smuggling Bibles is still necessary, and it’s because of the unique needs they’ve encountered on the field.
For one, the sheer number of believers overwhelms the press’ printing capacity.
Patrick Klein of Vision Beyond Borders says, “The Church is growing very fast in China. Some say 20,000-30,000 people a day. So, they need more Bibles to keep up. The other thing is, conservative numbers, there [are] 100 million Christians in China today. We know that Bibles wear out after a while, so you need to replace Bibles. Bibles are destroyed; you just constantly have to keep up with a new supply of Bibles to keep up with the need.”
And it’s not just a matter of numbers, either. Klein explains, “A lot of the Church is in the rural areas and it’s more difficult to get those Bibles. So a lot of the Bibles that are being printed and distributed inside China, most of those are going to the bigger cities. But the rural areas where the big populations of Christians are, they’re still in dire need of the Scriptures.”
There is a movement of these Bibles from the city to the country, thanks to the work of Christian organizations. However, the need for more Bibles is constant. Klein says their contacts on the ground are always asking them to bring more Bibles.
And here’s another thought: smuggled Bibles can come in a variety of formats, depending on the needs in an area.
Vision Beyond Borders works with the underground Church—a group of believers who, for a variety of reasons, have chosen to operate outside of the registered Church. “A lot of the pastors can’t go to Bible schools unless they go to the government church,” Klein says.
Something like a study Bible could have huge implications for a rural, underground pastor as they lead their congregation, especially until a training could be established.
And that is why groups like Vision Beyond Borders continue to smuggle Bibles into China—to be a group that meets the varied and shifting needs of the Church alongside groups that work within the country’s legal guidelines.
“I think it’s important that we do all we can to help the people—if it’s giving out some of them inside, but also carrying them across the border, but also giving them study notes and if they need children’s Bibles—whatever they need, we need to work with them and help them,” Klein says.
“It’s great if people can print them inside and distribute them. That’s good. We feel like we need to carry them across the border because our contacts are saying, please, keep bringing them.”
But this work is dangerous, and the government seems to be coming down harder on groups that are involved.
“We had a team that went across the border a couple of weeks ago, and the team was carrying Bibles, and they were actually stopped at the border. The team was held, there were five of them, and they were held for ten hours.”
Klein says the team was interviewed by several dozen police personnel, and that their visas were revoked for a minimum of three years. In addition, the Bibles they were carrying, about 10-20 each, were confiscated.
According to Klein, there have been around 20 couriers of Bibles that have been kicked out of China since January 1st of this year. Their workers have had to carry lighter loads as the border patrol grows increasingly more vigilant.
Sometimes, they will allow someone through with a few Bibles only to try and discover where these Bibles are being taken and stored. The ministry has had to rearrange how they operate within China.
The underlying problem
So despite the fact that China has allowed churches to gather and for Bibles to be printed and owned, there’s something that needs to be understood. The government has not relinquished its control over Christians.
In major cities where there are more foreigners and journalists, there are Bibles readily accessible to the Church. There are giant government churches allowed to meet every Sunday.
“China is saying one thing to the outside world, but what we’re seeing on the ground is persecution’s increasing,” Klein says.
And the very fact that the government has so much control over the Church is dangerous. There’s no telling where the tipping point is.
Klein has been told that in the government churches, “The pastors cannot talk about healing or miracles. They can’t talk about the second coming of Jesus. And they’re told that they have to tell the people that their first devotion’s to the government, and not to God.”
But this control is not limited to religion within the nation. Klein believes China has been “flexing its muscle” in the whole region–causing division in Vietnam, and encroaching in Laos, Burma, and the Philippines.
“But they need to realize, if they want to be a super power, you need to have freedom of religion, you need to respect human rights, and you need to be honest and open and transparent.”
Remembering our mission
There are a couple of things to remember in this situation—in light of the confiscated visas and Bibles.
First, Klein says, “When we’re building God’s kingdom, there’s going to be opposition. Satan is going to use anything and everything to try to stop Bibles from going into China, from people hearing the Gospel, people coming to Christ. Satan’s going to do everything he can to stop that.”
But this, he says, should cause all of us fall to our knees before God in prayer.
And finally, whether Christian organizations are working within the confines of the law in this case or outside of it—they are working to get the Word of God into the hands of believers, and those who do not know Him yet.