With 2700 people coming to faith daily in China – at a conservative estimate – there are never enough Bibles. Bible Society Australia’s Melissa Lipsett was in China recently and saw first-hand the deep hunger for the word.
It was clear that something exciting was happening. As we bumped our way up the tiny laneway in China’s Shandong Province, every available space on either side was filled with tiny farm vehicles and motorcycles. In front of us we could see a rough wooden cross rising above a tiled roof. It signalled that we had arrived at a small rural church, where hundreds of believers had gathered to receive a new Bible or to replace one so old it had pages missing. They were all waiting expectantly, and the excitement was palpable as we made our way in through the little courtyard to join the 300 in the tiny church building.
We were welcomed, songs were sung, prayers were said (including The Lord’s Prayer in perfect unison), but it was the tears that moved me the most. Tears of joy, tears of gratitude, tears because the gift of a Bible was the most precious gift we could possibly give. One woman held her Bible to her heart and declared exactly that: “The Bible is the most precious book to me. Through it I see God.”
I saw God that day too. I saw him in the faces of people for whom life is very hard and who look to him for their strength. I saw him in the tears of elderly women who held my hands tightly as I passed them the precious gift of his word, and who told me that life was better now that they had learnt to read using the Bible. I felt him in the gnarled hands of the men folk who reached out eagerly for the Book of Life, too. I saw him also in the eyes of the young woman who refused to take a Bible, even though hers was very torn and worn, knowing that someone needed it more than she did, someone who didn’t have one yet. And she’s right, because all across China there are billions of people who haven’t got access to a Bible yet.
With the rapid growth of the church in China, it’s not unusual to see people spilling out of the worship hall into the church courtyard. Rural villagers walk for hours to attend services. And all these new believers need Bibles.
Thanks to Bible Society Australia donors, and donors worldwide, funds were raised to produce 1.26 million (out of the target of two million) affordable Bibles for distribution in China last year. But there is still a huge shortage. This year, 3.34 million Bibles have been approved for printing and distribution by the Church in China. The only thing that’s missing is the funding for Bible paper.
New readers’ pride
The tiny room was crowded with smiling women. Clearly, they were very pleased with themselves. And no wonder. Each was a new reader, having learnt their new skill from the Scripture literacy class facilitated by the rural church. At first, they were shy about demonstrating their literacy prowess but, one by one, with the encouragement of their facilitator, they opened their booklets and read to us. As they reached the end of a passage or a few verses they grinned broadly and proudly.
One woman said, “I learnt how to read and write, and it has made my life better.” Another said, “I graduated, and then I became the leader of the gathering point. I feel so happy and my spirit is happy.” Still another said, “The Bible is the most precious book to me. Through it I see God.”
I assured this beautiful woman that God sees her too and she readily agreed – she knows he does because she has been able to read the Bible for herself.
Nationally, on average, there is one ordained Protestant pastor to 6700 Christians. There is a great need to train pastors at Bible seminaries and provide lay preachers with Bible resources.
Kong Jinxiang a volunteer lay preacher in Shandong province, was immensely grateful to receive a set of Bible resources thanks to the generosity of donors like you. “Receiving these Bible reference materials is like receiving precious jewels,” he said.
Melissa Lipsett is Chief Operating Officer, Bible Society Australia