God's Word for Each Person—Worldwide
Todd Nettleton, director of media development for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, Jonathan Brooks, president of the Voice of China and Asia Missionary Society, and Gary Russell, international director for China Harvest, weigh in on whether Christians should continue to smuggle Bibles into China.
Bible Smuggling Is Still Necessary
Remember the sheer size of the Chinese church.
Several years ago, my wife and I delivered a small suitcase of Bibles into the hands of a Chinese house—church pastor. When he opened the suitcase and saw the treasure inside, his face displayed the same look I'd seen on the faces of my young sons on Christmas morning, when they realized "Santa" had left a basketball hoop in our driveway: sheer, unfettered joy.
I think of that pastor whenever I hear that the Chinese church has enough Bibles and doesn't need more than those printed legally in China. I wonder about those who argue against getting God's Word into the hands of as many people as possible by every means available.
One important fact to remember about Bibles and China is that China is still a restricted nation. The Communist government seeks to control Christian activities, including Bible distribution. Yes, China has changed and is changing. But don't let pictures of American preachers or presidents in large, ornate churches fool you into thinking that all of China's Christians are free. They are not.
As you read this, Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan is serving out a three—year sentence at the Qinghe Detention Center of the Haidian Sub—Bureau in Beijing. His "crime": printing and distributing Bibles without the government's permission.
Another important fact to remember is the sheer size of the Chinese church. In a closed—door discussion in 2008, one Chinese government official estimated China's Christian population at 120 million.
China's government—approved Bible printer, Amity Printing Company, boasts of printing "close to 56 million Bibles" since its first print in 1987. But in light of the growth of China's church, that means that in 23 years Amity still hasn't printed enough Bibles for half of China's Christians to have one. Its website says it exports Bibles to "more than 60 countries," and shows pictures of Bibles in English, Spanish, and Braille. So how many of those 56 million Bibles are in Chinese and still located in China?
China is a huge country with a huge population, and huge differences abound in how religion is "managed" in various parts of the country. While Bibles can usually be found in provincial capitals and large cities, they are much more difficult to find in rural areas. Among China's five approved religions, Christianity is the only one whose sacred text the government does not allow all public bookstores to sell. Also, Bibles printed legally do not contain commentaries, footnotes, or other study tools that help unlock the meaning of the text; these tools are, however, included in most Bibles delivered secretly in China.
I am thankful for every Bible legally printed and distributed in China. I hope someday the government will allow enough Bible printing to meet the needs of the growing Chinese church. But until that day, it is vital for Christ—followers around the world to help meet our Chinese brothers' and sisters' need for God's Word.
Even if it's one suitcase at a time.
Bible Smuggling Is Outdated
Owning a Bible printed outside China could draw suspicion about one's contacts.