Great Leap Forward
Job and his wife became Christians the same way most Chinese do: A friend who was visiting the couple in their home simply shared the gospel. "She came for 24 hours, and she preached the gospel for 20," Job says of an evening five years ago.
This is how Christianity spreads in China: person to person. Until recently, churches didn't sponsor public evangelistic outreach or anything else that officials might perceive as disrupting order.
As quickly as Job and his wife became Christians, the couple, both medical doctors and professors, encountered the biggest obstacle to Christianity in China. Where was the church? Job now knows there are plenty of churches in his city, but he knew of none five years ago. So under the advice of their friend, they started a Bible study. Within four months they had 100 attendees, and it was time to start a church.
Job was accustomed to working with government officials, security officers, and other influential people in his city of 7.8 million people. As a doctor, he regularly treated local Party officers. He saw no need for his church to meet clandestinely. Rather, Job met with officials monthly, keeping them informed of the church's activities, even inviting them to Christmas and Easter services. Job and his wife now rent office space and do not hide the fact that it's for church services.
Job is consciously avoiding the traditional approach that unregistered house churches once used. "The old house-church movement's relationship with the government is confrontational," he says. "We are looking at coexisting. For them to ask anything of us, we will look at it, and if it's proper, we will do our best to cooperate." Last Christmas, Job's church, together with urban house churches across China, worked with local officials to deliver "parcels of love" to needy families.
It's a strategic gesture, a great leap forward for Christians eager to express God's love for their neighbors. "Government acceptance of us depends on our community contribution," says one pastor.
The success of these new churches, which have never been underground, is having a ripple effect on traditional house churches. "The churches are tired of hiding," says John Davis, elder at the Beijing International Christian Fellowship, the city's main church for English-speaking expatriates. "They have been hidden for so long. They are ready to rise up and be seen, to be salt and light in society."
In Wenzhou, a southeastern city known as the Jerusalem of the Orient, urban church buildings are rising up like bamboo shoots. One Wenzhou pastor, known as Uncle Daniel, led his rural church as it morphed into an urban one as the city expanded. During that time, he became a business owner, and now drives an Audi and owns two homes. He says, "We are becoming both spiritual and sophisticated."
Uncle Daniel is keenly aware of the poverty and persecution of the past, especially during the extremely repressive Cultural Revolution (196676), when Party officials banned all religious activity. He also knows the opportunities that have come as a result of the country's spectacular economic growth. It has given Christians in China access to wealth, education, and influence, and they are using those advantages to make China a more welcoming place for Christian witness. Urban church members are taking the gospel not just to the rest of China, but across Asia and around the world as well. "We want to be part of the global church," he says. "We want to be part of the reinforcement for world missions."