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China’s constellation of lost cities of countless millions

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support more than 5,600 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. The 2009 Lottie Moon offering theme is “Who’s Missing, Whose Mission?” It focuses on overcoming barriers to hearing and accepting the Gospel in various parts of the world and the mission that the Great Commission gives all Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations.” The 2009 Week of Prayer for International Missions is Nov. 29-Dec. 6. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.

BEIJING (BP)–In the past 20 years, central China has been growing cities at a record pace: 223 villages and towns in central China have reached a population of more than 1 million each, with an additional 250 topping 400,000.

For rural people, who are moving to urban areas in record numbers, the growth presents new opportunities.

“Salaries are much higher in the cities, so these cities are experiencing an influx of people,” says Naomi*, a Christian worker. “One city may have a population of about 1 million people, but it might grow to 6 million in just a few years.”

Still, in this central China’s constellation of lost cities, Christians comprise less than 0.01 percent of the population.

“In addition to the cities, we try to work with the villages because many of [these people] will go to the cities,” Naomi explains. “If we can reach the family, then they will send a believer’s influence to the city.”

The progress happening today is built on the past. When China closed its borders in the 1940s, prayers for believers there did not stop. Neither did God’s Spirit. When workers returned to survey the areas decades later, they found more believers than when the borders closed.

“We found young people who said they believed because their grandparents had told them about Jesus,” Naomi says. “Even when conditions were very difficult, their families found ways to explain their faith.”

Southern Baptist work continued in the 1990s among the house churches there. In a spark of revival in 2000, about 1,500 people made decisions for Christ in one town. “Their influence,” Naomi notes, “has spread to other areas.”

The Wongs* and the Chos* are two couples who found faith during that revival and moved to one of the population centers to work.

Mei Ling Wong* says she was a tough case. Her older sister had moved to the city earlier, but each year she returned to their hometown to witness to her family.

“It took 10 years,” Mei Ling says. “At first I told her burning incense and worshipping our gods had been part of our culture for thousands of years. I would not believe in a foreign god. Then she said the offerings we give to our ancestors, to our gods, could not have been taken by the gods. Those gods did not have hands, did not have arms, so they could not take the offerings. I never thought about that.”

Traditionally, she says, Chinese are Buddhist, but they also worship their ancestors and the gods in nature. Most villages have a banyan tree, and everyone worships that tree.

“I asked the name of this foreign god, and my sister said He is the heavenly God of all things and Jesus. I knew then I had to believe in Him.”

Mei Ling’s husband, Samuel*, took a little longer to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.

“Mei Ling is my second wife,” Samuel says. “My first marriage ended in divorce before I became a believer. If either of us had been a believer then, we would have known much more about how to make our marriage work.”

Samuel noted that, even among believers, many couples have marital problems. Often husbands who go to work in cities will set up a second household with a mistress. Sensing the importance of working with such couples, Samuel and Mei Ling began counseling them in building Christian marriages.

“We counsel some privately, and we also have marriage enrichment seminars,” Samuel says. “I write for the newspaper each week to offer advice for believers who want to improve their marriages.”

The local newspaper became interested in the Wongs’ ministry after they printed brochures and distributed them in the community. The newspaper asked him to begin writing a column, in which he includes Scripture and a Christian perspective.

“We need more training,” Samuel says. “China does not offer this kind of training.”

The Chos agree that training is essential to what they do as well. However, their focus is on children.

“For us, counseling families about their children is important,” Dae Ling Cho* says. “When couples become believers, they don’t know how to raise their children. If they do nothing, the children won’t study, and they won’t succeed in life. We try to give them scriptural principles to help.”

Dae Ling’s path to becoming a Christian took her a little farther from home. She moved to Europe for six years to study. A friend began sharing her faith, encouraging Dae Ling to pray the sinner’s prayer.

“My friend became a believer because someone else witnessed to her and gave her a Bible. She began at the beginning and read only one sentence per day. After 14 days, she knew she didn’t have to be afraid of the dark anymore because God was there. She turned her life over to Him. She gave me a Bible and a book to read. I became a believer in 2002.”

After she returned to China, friends introduced Dae Ling to Daniel*. She shared her faith with him and he also became a believer. They dated and eventually married. Today they minister to families.

“The work we do gives us ways to discuss our faith,” Dae Ling says, “but it also gives us opportunities to share with those who do not believe yet.”

Both the Wongs and the Chos return to their rural hometown often to help with a house church there. In addition, they help coordinate efforts when volunteer groups come to the area to work with children and share their testimonies. Then Chinese co-workers follow up.

“They are very good at follow-up,” Naomi says. “We’ve found it’s much more effective to train the Chinese and let them lead. They have ideas and move in directions we would never think about.”

Ideas like ministering through music.

For example, Chinese co-workers used their own money to compile more than 300 hymns and print 1,000 copies for distribution.

“All of the hymns were written by Chinese,” Naomi explains. “They are native to this country — not borrowed from us.

“The Chinese love music,” she continues. “Many times, these believers will enter the villages singing, and that attracts people to come to them. It gives them an opening to share Jesus.”

No one really knows the number of believers in China. Official estimates stand at about 70 million, but some believers still don’t go on record with their faith.

“There is still so much to do,” Naomi says. “Volunteer groups coming in have helped, but we need more. We need others to come and see the needs.”
*Names changed. Kathie Chute covered this story for the International Mission Board.

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  • Kathie Chute