You wouldn’t find me sleeping in on Sunday growing up. And I’d rarely get to see that opening kick-off at the game. Instead, I’d be waiting for Dad to shake the final hand at church, pull off his necktie, and says, “Okay. Let’s go,” long after the sound system had been silenced and the parking lot cleared.
As a teenager, I felt as though I practically lived at church, and only recently have I realized how much that was taken for granted. In 1944, as the Communists took over China, all religious activities were banned. Churches were closed or burned; pastors, priests and nuns were sent to the fields to become farmers.
The Chinese Christians destroyed their bibles in fear of being labeled “counterrevolutionaries”. Only under the cover of darkness in the secrecy of mountain caves did they continue to meet and pray together. After years of reading the Bible, God’s words had been etched “stroke-by-stoke” on their souls.
This week, I took a journey with Liao Yiwu, a man who embraced exile over silence in order to publish God Is Red, the secret story of the survival and spread of Christianity in Communist China. More than once, my eyes were flooded with tears as I read the stories of such ordinary people that refused to deny their life-changing faith. Each recounted the tale of those trailblazers who first came to China with the gospel of Jesus Christ; foreigners with blonde hair and blue eyes. The missionaries were known for their generosity, building hospitals, orphanages and schools. But soon, the foreigners were kicked out of China, leaving Christianity as only as a small spark in the land.
However, that small spark became a blazing fire, which could not be denied, sweeping across China despite harsh persecution. The spark came as a preacher who would not stop sharing his faith, even inside the prison walls. The spark came as a doctor who gave up the “good life” to bring medical treatment, compassion and Christ to forgotten villagers. The spark came as a reverend, now memorialized in Westminster Abbey, whose tongue was slashed out to keep him from preaching during his trial.
These people, and countless others, were marked as spies and counterrevolutionaries, accused of “poisoning people’s minds with spiritual opium”. Liao shares their tales, unscripted and uncensored, as they battled for freedom of expression and religion. And, all the while, my heart seemed the bleed within my chest, challenged by their continued existence.
What if my faith were put to the test; would I persevere? Am I known, not just for being a Christian, but for my generosity for others? What will my legacy be?
And, though not converted himself, Liao, too marvels at these Christians, “moved by the sustaining power of faith and the optimistic spirit among the congregations he encountered.” Christianity has now flourished in China. According to new surveys, there are now about 100 million Chinese Christians worshipping independently of the government sanctioned state churches. Those who call themselves Christ-followers now outnumber the Communist party.
This is one of those books, that stayed in my heart for days. A book, or really a challenge, which cannot be shaken.