Sharing a story that touched my heart … a wonderful pastor’s trip in China to teach house church leaders…
A few years ago I made a teaching trip to China. Twenty leaders of the house church movement from a nearby province came together for leadership training.
I was told to be ready to stand up at 8:00 A.M. and teach until 6:00
P.M.- thankfully, with a short break for lunch.
We’d repeat the regimen for three days. It was fatiguing, demanding, and one of the most moving experiences of my life.
They endured a thirteen-hour train ride. Meeting at a pre-determined location, they arrived alone or in twos so as not to arouse suspicion. Gathering together in a small, stifling room, they sat cross-legged on a wooden floor.
Most were humble farmers. Every face was weathered with deep lines that held stories of profound trial and supernatural perseverance.
Sometimes when you speak to a large group, you hope that 20 to 25 percent (on a good day) will actually absorb what you’re saying. In this group, it was every person in the room!
The huge smiles on all the faces brightened their simple clothing. They were hungry and eager to hear from the narrators of the Bible. Their eagerness would extract the best from me. They were soaking in everything as though they would never be in such a meeting again.. . which was certainly a possibility.
When they raised their hands in worship, I saw at least one man with scars from the shackles that had been his companions in prison.
Shortly after we began, to get us more acquainted, I asked them to say a little about who they were. One reported with joy that he’d just been released from serving his fifth three-year term in jail.
His crime? Faith in an unseen Messiah.
“How many others of you have spent time in prison for your faith?” I asked.
Eighteen of the twenty raised their hands.
“If government authorities discovered this non-registered religious meeting, what would happen?”
They answered, “Each would be given a three-year prison sentence, and we would be deported within twenty-four hours.”
“Aren’t you afraid?” I inquired.
“No,” they said with a quiet confidence. “We are not afraid. And if you will teach us for another day, we will stay.”
I commended them for their faith, all the while wondering why they weren’t teaching me instead of the other way around.
Since I knew that each of these veteran saints oversaw large numbers of house churches, I continued my let’s-get-acquainted session by asking, “How many people do you oversee in all the house churches, combined?”
After a moment of quiet calculation, one spoke up. “Twenty-two million.”
I couldn’t believe I’d heard what I just heard. “Twenty-twenty-two million?” I stammered.
“Yes,” he nodded. “Twenty-two million.”
After a few moments, I caught my breath and launched into teaching. We’d brought sixteen Bibles to pass out, leaving a few of the leaders to share with one another.
I had them turn to Second Peter, chapter 1. As we were about to read it out loud, one elderly woman handed her Bible to another leader. I thought that was a bit strange, since Bibles were so scarce, but I didn’t call attention to the matter.
After we began to read, I understood why she had willingly given up her Bible.
She quoted the whole chapter from memory!
During a short break, I asked her how she memorized so much Scripture. “I have much more memorized,” she replied through one of our interpreters.
“But how did you memorize so much,” I asked, “when there are so few Bibles available?”
“In prison,” she said.
Pushing back, I went on. “But if you had a Bible, wouldn’t they confiscate it right away?”
“Yes,” she answered. “So people brought me Scriptures written on pieces of paper.”
“And what if the guards found you with those?” I pressed. “Wouldn’t they take away those as well?”
“Yes. That is why I memorized the Scriptures as quickly as I could. You see, they can take away the paper, but they cannot take away what I have already hidden in my heart.”
By the end of two days, I had fallen in love with this part of God’s family. Realizing my own inadequacy to help them in their daunting task of reaching China, I asked them in our final session together: “How can I pray for you?”
“Pray that we become like you,” was their immediate
One of my newfound friends continued: “We do not have
freedom of religion. We have only a few registered churches,
and when the pews are filled, they turn the others away. But in
your country, you can gather whenever you like.”
He concluded by saying, again, “Pray that we can one day be like
I shook my head sadly. “I can’t do that. I can’t pray for you
in that way.”
“But why?” they asked incredulously.
With a sigh, I explained. “You came here after riding thirteen hours on a train. In America, if church is more than thirty minutes away, people won’t go. It’s too far.
“You have been sitting on a wooden floor without air conditioning for three days. Where I come from, if people can’t sit on cushioned chairs and be in the comfort of air conditioning, they’ll find better things to do.
“You don’t have adequate Bibles, so you memorize Scriptures from pieces of paper. In American Christian homes, we have multiple Bibles per family, but we don’t always read them.
“No,” I said. “I will not pray that you become like us. But I will pray.. . that we become like you!”