Dear Praying Friends:
My visit to China in October confirmed and sharpened the impressions I had gained from reading over the past few years. Arriving on the eve of the National Day celebrations, which began October 1 and ran for almost a week, I saw firsthand the immense pride and patriotism of today’s China. Television news featured mass celebrations in Beijing and around the nation. In addition to military displays and formal speeches, colorful programs featuring music and dancing filled the plazas and the airwaves. Energy, enthusiasm, eagerness to revel in the new prosperity, power, and prominence of their country were everywhere evident.
Beijing itself mirrors this recent outburst of growth. Tall, modern buildings have transformed a city once known for its traditional architecture. The old massive city walls have been replaced by multiple ring roads. Construction cranes rule the skies, as in hundreds of bustling cities and towns. Traffic, alas, outpaces the laying of new roads, as China’s burgeoning middle class clogs the streets with automobiles, muscling out the myriads of bicycles that used to bring people quietly to work. Don’t expect strict observance of traffic laws, either!
Especially in the larger cities, the old Mao-suit has been almost totally displaced by stylish dress for both men and women. Millions can read or even speak English, and are fully aware of current events in America. I even watched the Bush-Kerry debate, live, on national television. This cosmopolitan awareness showed up strongly in conversations with educated Chinese. As I was introduced to scholars from several premier universities, the depth and breadth of their knowledge continually impressed me.
Not all is roses in today’s China, however. Rural folk are falling farther and farther behind in the race for prosperity. More than a hundred million country people who have flocked to cities for work still find themselves on the margins of society. As state-owned enterprises either close down or trim their sails in the wake of privatization, millions have been thrown out of work and left without the “iron rice bowl” that once promised cradle-to-the-grave security. Meanwhile, government officials and their children leverage their favored position to get rich, with sweetheart deals, unfair taxes, or even property seizures. As a result, in both large cities and small villages, demonstrations against the government, many of them violent, proliferate. In the past three years, these have grown in number, size, and seriousness, creating great anxiety in the nation’s leaders.
Feeling insecure, rulers in Beijing have launched a fresh campaign to stifle dissent and control potentially unruly organizations. Critics have been silenced or incarcerated, and a general chill has settled on the intellectual community. The church, too, has felt the heavy hand of police action. Over the past few months, hundreds of key leaders have been seized, either for questioning – with the implied threat of worse treatment – or for imprisonment. More than a few have suffered beatings, even death. The communist government cherishes an intense fear and antipathy towards “foreign penetration” – that is, any attempts by non-citizens, particularly Americans, to influence their society. Christians are especially suspect, since more and more young people and intellectuals find the Gospel attractive. In recent months, a number of foreign Christians have either had to leave China or to discontinue their activities, though most have carried on as usual. In any case, the situation is more tense than in many years.
How should believers outside of China respond? First of all, we can pray - for the government of China, for the church, and for expatriate Christians seeking to serve in China. Second, let us take every opportunity to befriend Chinese living overseas, right in our midst. They face no restrictions, and welcome genuine overtures to build relationships. We do this here through two fellowships and through mentoring several individuals. Third, now is the time to nurture a corps of Christians dedicated to study Chinese language and culture. Years of hard preparatory work will pay off later, as the Chinese see their commitment to understand a great and ancient culture. We are training four people at this time. Fourth, we can help develop leaders for China’s growing church. Though most Americans cannot train people in China, we can support those who do. There are many open doors in the U.S.A. For example, China Evangelical Seminary offers extension courses. I am scheduled to teach one in April and another in July. Chinese love to read good books! Publication and distribution of solid Christian literature should be a high priority. I am currently working on two, and have several others in various stages of translation and production. Fifth, by going on short vision trips, we can deepen our understanding of Chinese society, and thus grow in our ability to pray, as well as to love our Chinese friends in this country. Dori is planning a trip for members of our church some time next fall. In His grace, Wright