Tag Archives: China

My First Trip to Mainland China–Is This Too Good to Be True?


Do you remember an individual’s experience that can be documented, but appears too incredible to be true? The following story of God’s protection of a faithful believer caused me to blink several times in amazement. I traveled to Mainland China for the first time in 1991. We visited the Sha Kai Three-Self Patriotic Church near Zongshan, just across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong. This little church was a Cumberland Presbyterian congregation prior to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when all religion was prohibited during the leadership of Mao Zedong. During that decade Sha Kai church was closed and converted to a factory. Following Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese government relaxed their persecution of religion and began to return some church properties to the Three-Self Patriotic Church. Sha Kai was one of the properties recovered and reopened. Gradually, members of the original congregation returned to worship.

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

During our discussions with the pastor of Sha Kai, we secured permission to meet some of the older leaders of the church who had lived through the Japanese invasion of China and the Cultural Revolution. The pastor guided us on a fifteen-minute walk to the home of Elder Song, a writer and the principal leader of the congregation prior to 1966.

Foreigners, in this case, me, were obviously rare in this area of China. People stopped to gaze as we made our way around street vendors and lazy dogs sleeping on the sidewalk. As the streets narrowed and sidewalks disappeared, only bicycles zipped by close to us. Finally, we made a sharp turn onto a dirt path leading past a small bamboo thicket. The path ended on the stoop of a small one-story whitewashed adobe house. Red petunias hung in a planter just above a bronze bell used to signal the arrival of a guest.

A slender lady opened the door and the pastor explained the purpose of our visit. We were led to a small patio that faced out to more bamboo. The lady disappeared momentarily. The house was obviously the last one on the hillside, which dropped quickly toward the valley below.

Our hostess said her husband was aware of our arrival and that he would soon come to speak with us. A younger woman walked by his side as his slippers scraped along the tiled floor. His smile welcomed us without a word. He slowly eased into a wooden straight-back chair in front of us. Only, then, did he speak softly, “I am honored to have you visit my humble home.”

His wife did most of the talking for her husband, sharing that Elder Song was thankful to live to the age of 83. During an hour visit, we expressed our interest in how they survived the years when Christians were harshly persecuted. She related that ill-treatment began quickly when Mao announced his decision to close churches and deny everyone the freedom of religion. Government officials forced their way into both churches and homes to confiscate all Bibles, religious literature, crosses, or visual representations of Christ or the church.

The key leaders of each church received the most severe persecution to strike fear into others. Any efforts to violate the edicts of the government resulted in beatings and imprisonment. The severe actions intended to cleanse the society of any Western influence or loyalties that interfered with commitments to Communist dogma. The strongest leaders of churches were selected for reorientation camps. Elder Song was one scheduled for such a penalty. The camps included months of brainwashing and oppressive labor. However, just a few days prior to his departure, a stroke paralyzed him from the neck down. He was unable to leave his bed for more than a decade, requiring the full-time care of his wife. He remained faithful through all of those years, teaching and witnessing in the privacy of his home. Following the death of Mao and the government’s increased leniency to religion, Elder Song recovered the use of his body and his health was largely restored.

I often remember this story when my life or the life of those I love appears overwhelming. A believer needs never to rule out the possibility of a miracle even when it arrives dressed in a way we might not expect or desire. God confirms his promise to walk side-by-side with us even through the valley of the shadow of death. We sometimes witness the unthinkable when God is involved—I felt the impossible became tangible in the testimony of Elder Song.

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My First View of Mainland China


I am one of the fortunate people who has visited China on numerous occasions. And, ever trip taught me more about the unfathomable differences and similarities between Americans and Chinese. The common people of all lands, even those enslaved by years of a false hostile ideology or those that believe that their country is the only one on earth, immediately with little reluctance, are overjoyed to meet people from another country when in a non-hostile environment.

I am thinking about my many trips to China. I have to drift back to 1980 when I caught my first glimpse of mainland China. That resulted from an unexpected gift from a friend. The date was early 1980. I was in Tennessee for a one-year furlough from missionary service in Colombia, South America. The phone rang and Dr. Marie Blackwell quickly asked me whether I was going to Hong Kong in May to attend the organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

Dr. Maree Blackwell

Dr. Maree Blackwell

My response was simple…”No, I will not be able to attend.” Her next question was as simple, “Why not?”

I answered without thinking, “That is very expensive.”

She said, “I think you should represent the work in Colombia. Would you go if I pay your way?”

I was in Hong Kong on May 4th, 1980 for the organization of the presbytery. Those were the years while Hong Kong was still a British Colony. But we did take time during the visit to travel north to the border between Hong Kong and Mainland China. I peered cautiously from Hong Kong into mainland China. This was just four years after the death of Mao Zedong.

From 1966 to 1976 during the Cultural Revolution, the expression of religious life in China was effectively banned, including even the TSPM. The growth of the Chinese house church movement during this period was a result of all Chinese Christian worship being driven underground for fear of persecution. To counter this growing trend of “unregistered meetings”, in 1979 the government officially restored the TSPM after thirteen years of non-existence, and in 1980 the Chinese Christian Council was formed.

Little did I know I would one day travel widely around China to visit sites of interest in the ministry of the Christian Church.

The Organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

The Organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

 

The Mighty Acts of God


Macau 1993

“The Gift of Hospitality”

 

A young Chinese woman sitting across the table during our orientation session grabbed my attention. She was obviously a church leader, her smile and overall countenance reminded me of my conception of an angel. I felt compelled to speak personally with her at the end of our meeting.

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With the assistance of an interpreter, I spoke, “Please forgive me, but I am so curious. Your peaceful smile obviously reflects a relationship with God! Would it be possible for you to share with me about your faith?” Her testimony left me deeply touched and reconfirmed my belief in the personal nature of God.

“My husband and I have only recently become Christians. We grew up in Buddhist families. After we were married, my mother-in-law stressed the need to worship numerous idols, to burn incense, and to go through the daily rituals involved in ancestor worship. Since my husband and I lived with the family and I was the youngest woman, it became my responsibility to complete these daily religious chores. I began to act more and more religious, but the whole routine meant little to me personally.

Then tragedy crashed down on our family. I don’t remember the doctor’s words. I simply recall the sense of nausea, a deep emptiness, and a weakness that engulfed my whole body upon learning that my husband had cancer. The doctor felt it might be treatable if we were able to secure the proper care in Hong Kong, but living in Macau and having limited finances made that very difficult. We began to recall family members we knew who lived in Hong Kong. After having made a list, we telephoned each one of them to see if it would be possible for us to come and live with them for a few months during the time of my husband’s surgery, treatment, and recovery. Every call resulted in disappointment. Our relatives either had no room, other visitors, or some other reason why they could not receive us as their houseguests. Finally, we remembered our distant cousins, Helen and Luke. When we called their home, their response lifted our spirits—“Yes, we would be glad to receive you as our guests during this time.”

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Our family warned us that these relatives were Christian, but what were we supposed to do? My husband’s parents worried that if we omitted the ancestor worship and adoration of the house idols, their son wouldn’t be healed. But the Cheung’s seemed to be the only alternative. So we moved in for our extended visit in Luke and Helen’s home. My husband received surgery and extensive chemotherapy, and for the next two months we stayed in the home of Luke and Helen.

The home atmosphere differed considerably. There were no altars to ancestors. The odor of incense never burned in their home. The dependence upon fortune-telling to try to determine the future simply didn’t enter into their minds. Instead, their religion merged every day with life and decisions in a coherent and logical manner. The Cheung’s faith affected their attitudes and their ethics. Gradually, Luke and Helen began to ask if we would like to share in their time of Bible study together. Gently, they began to pray with us. They offered to pray for the healing of my husband, and somehow we noticed a vitality and faith we had never seen before. More important than the verbalization of their faith was the love they showed to us each day that we spent in their home. They understood our pain and sympathized with our anxiety. They shared in the responsibility of caring that resulted from our suffering. We began to feel closer to them than to our own family. Throughout the entire illness, they suggested that not only was the medical treatment we were receiving important but that we needed to place our trust in the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. The treatment of my husband was totally successful, and now the doctors can find no traces of cancer. Since that time, we’ve returned to our home, but our memories of Luke and Helen’s hospitality, their love, their concern, and their deep faith have not left our minds. Several months after we returned to Macau, we began to attend the Christian church and made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives.

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We’ve learned many things we didn’t know before that time. We now know that the Bible does witness that Jesus healed people of every disease and sickness (Matthew 9:35). We have captured the impact of the love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13). We understand by reading Hebrews 11 that faith is an imperative part of the Christian faith. And we’ve come to understand the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life. Our church has taught us that evangelism is a Christian responsibility. We realize as we reflect about our experience in accepting the Lord Jesus Christ, that it was through one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit—the gift of hospitality (Romans 12:13) —that Luke and Helen could most effectively evangelize us and help us to see the validity of Christianity. We praise God for his wonderful grace. We are beginning to pray and ask that he will show us the gift he has given to us so that we can use it to lead others to him.”

The Story Behind a Photo “Few Know How Many Have Suffered”


Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

While in mainland China in 1991, I had the opportunity to visit the Sha Kai Church near Zongshan. Grace Yu and I followed a young three-self minister of the church to the home of Elder Mu. The pastor insisted we meet this man and hear his story.

Every country and economic status of its people have unique odors, street semblances, interiors of houses, hospitality, living conditions, customs, standards of acceptable conduct, worship styles, fashions, food, and concepts about foreigners. I remember the walk from the Sha Kai Church to home of Elder Mu because of some of the distinct odors of the street. Homes with a damp dirt floor and walls elude a special odor that is uniform around the world. The odor smells like a wet cloth that has been left on bathroom floor for several days. It builds up a mixture of bacteria and mold that explodes in all directions when the rag is moved. Multiply the smell by years of quiet buildup in a house and the staleness becomes so dense that it quickly floods the air when any door is opened to the outside. I often wonder how people’s lungs endure years and years of their waking and sleeping hours in these humble home. None of these families had dehumidifiers that could easily improve the environment. Sunny days do not remove the build up because of the few windows or doors. The sun’s warmth only clears the air from depositing another small amount of mold on the existing layer. The clothes of the residents absorb that odor very similar to the clothing of a smoker. And, you can often tell where a person lives by the odor of their clothing. Of course, they could do nothing in those days about the persistent humidity that cursed the ambiance of their homes.

We found Elder Mu’s home on one of those streets. Elder Mu had been one of the elders and perhaps the key leader of the Sha Kai CP Church prior to the Cultural Revolution. He lived in a simple house, but was blessed with a tile floor and whitewashed adobe walls. Unlike so many of the houses, this house was blessed with an open courtyard that opened into a bamboo forest. And, the daily sunshine bleached the air with freshness. When Elder Mu was in his fifties, Chairman Mao mandated that all Christian churches be closed. Believers received unannounced visits to their homes by government representatives who confiscated Bibles, religious pictures, and Christian literature.

Most Christian leaders were persecuted harshly in the aggresive effort to cleanse the society of any Western influence and any loyalties that interfered with commitments to the Communist dogma. Some leaders were sent to a sort of reorientation camp. Elder Mu was one of those scheduled for one of those camps. However, prior to being moved from his home, elder Yu suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed from the neck down. The physical paralysis of the stroke persisted for more than thirty years. It was only after the new directions of the Chinese government in the early 1980’s that he has begun to improve. He remained faithful, teaching, and witnessing from his bed through all those years. When I met him, at age 83, he had had his health restored. Praise God for his glorious acts.

Blood Stained Glory


It isn’t possible to relate some experiences with the intensity or emotion they deserve.  How can you capture with words the sacrifice people make to secure religious and political freedom?

The incredible history and culture of China dwelled behind dense clouds of mystery for centuries.  The average non-Chinese only imagined the beauty and mystic of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or the Terra Cotta Soldiers.  Even Chinese citizens knew little about their country.  Then, Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), a leader from the peasant class rose to power with Mao Zedong.  After Mao’s death, he led China through the first stages of a market reform that opened some doors to the West while continuing to severely restrict the religious and personal freedoms of his people.

But, the crack for foreigners was wide enough for me to visit a few churches in Mainland China in 1991.  My second stop after visiting a former Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Sha Kai was Guanzhou (formerly Canton) in hopes of finding the gravesite of Rev. Gam Sing Quah.  Rev. Quah, a young convert living in the USA came under a deep personal conviction to plant Cumberland Presbyterian churches in China, and set sail from San Francisco on October 8, 1908 as an employee of the Women’s Board of Missions of the CPC.  By 1923 he had organized eight churches.  He died in 1937 in Canton, leaving the ministry to his two sons—Samuel and McAdoo.

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While in Guangzhou we toured the impressive Sun Yat Sin Memorial.  Sun Yat Sin was a revolutionary and the founding father of the Republic of China.  As we sat down in the nearly vacant auditorium, I noticed my guide from Hong Kong become very quiet as we listened to the music played throughout the auditorium.  The tune was captivating even though I could not understand a single word.  When I glanced at my host, tears were gently flowing down her cheeks.  So, I sat and assumed this was a special moment.

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Finally, she said, “You know I am really surprised with this music.   ‘Blood Stained Glory’ is the name of the song. Students listened to it for inspiration in the Tiananmen Square in Beijing before the government massacre two years ago. It’s hard to believe the government would allow it played here at this time in our history.”  Later, I would learn the lyrics of “Blood Stained Glory” tell the story of the price paid for freedom, regardless of the country.

Perhaps I’ll bid farewell and never to return, can you comprehend? Do you understand?

Perhaps I will fall and never to rise again. Will you be forever waiting?

If it’s to be so, grieve not, the flag of our Republic has our Blood Stained Glory.

If it’s to be so, grieve not, the flag of our Republic has our Blood Stained Glory.

Perhaps my eyes will shut and never open again, will you understand my silent emotions?

Perhaps I will sleep forever, never able to wake up. Will you believe that I have been transformed into mountains?

If it’s to be so, grieve not, the soil of our Republic contains the love we have given.

If it’s to be so, grieve not, the soil of our Republic contains the love we have given.

The following link plays the music accompanied by shots of the Chinese struggle for freedom.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iTQjejY-4Y

I sat in silence long after my host left the memorial.  I felt strangely close to a people’s struggle. Mental images of a young man standing in front of an approaching tank passed through my mind.  Few people that saw that display of bravery will forget those moments of tension.   After the young man momentarily stopped the tank, he disappeared into the crowd and to this day no one knows his identity, although some believe he was arrested and killed.  The facts remain unclear.

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I could not imagine at the time how critical the Tiananmen experience would be in opening China to the world.  The largest nation in the world would soon become a global political and economic force.  Unfortunately, there are no reliable figures to demonstrate the growth of Christianity in China since 1989, but everyone agrees that numbers have grown significantly. The lives lost in Tiananmen Square were not in vain.  There are still many steps to be taken for full religious freedom to exist in China, but the wall has been knocked down and spiritual liberty is sneaking in day by day.

As I reflect politically, many people have shed blood in every nation on earth in an effort to secure freedom.  No one should underestimate such cost.

But thinking theologically, only the death and spilt blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has the potential to save every person on the globe from remaining estranged from God.  Oh, that everyone would be given the opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life.  And, so, the incredible need for missions.