In the past twenty years, central China has been growing cities at a record pace. In fact, 223 villages and towns in central China have reached a population of more than 1 million each, with an additional 250 topping 400,000. The growth presents new opportunities for rural people, who are moving to urban areas in record numbers.
"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, Christian witness in these areas is less than 0.01 percent. It truly constitutes a pocket of lostness — a constellation of lost cities.
"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 2000, a worker used new evangelistic techniques, which were followed by revival.
"About 1,500 people made decisions for Christ in [one town]," Naomi says. "Their influence 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 provinces 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 ten 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 Savior. He was baptized six months after his wife.
"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."
Still, he noticed many couples have marital problems, even among believers. Often, husbands who go to work in cities will set up a second household with a mistress. The Wongs felt working with those couples was very important. 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 write regularly for its publication. The column includes Scripture and Christian perspective.
"We need more training," he 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* 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 fourteen 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," she 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 their house church. 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 three hundred hymns and print one thousand 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
A Snapshot of Lottie Moon's Life
Charlotte Digges Moon was born on December 12, 1840, in Albemarle County, Virginia.
Lottie rebelled against Christianity until she was in college. In December 1858, she dedicated her life to Christ and was baptized at First Baptist Church of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Lottie attended Albemarle Female Institute, female counterpart to the University of Virginia. In 1861, she was one of the first women in the South to receive a master's degree.
Lottie stayed close to home during the Civil War but eventually taught school in Kentucky, Georgia, and Virginia.
Edmonia Moon, Lottie's sister, was appointed to Tengchow, China, in 1872. The following year, Lottie was appointed and joined her sister there.
Lottie served thirty-nine years as a missionary, mostly in China's Shantung province. She taught in a girls' school and often made trips into China's interior to share the Good News.
Lottie frequently wrote letters to the United States, detailing Chinese culture, missionary life, and the great physical and spiritual needs of the Chinese people. Additionally, she challenged Southern Baptists to go to China or give so that others could go. By 1888, Southern Baptist women had organized and helped collect $3,315 to send workers needed in China.
Lottie died aboard a ship in the Japanese harbor of Köbe on December 24, 1912. She was 72 years old.
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
Throughout her career, Lottie Moon wrote numerous letters home, urging Southern Baptists to greater missions involvement and support. One of those letters triggered Southern Baptists' first Christmas offering for international missions — enough to send three new missionaries to China. In 1918, the Woman's Missionary Union named the annual Christmas offering for international missions after the woman who had urged them to start it.