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China, March 2002

Dear Pray-ers,

Thanks so much for your prayers while I was in China. Your prayers were all answered—I remained safe and healthy and enjoyed a wonderful time of ministry.

China was much different than I had anticipated. I imagined that it would be suffering the same kind of post-communist withdrawal as is Russia and Eastern Europe. I found, however, a very modern, technologically advanced country with a burgeoning economy. The airports, hotels and stores were what you would find in the U.S. Willie Nelson and Elton John were singing over the PA system in one large Wal-Mart-like store I visited. The Chinese people are definitely seizing the opportunities that have come with a market economy. (I did not, however, get to visit the countryside, where I understand that people are much poorer. I spent all my time in two major cities.)

It is estimated that “atheist” China has anywhere from 70 to 120 million evangelical Christians, many of whom are members of underground church movements. I was privileged to minister for a week to forty of the top leaders in the 2nd or 3rd largest house church movement. They estimate that there are 3 to 5 million people within their network of house churches throughout China. These leaders were not pastors. Rather, they were responsible to oversee house churches in various regions of the country. The leader who was responsible for the fewest number of house churches was responsible for at least 600. Some were responsible for thousands of house churches.

Of the forty leaders at our conferences, about half had spent time in prison for the crime of obeying Jesus. Several were on the run at the present time, and could not return to their homes for fear of being arrested. However, the primary leader of the movement received word during our conference that their movement had just received official designation by the Chinese government as not being a cult, which meant that, if the government report is true, persecution against them may cease. I learned that the Chinese government doesn’t persecute Christians because they are against their beliefs, but because they are paranoid of political anarchy when so many people band together for a common cause. In any case, the official government stance against the underground church may be changing, but only time will tell. If persecution is ending, it could mean the end of China’s unprecedented revival as the church is flooded with nominal Christians. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 people are born again every day in China.

Although China seems to be joining the modern world in many ways, in some ways they are still far from the mainstream. Married couples are still only permitted to have one child. They must apply for a permit to conceive, and if they conceive after the time period allotted in their permit, they must pay heavy fines. The consequences of the one-child policy are that many children born in China don’t exist as far as the government is concerned, because their parents have kept their births secret. There are also reports of forced abortions, forced sterilizations in some regions, and infanticide of baby girls (who are less desirable than boys). And as the parents of millions of single children now begin to reach old age, the social problems will be vast in a country where one’s children are his means of retirement support.

I spent my seven days in China teaching about discipleship, and found the Chinese leaders to be very receptive, although Chinese people are about the shyest people I’ve ever met. The worst thing that can happen to a person in China is to lose face. So the people are hesitant to answer questions posed to a group lest they give a wrong answer. As we progressed day by day, however, I found the Chinese leaders opening up more and more to participate in my sessions by answering and asking questions. These leaders indicated that their movement’s greatest need is for leadership training, and I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to serve them in a small way. Their dedication to the Lord was a real inspiration to me.

Thanks so much once again for your prayer support while I was there. I’m home now until June, when I will be teaching pastors in Sierra Leon in West Africa, the world’s poorest nation.

Much love in Christ,

David