From one to eighty million believers in a generation . . .
Short wave radio was the entertainment. Three decades ago I lived in a remote area of Indonesia. Those were the days before the internet. We had no local radio, no television, no electricity. It was so bad I used to read the encyclopedia just for relaxation! We could, however, pick up international radio broadcasts, in English, from most of the major countries of the world.
Radio Beijing, coming out of China’s capital, was one of those. Mostly political, it carried a strong signal, some music and was good for background noise through the work day. And through the late 1980s, it was interesting to pick up a political shift in China. I hoped it would one day lead to the re-opening of that massive country to the gospel.
One day I heard some vaguely familiar music coming from my radio, then tuned to Radio Beijing. Enough to draw me from my desk to the radio, I tried to place the tune I was hearing, sung in stereotypical sing-song Chinese. Then it hit me! This was a Chinese woman singing the American song Home on the Range! At that moment, I realized something significant was happening in China, but didn’t know where it would lead.
Writing around that time, Dr. C. Gordon Olson noted in his book What in the World is God Doing?:
When missionaries were forced out [of China] in 1950, there were less than one million Protestant church members. Recent estimates range from 30 to 70 million Christians. This represents the largest influx of new believers into the Christian church, by confession of faith, anytime, anywhere, in two thousand years of church history.
Through my early days as a follower of Christ, I prayed for China. I have to admit, I stopped. I did not see any results. Everything I knew or heard about that country indicated the church was virtually non-existent and powerless. I hoped that God would one day re-open the country, but lost sight of that hope in the busyness of my own ministry.
God had been at work in that seemingly closed country, despite what it seemed from the outside. God used His people, from within, weak as they seemed, to spread the gospel by word, deed and example. The result was church growth unheard of in 2000 years.
Last week I opened this blog series with the biblical thought that Christ intends his church to attack the strongholds of Satan and this world, and to break through their gates (closed countries?) with the gospel. Even when we don’t see it happening, God is at work. China was God’s great revelation to me (and so many others) that the church is and should continue to be a spiritually conquering force in this world.
A man I know personally was in China some years ago. He was taken outside the city by a communist government official with whom he had become friendly. This official took my friend to a hill overlooking a small town. Pointing down he said, “I think you should start a church in that town.”
My friend looked up with surprise and suspicion.
The Chinese official quickly said, “I am not religious. I am a communist and atheist. But we in the Communist party know that Christians make good citizens and workers. They do not steal or lie; they do an honest day’s work for their pay.
“I know that people like you used to start churches in towns like that,” he said pointing downward again. "There is no church there now. It would be good to see one there.”
That was the end of the conversation, but what had he actually said? The government of China recognizes a difference – for the good -- in Christians. The government looks favorably on Christianity. The government does not want the church mixed up in politics, but, then again, they don’t want anyone except themselves mixed up in politics.
Today, China is more open to Christianity than ever before. People are coming to Christ; both registered and unregistered churches are growing. The government is at least passively supportive of the church and, in many cases, is taking active steps to help the church.
Who could have imagined that only 40 years ago?!
Who could have imagined that 2000 years ago?
Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, KJV).
Now we see what he was talking about.
Are there more examples?
Come back to this site next week to read about another gate shattered.