For a long time China was a very closed country. North Americans knew little of what was happening within its borders. They had few connections with this country on the other side of the earth. It was a hidden, mysterious country.
Love constrained the founder of Bonisa Mission, Mrs. Mijnders-van Woerden, to seek contact with Christians in China in the late 1970s. At the time, people wondered whether the church still existed in China after all the efforts to uproot it. In those initial contacts Mrs. Mijnders learned that the Lord had been faithful to his promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). In fact, despite all attempts to the contrary, the Lord had caused His church to grow beyond expectation! Estimates of the number of professing Christians in China now vary from 20 million according to the government to well over 100 million according to some organizations.
Since the late 1970s much has changed. China is much more open. China now welcomes visitors, has more economic connections with us than ever, and is daily in our news. Yet, all the news about China sometimes makes us the more confused about this mysterious country. We hear about great poverty and great wealth; a communist system and free enterprise; a one- and now two-child policy and a growing population.
Much has changed in the churches of China as well. The reports concerning the churches may be difficult to piece together, since they speak of increasing tolerance and increasing repression, freedom of religion and persecution, sound churches and cults, a focus on miraculous healings and a focus on sin and grace. Especially the last couple years reports of repression, online Bible sales being banned, church buildings being destroyed, congregations being disbanded, and church leaders imprisoned have become common. At the same time other Christians testify of good relations with local governments, freedom to continue to worship unhindered, permission to print Christian literature, and engage in Christian programs of charity and care. Which reports are accurate?
One observer of China and its churches wrote, “China is a waffle, a very, very big waffle—not a pancake. Pancakes tend to have butter and syrup distributed fairly evenly, whereas waffles may have butter in one square, syrup in others, both in others, and neither in others! Ridges between the China squares include mountains, sheer distance, ethnicity, language, generations, local authorities, and other factors. Foreigners commonly make the strategic mistake of biting into a square or two and then extrapolating that situation nationwide, hence so many conflicting reports even by relative experts, who feel they know about China because they have been there and seen it first-hand.”
Despite the variety, several things are clear. Today the needs in China are pressing. Amid the increasing prosperity, suffering still abounds among many and the god of materialism is rising among more people than ever. Today churches in China are growing rapidly and so is the need for them to be grounded in God’s Word. As a church leader recently wrote us, “what China needs most now is pastors: pastors with solid theology, godly character, and a pastoral heart.” Threatening skies above the church only make it the more important for churches and individual Christians to be as trees planted and rooted deeply by the stream of the water of life.
China is at a critical point in its history. China is playing an increasingly critical role in the world. Now is the critical time to serve God’s cause in this country.
Amid the varied reports, we know one thing: the Lord alone knows everything about China. He knows past developments and future changes. He not only knows, but also governs in His wisdom and sovereign power, fulfilling His glorious purposes amid all the confusion. Greatest of all, He does so as a God of salvation who is gathering a church from among all nations – especially the largest nation of all, China! That reality gives hope for China.