China Rising?

Dear Friends:

Impressive Progress

Dori and I just returned from a fascinating trip to China. Our minds are brimming with impressions from a wide spectrum of sights, sounds, and smells. We spent most of our time in Shanghai, surely one of the most amazing cities in the history of the world. Never have so many buildings been erected in such a short period of time (less than 20 years), and nowhere can you find so many skyscrapers. New York looks small, and short, in comparison. We rode shiny new subways and trains, saw a Shanghai development model that proves that this metropolis has only begun to grow, and visited high-rise malls full of stores, restaurants, and Starbucks coffee shops. In Beijing, we drove past the Bird’s Nest – a futuristic sports arena for the 2008 Olympics – and the Cube, which will host swimming events. We were surprised to see people actually line up for buses and trains, evident fruit of the government’s strenuous efforts to promote “civilized” behavior before the world descends on China next summer. Even the historic buildings featured beautiful new faces, as the process of restoring China’s glorious past rushes into the future. The Forbidden City, Great Wall, and Temple of Heaven are more imposing than ever, and remind you of the weight of imperial splendor. Meanwhile, the television carried constant coverage of the latest Communist Party Congress, trying to convince you that the government is alert to the nation’s problems and well able to solve them.

Fields Ready to Harvest

Christians, too, have reason for confidence and hope. Their numbers continue to expand, with student groups and churches seeing increased numbers in recent years. One of our group and I were invited to give public lectures on several different college campuses, and I taught a three-hour class in a course on the Pentateuch at China’s 3rd-ranking university. Students responded with excellent, informed questions, some of them evincing strong faith in Christ. The State-sponsored church we attended one Sunday was full forty-five minutes before the service. Those coming “late” filled an annex, and then the courtyard, where they sat on little stools. Leaders of house churches told us how they struggled to keep up with high interest and rapid growth. One group has rented a whole floor, where they hold multiple services for about 600 people. Others choose to keep their meetings small, to avoid attention. As in Taiwan, I shared the Gospel with almost all the taxi drivers. But unlike their counterparts across the Strait, eight or nine out of ten indicated strong interest in Christianity. I was simply thrilled.

Clouds on the Horizon

On the other hand, not all is well in the Middle Kingdom these days. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with one of the widest income gaps in the world. I wouldn’t want to run the 50-yard dash in Beijing, the pollution is so thick. The Party Congress openly addressed the crisis of endemic corruption, which eats away at the government’s legitimacy, and seems to be ineradicable. While a couple of taxi drivers praised Mao Zedong, others spoke bitterly of his bloody legacy, which the current regime refuses to repudiate. Most Christians can worship freely, but the police frequently visit pastors whose churches grow too large. You could feel the fear as believers looked through the peephole to see whether the knock came from a friend or the Public Security Bureau. Some groups don’t dare to sing; they simply hum along to a recording. Still, they all display a courage that challenged us to reconsider Jesus’ command to follow in His steps (Luke 9:23-26).

Your Part and Ours

Opportunities abound for Christian academics and English teachers who can give some time to share their expertise with eager and intelligent students. Perhaps the most strategic action you can take is to befriend Chinese in your own community. Even a little hospitality will communicate love to them and may prove to be transforming. We met several who have returned to change China, inspired by their time away. Prayer remains of paramount importance. Ask God to guide and protect faithful believers in China; to raise up more Christian men (75% of China’s disciples are women); and to embolden preachers to proclaim the whole counsel of God, and believers to live out their faith at home, school, and work. Please also pray for us, as we seek wisdom for ways to follow up on this trip personally and in our church; equip Chinese believers here by preaching, teaching, and friendship; and serve an international team who are committed to God’s work among the Chinese. If you haven’t done so already, I invite you to visit one of our Web sites. Responses from those who do are uniformly enthusiastic, but you should judge for yourself. Be sure to search around beyond the home page. There are all sorts of resources available.;; Yours in the Lord of the Harvest, Wright