China (MNN) – Even as millions of Christians openly celebrated the birth of Christ recently, for those in the provinces of Guangdong, Shandong, and Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou, the government of China banned the gatherings for members of the unofficial, unregistered ‘house churches.’
More specifically, the government targeted churches that are not part of the Three-Self Patriotic Association. In general, since a 2017 law tightened restrictions on religious gatherings, teachings, and buildings, Christians saw a spike in religious persecution.
This year, due to the concerted sinicization effort (making all things more ‘Chinese’), the US Commission on International Religious Freedom designated China as one of 16 ‘countries of particular concern’ for religious freedom violations deemed ‘egregious.’
A new ‘normal’ for Christians in China
Ministries have been adjusting their strategies as they’ve seen the shift. Bibles For China’s Kurt Rovenstine explains they stopped taking teams into China because they saw that the undue attention distracted the church leaders from their mission. “When we pulled back, life was easier for (them). That was really an eye-opening kind of a thing and somewhat convicting to know that we were putting such a strain on the local pastors.”
Instead, Bibles For China focused on the simplicity implied in their name: a passion for Bibles, a heart for China. “We are really interested in developing relationship with leaders. We strongly believe that to continue to do what we do in China is to develop relationships with folks within the registered church that allow us to continue to provide Bibles, in areas where, because of the changes that are taking place, we can no longer go.”
Global Year of the Bible
That’s especially important as the New Year arrives. 2020 is the Global Year of the Bible. How ironic is it that one of the most concentrated focuses on Scriptural engagement comes in a year where physical involvement from the United States has had to drop off in several countries?
Yet it’s important to note that ministry leaders from 200 countries helped launch this first-of-its-kind evangelical initiative. At a time when over 1,600 languages still have no New and Old Testament translation, this project calls for an end to Bible poverty.
Bibles For China zeroes in on resourcing the body of Christ in rural China, where access and availability to the Word of God prove to be enormous challenges. The ministry’s leadership team was pro-active in finding another way to operate within the law, keep the churches out of the spotlight, and still accomplish the mission. “In fact, with those relationships at the provincial level, we’ve had more opportunity, in terms of volume of Bibles, than we had before because of the absence of that foreigner that sometimes is problematic to our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Focus on mission
Even as Bibles For China participates in the Global Year of the Bible, Rovenstine observes, “It was a renewed challenge for us as Bibles for China to make sure that we’re not being selfish with the resources God has given us here as citizens of the United States of America with the abundant blessing that we have.”
The ministry team still works with the Amity Printing Press in Nanjing. However, they’re also exploring new tools, too; everything from larger font Bibles to commentaries, study Bibles, hymnals, Scripture portions, audio Bibles, comics and leadership materials.
2020 will likely be a year of testing and growth for Bibles For China. It’ll be exciting as a Global Year of the Bible. Rovenstine believes it’ll also be an exciting year of prayer for creative wisdom. “If China gives us increased challenges, (and) every indication is that they probably will, I think the prayer for Bibles for China and the believers there is that God continues to hold open doors even when the world tries to close them.”
(Headline photo courtesy Bibles For China)