Having read my book review of ‘Knowing our Times’, an individual picked up on the comment, ‘John contrasts this with the phenomenal growth of the gospel around the world in places such as China’. What follows is Part III of a guest post by an individual based in that country. You can read Part I here and Part II here.
Vincent is a co-worker at my company. At the age of 16, he went to study abroad in the USA where he sought out a local church that spoke Chinese. He had been influenced by his mother. She went to Church on occasion and had some bibles at home. His mother had even encouraged him to seek out Christians in the USA so that he could learn more about his mother’s faith.
One of my company’s customers was based in another city. Vincent and I took the four-hour drive together to visit them. This gave us plenty of time to chat in the car as I drove. I spoke to him about how I went to church each Sunday and he immediately started asking where I went. I explained that we didn’t meet at a state church but, rather, we met at a house church.
He seemed to understand immediately. Despite the acquisition of my company by a US competitor, I was initially very happy that in this new environment I had found a kindred spirit. Vincent seemed to believe in the same Jesus as me. We spoke for some time about how great it was that God changes us and makes us into a new creation.
However, after a while, he started to ask me what version of the Bible I used. This began to arouse my suspicion. It’s not that I am a purist, recognizing only one accurate translation or version. It’s that until recently in China, there was only one official version of the Bible available in the local language, so talk of another version made my ears prick up.
‘We use the Recovery Version’, he said to me cheerfully. I had to admit that I had never heard of it! He happily told me how, in his church, they needed the Recovery Version of the Bible as it had lots of notes on the text which was impossible to understand on its own. It soon became clear that Vincent believed they were the true church and any church using another version of the Bible was full of apostates and the unsaved. Later on, searching for the Recovery Version, I found out that each page had more explanatory notes than actual Biblical text. Interestingly, the man who translated it had also written the majority of the notes.
Continuing the conversation with Vincent, I asked him how he became a Christian. He told me, ‘I called on the name of the Lord and that was it – I was in’. It sounded a bit strange to me so, I pressed him further on what had actually happened. He said, I literally just stated the words ‘I call on the name of the Lord’ and somebody told him that made him a true believer. No repentance and no sanctification. He believed, under the influence of this cult, that he had received salvation. Now, it was his job to tell as many people as possible that they could receive the same, if only they ‘call on the name of the Lord’ just as he had done and religiously study the notes in the Recovery Bible.
Despite 7 years working with Vincent, still seeing copies of the Recovery Bible in his office and following numerous in-depth conversations, there has been no change in him.
Emma was the daughter of one of my father in law’s friends. Her mother was a mid-level official in the Northwest. Every year they would visit our city to catch up about old times.
From around the age of 17, we had shared the gospel with Emma on several occasions. As she graduated from high school, going on to University, we continued our contact with her. She would even come and visit us in the holidays, trying to get a taste of what the big city and do some job hunting.
After Emma graduated, she managed to find a job in a city 20 minutes away by high-speed train. She didn’t know anyone in her new city and she soon became lonely. Her Mum had given her the task of finding a boyfriend and getting married before she passed the ‘ideal’ age of 26. Despite living in another city, she made the 90-minute door-to-door journey to meet with our church with a fervour we wished others living much closer might have.
A year later, her big opportunity came and she moved to our city. Having come into contact with the gospel and coming along to church, she told us that she wanted to be baptized. She could clearly state the basics of the gospel message and appeared to exhibit evidence of a changed life. She was baptised just over 1 year ago.
In the meantime, she still has no boyfriend and now wants to change jobs again. The money she is on, despite being one of the best paid people in the church, is just not enough for her to make her fortune. She is grateful for how the Bible has helped her become a better person but now intends to go on a business course to help her get a new job. She also hopes this will help her move in better circles, so she can find a husband. The course runs all day on a Sunday and she has stopped coming to church for some 6 weeks.
This is indicative of the many different reasons people engage with the church. Deep down, it appears everyone has their different priorities and agenda for coming to church. The assumptions on the numbers of Chinese believers coming into the church rarely seem to take account of these sort of stories, many of which appear to an insider as the norm.