Yellow River Country
Just over 400 kilometres south of Beijing is a city called Jinan, in the province of Shandong, one of the most populous and affluent provinces in China. Shandong has played an important role in the nation’s history and served as a pivotal religious area for Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism. Today, Shandong is a province where Christianity is in the midst of tremendous growth.
Built on the shores of the Yellow River, the second longest river in Asia, Jinan has been inhabited for over 4,000 years and is home to over 7 million people—more than twice the size of Toronto.
For the final three days of our distribution, our team visited 10 churches surrounding Jinan, specifically in the county of Qihe (pronounced “chee-huh”), in which there are 87 churches. Led by a dynamic leadership team, including Pastor Kong and Pastor Liu, churches are vibrant and outward looking.
The answer to my question of whether or not Bibles were being shared was revealed in six churches where our Gideons team had visited in November, just two months prior to this visit. Notice had been given to the congregations that foreigners would be making an appearance at the church on this particular day—the perfect opportunity to invite someone to hear the gospel message.
At the beginning of each service, the pastor would ask how many people were visiting for the first time. In every case, dozens of people would raise their hands, most of them sitting in the best seats in the room, many of them men.
After preaching a gospel message, one of the team members or translators would then give an invitation: if you want to commit your life to Christ, stand up and come to the front of the church.
It was stunning to watch the number of people who rose and made their way to the front. There was barely enough room on the stage for the throngs of people who responded to the call. Some came with tears streaming down their cheeks. Other faces were shining with joy, while still others were uncertain but determined.
When everyone who wanted to come was on stage, they were led in a prayer of commitment, given a message of encouragement, and then offered the gift of a Bible. In some cases, the church would take down their names and contact information for further follow-up.
The skeptic will question the motivation of each individual who came forward. What were they responding to exactly—a free Bible? Was it to shake hands with a foreigner? Was it to silence their mother’s nagging? Or was it a sincere response to the gospel?
I’m sure the answer is “yes” to each of those questions. But regardless of the reason for them coming forward, they left the church that day with a Bible in their hands and the gospel message ringing in their hearts.
What we do know—without a doubt—is people came to those services because two months ago someone in their life had received a free Bible and a challenge to share it with someone else.
After each service, we interviewed some of the people who had responded to the gospel that day. Time after time, we heard the same story: someone had invited them to church and in some cases given them a Bible to read. A man’s wife, a man’s mother, a friend, a neighbour...someone who cared enough to put forth the invitation.
We would see people with tears running down their cheeks, and hear from them that they had responded because they finally felt like their sins were forgiven. They had felt the pull from the gospel message and stepped forward.
By the end of this distribution trip, we’d shared 9,000 copies of God’s Word, in various formats, and had seen over 840 people make a new commitment to Christ in 14 church services.
Continue reading part three of The Gospel Flow