In April 2007, police in Gansu Province in northwest China arrested pastor Liu Huiwen for allegedly insulting ethnic minorities. How did he do this? After a funeral in a Muslim village, Liu distributed a winsome evangelistic tract, "A Letter to Our Muslim Friends." Local people complained. The police took the pastor into custody and beat him. Last November, a judge sentenced Liu to 18 months in a prison where, according to reliable reports, he is unjustly being deprived of food and medical care.
Christianity in China is "embattled and thriving," to borrow a phrase from sociologist Christian Smith's description of American evangelicals.
The embattled part of the China religion story is relatively well chronicled, whether it's pro-democracy Tibetan Buddhists, underground Roman Catholics, or rural house-church evangelicals. But the story of Christianity thriving in China remains a once and future mystery. Scholars don't agree on when Christianity first blossomed in China. Experts dispute how many Chinese are Christian. And analysts differ on the Communist government's true attitude toward Christianity.
Last fall we sent Rob Moll, an award-winning writer and now a CT editor at large, and Gary Gnidovic, a gifted photojournalist and CT's design director, to China to explore how and why Christianity is thriving. The answers they provided bring fresh light to the phenomenon. So we agreed to devote a major portion of this issue to communicate the Chinese (not the Western) answers to our questions. The cover story package, "Great Leap Forward," begins on page 22 and includes two related articles. The fourth article (page 71) is an interview with evangelist Luis Palau and former Chinese state official Zhao Qizheng.
During their travels, Rob and Gary encountered many memorable believers, such as Beijing restaurateur Bing Chiu. Bing came to Christ as a university student in Nova Scotia. (Outreach to foreign students through organizations like International Students, Inc., is a time-tested model for Western churches.) When Bing returned to China, he worked in advertising for years, but sensed a call to ministry. That's when he opened The Upper Room (upperroomclub.com), which now has two outlets in Beijing. Rob notes how these restaurants provide a new public space to eat and work, as well as a new avenue for outreach ministry. China's new urban Christians are leaping over the barriers of the past. The growth of Christianity in China's mega-cities is one of the most underreported religion stories of this decade.
At the same time, the expansion of these Christian fellowships is proving to be a challenge for both church and state. Churches are desperate for biblically sound training; government officials are anxious about any social movements beyond state control. One of the most unusual aspects of recent Christian growth is the number of Party members who have turned to Christ. Gary told me, "I didn't sense any animosity against the government within the churchonly a desire to be free and help make China better. I heard it expressed more than once that God is blessing China because now there are so many believers."
Pray for Chinafor Bing's thriving, faith-based restaurant and embattled pastor Liu's freedom.
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Our May 2008 China coverage also includes:
Great Leap Forward | China is changing and so is its church. How new urban believers are shaping society in untold ways. (May 9, 2008)
Hungry for Jesus | A Chinese pastor on how he was 'called out of Egypt' to a thriving urban ministry. (May 9, 2008)
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