Category Archives: China

Yes, The News Is Good

As Christians celebrate the risen Christ it is a period to remember that the news is good, not bad. The victory is won, the strongholds have been defeated. So at a time when the news media seem to be relaying little but relentless disaster, it is worth looking instead at some good news.

One of my local newspapers, The Australian, has an excellent article on Easter celebrations in China, where, despite repression, the church seems to be continuing its remarkable growth.

The report focused on two Beijing congregations, the Zhushikou Protestant Church in the south of the city and the magnificent baroque Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

A rock band at the former church was leading 300 young worshippers. The lead singer, Gao Liang, a convert of three years, was prominently wearing a WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? – badge.

At the cathedral – which actually maintains a daily Latin mass – a young congregation of 600 packed the building, with a large screen placed outside for the overflow audience.

The report noted that churches in China seemed especially attractive to those in their 20s and 30s, and it quoted one worshipper who said they came “to seek truth and genuineness, to think, and to find belief.”

The writer of the article, Rowan Callick, is Asia-Pacific Editor with The Australian and also an Anglican lay preacher in my city, Melbourne.

In his report he noted pointedly: “An estimated 100 million people in China have already become Christians – more than the 84 million in the ruling Communist Party. As a result more people worship in China on a typical Sunday than attend all the churches in Europe combined.”

The growth of the church in China is of course not news. I have written about it many times.

Some years ago, when the Dalai Lama paid a visit to Australia, the newspapers were full of stories about the modest growth of Buddhism in this country. I contacted a newspaper editor and suggested a story, that I would write, on what I thought a far more significant phenomenon – the stunning number of Chinese migrants to Australia who were turning to Jesus, very often from a non-religious background.

Take a drive around Melbourne and it is truly inspiring to see how many churches have billboards outside in both English and Chinese. My own Baptist church runs English, Cantonese and Mandarin services, and Chinese worshipper numbers are growing much faster than the English side.

But the editor was not interested. Christians are seldom considered newsworthy, unless they are involved in scandal.

Indeed, “if it bleeds, it leads,” is a common newspaper maxim, and the media this Easter have of course been full of stories about the ghastly, bloody events in Brussels. So it is certainly an appropriate time for us to reflect on those packed Easter-time churches in China – where Christianity was outlawed not so long ago – and to remind ourselves that, yes, the news is good.

Canaan Hymns – The Sounds of Christian China

One of the unexpected joys of doing research for my novel “Brother Half Angel” – set in China, and the first of my Brother Half Angel series of international thrillers – was discovering the gorgeous and moving Canaan Hymns.

These are Christian hymns, to be sung in church – in China.

So they are somewhat different from the hymns we sing in our Western churches. Different from our traditional hymns, and different too from our modern praise-and-worship music.

How different?

The best explanation I can give is that they carry a slightly sentimental tone to them, a sense of nostalgia, with unpretentious melodies and lyrics that speak of the beauty and majesty of China and of a simple life spent in the presence of God. They are slow, melodic and a little dreamy. They are not deeply theological. They will not be to all Western tastes.

When I lived in Japan I became a big fan of the Taiwan singer Teresa Teng, who died tragically of an asthma attack at the age of 42. She specialized in folk songs and romantic ballads, with a voice that was once described as conveying “seven parts sweetness and three parts tears.”

That’s what the Canaan Hymns sound like.

But just as moving as the hymns themselves is the story of how they came to be written.

One night in 1990 a young Chinese peasant girl named Xiao Min, unable to sleep, found a song flooding into her consciousness. Over ensuing weeks and months more songs arrived, unbidden, often while she was at her work in the fields picking cotton.

These were songs about God, about His great love for the Chinese people, about the Christian life of prayer, worship, joy and sacrifice.

Traveling evangelists realized the songs were a direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and began to spread them throughout the country. Soon Chinese believers everywhere, especially those in the underground home churches, were singing these songs whenever they worshipped.

Over the years Xiao Min received many more songs from God, until their number reached around one thousand. They were named the Canaan Hymns.

Go to YouTube and you can find examples, as well as some documentaries about the hymns and about the composer Xiao Min.

Here are some of the lyrics for “Dark Night,” one of my favorites:

In the dark night, flowers are more fragrant.
In the dark night, footsteps become surer.
A journey in the dark is nearing its end.
Stay true to God.

Listen to it here, and experience, as I have, the warm feelings of love and compassion that percolate from these tender and very special hymns.

The Spiritual Void in China Today

As Christianity grows powerfully in China, it should surely come as no surprise that many of the new converts are prominent members of the country’s ruling Communist Party elite, along with their families.

For as the prevailing doctrine of godless Communism is rapidly supplanted by a quest for wealth and material possessions, it is inevitable that a spiritual void is opening in the hearts of many people.

Indeed, as reported recently by BosNewsLife, so many Communist Party members have been turning to Jesus that the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country’s top anti-corruption body, has issued an urgent warning to Party members that they must refrain from all religious activities.

This led a Chinese church leader to declare that “genuine believers in Communism are few and far between nowadays.”

China’s Communist Party has around 87 million members. Though official figures are not available, it is believed that the number of Chinese Christians has grown to at least 80 million, though with some officials suggesting the number may be as high as 130 million.

I recently discussed this rapid growth with several experts, and I suggested that there appeared to be no particular benefits to a Chinese person in turning to the church.

Kody Kness is Vice President of the human rights organization ChinaAid. He agreed that there are no socio-economic benefits to becoming a Christian in China, but saw societal benefits.

He told me that Chinese citizens are searching for alternatives to the government’s official propagation of atheism and are looking to fill a void that neither Communism nor materialism can satisfy.

Thus, he said, people are seeking to join communities that “value human dignity and justice and that refuse to adhere to the corruption and Communist ideology of the Chinese government.”

Dr Carsten Vala, associate professor at Loyola University Maryland and a research fellow at Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society, also saw societal benefits in becoming a Christian.

“Churches provide needed social benefits and an encompassing value system that is a stark contrast to the surrounding moral decay of society,” he told me, adding that many Chinese can see how wealth is corrupting their society.

Thus, in such an environment the surprise is perhaps that more Communist Party members – and others – are not becoming Christians. Though even this might be changing. One sociologist has predicted that Chinese Christians will number 245 million by the year 2030. In other words, China is set to become the largest Christian nation in the world.

China – Ripe for the Harvest

The first novel in my Brother Half Angel series – titled simply “Brother Half Angel” – concerns the church in China. I felt that, despite some intense persecution – or, perhaps, because of it – this was a fast-growing church, and I wanted to highlight its potential.

Brother Half Angel - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013So the novel tells the story of an underground seminary in a Chinese city, managed by a hero of the faith who has spent much time in prison for his beliefs.

Now we are seeing an increasing number of news reports about how the church in China is expanding at a rapid rate. The latest has just been published by Charisma magazine and is titled “You Can’t Ignore the Miracle of Christianity in China.”

It highlights five key points about the church and its growth.

1. China will likely become the largest Christian nation in the world by the year 2030.

2. More Christians attend church on Sundays in China today than in Europe.

3. Spiritual hunger is exploding in China, even though the country is officially atheist.

4. Persecution of Christians is still rampant in China, but it does not seem to be slowing church growth.

5. The growth of Chinese Christianity is linked to its economic growth.

I would add a couple of points of my own. Firstly, there is absolutely no social benefit to be gained from becoming a Christian in China. But it is clear that as China transforms from a Communist society to an increasingly materialist society there is a huge spiritual vacuum in the hearts of many.

Secondly, as the church grows, it is starting to reach out abroad. We see South Korean missionaries just about everywhere nowadays. I predict that soon we shall be seeing Chinese missionaries too.

I can only say a loud “Amen” to these words from the Charisma article:

Many Americans today seem discouraged by evidence of spiritual decline in the West. Now would be the best time for us to heed Jesus’ words in John 4:35: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are ripe for harvest.” Our pessimism has blinded us to what is happening in the East.

China – Will It Become the World’s Largest Christian Nation?

Kody Kness is Vice President of ChinaAid, an international non-profit Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China. He kindly agreed to answer several questions about the outlook for Christians in China today.

There do not seem to be any particular benefits to becoming a Christian in China, yet the church is growing enormously. Why?

The number of Christians in China is on the rise, and scholars have predicted that the number of Chinese Christians today is close to 80 million, thus coming very close to rivaling the number of Communist Party members. In fact, sociologist Dr. Yang Fenggang has predicted that the number of Chinese Christians will reach nearly 245 million by the year 2030, thus making China the largest Christian nation in the world.

A number of faith seekers in China are encountering the word of God through a growing presence of Christian communities throughout China either in the house church movement or the official government-sanctioned “Three Self” church. Although there may not be socio-economic benefits to becoming a Christian in China, there are societal benefits, namely investing in a community that values human dignity and justice and refuses to adhere to the corruption and Communist ideology of the Chinese government. Chinese citizens are searching for alternatives to the government’s official propagation of Atheism and are looking to fill a void that neither Communism nor materialism can fill.

Why are the authorities cracking down on the church right now?

The Chinese government has engaged in a systematic campaign against the church in order to control or suppress the growth of Christianity. There have been reports of promotions of Chinese government officials from the province of Zhejiang, which many speculate are directly related to the perceived success of these recent crackdowns. Historically, the Chinese government has suppressed any people group that out-numbers the Communist Party, and thus threatens its power and control over society. The growth of Christianity has also brought increased scrutiny of a broken judicial system in China, as Christians are being educated in the rule of law and subsequently challenging the government’s persecution of their faith community through court proceedings, in many cases hiring Christian lawyers, whose numbers are also on the rise in China.

To be sure, President Xi’s administration continues to suppress not only religious freedom, but also freedom of speech, especially at Chinese universities. In a recent statement by China’s Minister of Education, any speech condemning the Chinese Communist Party or Socialism, or promoting “Western values,” is now forbidden in the classroom. Chinese government-sponsored campaigns against perceived “Western traditions” appeared this year in several provinces in China, including banning the celebration of Christmas, which is construed as a threat to maintaining Chinese culture. These bans are directly related to the government’s recent crackdown on Christianity.

Might the crack-down be counter-productive? Could it in fact – eventually – end up strengthening the church?

Yes. The persecution of Christians has also emboldened a new generation of believers who seek a higher authority and are willing to sacrifice their own safety and welfare for the right to worship freely. Historically, the Christian church has thrived during times of heightened persecution and China is no exception. In the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, the church in China almost tripled in size after churches were forcibly closed. A similar campaign against the church is under way today in numerous provinces throughout China and the end result could indeed end up strengthening the church, though that is dependent on how far the Chinese government is willing to go in its campaign against the rise of Chinese Christians and their response to that persecution.

Christianity has spread strongly in South Korea, and now South Koreans are a force in church and mission groups globally. Might Chinese Christianity one day exert an international influence?

I would suggest that the Chinese church will indeed become increasingly missional in its spiritual expression and identity, though perhaps more within a domestic context at first and then progressively more outside of China’s borders. That being said, I believe there are already instances of both, as Chinese Christians move throughout China sharing the gospel and training new believers in both spiritual disciplines and their rights under Chinese constitutional and international law to worship freely, and as Chinese professionals travel internationally and subsequently share their faith while abroad.

If Dr. Yang’s predictions are correct, and Christianity grows to make China the largest Christian nation in the world, and simultaneously the country opens its borders to information via the Internet and allows its citizens to travel internationally, there will undoubtedly be a Chinese strain of Christianity that will help spread the gospel throughout the world.

Kody, thank you very much.

Chinese Missionaries – A Trend to Watch

This could become big – Chinese missionaries are starting to make a mark around the world.

An article in China’s Global Times newspaper, titled “Dangerous Mission,” tells the story –

The past decade has increasingly seen Chinese “house church” congregations send missionaries abroad, some with a focus on evangelization in the Islamic world. The missionaries do their best to adapt, learning the local language, dressing, acting and behaving like the local people. But the work can be risky, as apostasy and blasphemy might be against law in some predominately Muslim countries. Religious experts warn that Chinese Christians’ evangelism might cause safety concerns and diplomatic disputes.

The article provides several examples of house churches in China that are intent on sending missionaries abroad, particularly to Muslim countries in Asia.

Gao [Quanfu, head pastor of Light of Zion Church in Xi’an] believes that Chinese Christians have “natural advantages” when evangelizing in many parts of the world. “Most of the countries in Central and South Asia are friendly to China, which makes it easier for the Chinese Christians to preach the gospel in those nations, compared with the Western missionaries.” 

But other factors are at work. I recently interviewed Dr Carsten Vala of Loyola University Maryland and a recognized authority on the growth of Christianity in China. He told me that as Chinese entrepreneurs and nationals increasingly move abroad to work, they are now founding churches around the world. This trend can only grow.

We have already seen sharp growth in the numbers of Korean missionaries serving in numerous countries. I suspect the Chinese are set to follow.

Crack-Down in China – Could it Actually Strengthen the Church?

The strong growth of Christianity in China has aroused interest around the world. But recently we have been hearing reports of a crack-down on the church. Is this a big concern?

Dr Carsten Vala is an associate professor at Loyola University Maryland, a research fellow at Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society and a recognized authority on the growth of Christianity in China. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

There do not seem to be any particular benefits to becoming a Christian in China, yet the church is growing enormously. Why?

There are several reasons. First, rapid economic growth has led to serious psychological dislocation, as many have not taken part in its benefits. Others have been drawn to Christianity because wealth has not satisfied them, and they see how wealth has corrupted society.

Still others are impressed by the example of prominent leaders in the arts, human rights, law, not to mention the rise of the United States. Those who wonder at why the US has gotten so powerful sometimes arrive at the conclusion that Americans have a Judeo-Christian religious culture which China lacks. Lastly, churches provide needed social benefits and an encompassing value system that is a stark contrast to the surrounding moral decay of society.

Why are the authorities cracking down on the church right now?

This crack-down is happening primarily in one province, where the provincial leader is said to be sympathetic to Buddhism, despite his atheist Communist Party credentials. He dislikes the prominence of crosses and of Christianity and has vowed to reduce its public visibility at least.

Might the crack-down be counter-productive? Could it in fact – eventually – end up strengthening the church?

This is much of the lesson of the attempts at earlier Chinese governments to suppress Christianity. Its core doctrines teach believers to expect suppression, and that suppression can be helpful in “winnowing the wheat from the chaff,” by purging churches of weakly committed Christians. When the truly committed remain, they often grow in faith in God and solidarity with each other, becoming ever more devoted to seeing that others experience the same transformations they have.

Christianity has spread strongly in South Korea, and now South Koreans are a force in church and mission groups globally. Might Chinese Christianity one day exert an international influence?

I think it already does. The recent Lausanne Conference invited only unregistered (“house”) church leaders but nearly all 200 were blocked from leaving the country. Chinese are founding churches all over the world, in part because Chinese workers are now all over the world (in Italy, where small textile and clothing factories have sprung up, or in African countries, where workers are building roads and other large construction projects) and in part because Chinese are doing business as entrepreneurs all over the world.

Chinese missionaries are also reaching out to Central Asian and Muslim countries albeit in small numbers, seeking to open up countries that Americans, Canadians, or South Korean Protestants find it difficult to reach. Because Chinese come from a non-Western (or West-aligned) country, they have an easier time gaining entry to such countries.

Dr Vala, thank you very much.

Take Up Your Cross – Lessons from China

The stunning rise of Christianity in China – despite numerous obstacles – is one of the themes of my thriller “Brother Half Angel.” In particular, I wrote about how the government crack-down on the thriving underground house church movement has brought about martyrs, but has also helped raise some strong Christian leaders.

In recent years it seemed that conditions were easing for the church in China, but now the government appears to be cracking down again.

Brother Half Angel - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013Yet the church continues to expand. Numbers are unclear, but one study estimated that there are now some 70 million Christians in China (compared to 83 million Communist Party members) and that this could grow to 245 million by 2030.

More importantly, the Chinese may have some lessons for the West in what it means to be a Christian.

A lengthy article in the Christian Science Monitor included this snippet:

Being a Christian in a country that sees worship as odd or superstitious does nothing to boost one’s status. “There is absolutely no social advantage to being a Christian in China,” says Bob Fu, a pastor who escaped a Chinese police crackdown in the 1990s and now runs Texas-based ChinaAid, which monitors Christian rights in the country. “There are no cookies, no status, no outward rewards, no privileges in choosing Christianity.”

Certainly that is what I wrote about in my novel “Brother Half Angel,” with the main characters forced to endure enormous torment for their faith.

And this is what becoming a Christian in the early years of the church meant – to enter a world of possible suffering and even death. Yet the church grew exponentially in that period

The early Egyptian church – founded by Saint Mark just a decade after the death of Christ, according to tradition – is the best example. Here is the Tour Egypt website:

It was in Egypt that some of the greatest defiances of the Romans by Christians were done. While their Roman counterparts worshipped in catacombs and underground vaults, the Egyptian Christians built their churches openly and performed their ceremonies in full view of the Empire. And for every one that the Empire struck down, more would be converted by the example of the martyr.

Jesus taught that to follow Him would involve suffering. Paul demonstrated this, as did the early Christians. Now the Chinese church too is growing in the midst of pain. It is a lesson for the West.