Like most active believers I have been on mission trips of varying lengths, and worked in missions most of my life, believing and I still do, that living a life that others see openly and honestly is a good witness and leads to inquiries. This has proven to be true.
But in China none of these assumptions applies. Here there is no presumption of a personal God, or established churches, diverse and active Christian schools, or colleges, or ministries. Even in America when someone trips down the stairs and says, “Oh hell,” others around him know he means a Biblical hell whether they believe it exists or not.
Western civilization is predicated on the existence of God, not just as an obscure creator, or even an indifferent one, but One who set standards and expects results. The moral law and from that the common law rests on these widely held common assumptions are known from Turkey west to the Philippines, half the globe. They are the backbone principles of the Social Contract.
Not so in China. Yes, God is known by name, ShangDi. Stories of him go back thousands of years. But beyond that there is nothing immediate about Him being Himself or His relevance to society today. In some ways this is a convenient advantage to us as teachers of English primarily and missionaries of the gospel secondarily. At least we have very little religious nonsense to dispel.
But neither do we have an underlying sense of importance of life that widespread Christianity imposes on a society. With few exceptions the worst evildoer in any American prison knows he has done wrong. Here, there is no notion of sin or culpability beyond ethical principles handed down through communist society and ancient Chinese proverbial living.
The religious life consists largely of Buddhism and Taoism. To the credit of both of these oriental teachers, neither claimed to be God as did so may kings and potentates in world history. They simply laid down some still-valid rules for productive living. Confucius and other wisdom writers are widely and frequently quoted for good and happy living.
Afterlife may be a place where all dwell, possibly with one’s ancestors, or perhaps a jumping off point to another life. It does not seem wildly important. And with so little interest in the world to come, or the commonly held belief that it needs no attention, we are having some trouble seeing how to make that point.
But there are two handles from which to work. First, there is a great deal of religious activity. Man is a worshipping being and the Chinese have many religious activities. In most businesses there is a tiny alcove where they have an idol, usually a Buddha. Incense, candles and bowls of fruit are there for offerings. I assume they eat it for lunch.
Second, and perhaps the most important one, in any society there are individuals who simply refuse to believe canned ideas, even good ones. Sometimes they are artists, thinkers, and explorers. But as often as not they are simply non-compliant people. To these the missionary must look. Where are they?
Since Jesus said to go to the uttermost parts of the earth Inner Mongolia would really qualify. There is so little "civilization" here but also no sophistication either, almost no American or English movies, kids in their early 20s are NOT dating, probably because they have so little money, and they are ignorant of most of what Americans call daily life. It almost seems a shame to spoil all that. On the other hand ignorance of the greater world, both good and bad, is no advantage either.
Most people own fish in great supply and they gather every day in the
Park with cages of birds to barter and exchange, like our yard sales with all
The old men wandering about. After all they don't have churches or that kind
of social life so the public park takes that place in their lives. Religion
has been banned until recently.
As always, the problems of the missionary are living conditions and language difficulties. We have our share of all that – no hot water, no consistent internet and new foods. A toilet with a seat is a rarity, and don’t expect toilet paper unless you carry it. After 3 weeks with no hair cut and just now getting some clothes washed we feel as though we are under siege.
They work very hard and seem hopeful; all this is a good foundation for the gospel.
For over 2 weeks the sun did not shine – I kept thinking “He who has the Son has life.” Not much life here. The Son is not here and things are drab. However, after we left China and entered into Mongolia, the atmosphere changed. Things looked cleaner, the roads were better, although the dark outlines of sheer threatening rock made you think you were on the moon.
Our school was planning to assign us 500 students for 2 weeks summer school (there are 4 teachers) – and we were appalled. We could not begin to teach conversation to that number so we divided the classes in half using current staff and doubling our class hours. We spent 15 hours working on the curriculum and then, the first day when I stepped into the classroom, the Holy Spirit clearly said, “And the Lord God loves them all.” It filled my heart with joy. There is no love, or enough love in an individual person to love all men as He does. It verified to me that we were in the right place at the right time doing His will.
Most of these students are poor, coming from the farming provinces where incomes are $100 a month. You can tell by their rotten teeth that they have very little income. (Of course eating raw garlic for breakfast doesn’t help much either.) If we give them a Bible it may be the only book they own outright. Students have books on their assigned desks but they never take them home and they are well used.
In addition to teaching English, we are here for the Kingdom’s sake. The Catholic Church is a small light. We were surprised of course, but perhaps under the glare of persecution people forget about the Home Office in Rome and follow the Bible. The church was packed with 200 Chinese and they had that saved-glow. (But the Muslims have opened a school here and they have all that oil money to recruit students.) There are another over 1 million people in town and a drawing area of 5 million.
So our plans now include a small Bible and book store downtown on the mall, which has huge traffic, and we will invite our students there to study and converse in English. Also we would like to have American films to watch, drinks and snacks in addition to Bible studies. It means locating money for rent and utilities plus advice of dealing with foreign businessmen. We have about 500 Bibles coming this week for the students– with Mandarin on one side and English on the other. We will let them read it in class for about 10 minutes, (yes, we are allowed to teach the Bible in China!) and then we take up the books at the end of the class.
Well you know teenagers!! They are going to want to see more of the book. With only 50 minutes in class and no real time to work one-on-one we think the tutoring in English in a public place draw them in. Whenever we walk downtown the young couples and little lids come up to speak English; older people stare. There are probably fewer than 5 English-speaking individuals here, and certainly hardly ever a grey head of hair on white skin. With that kind of curiosity and interest we could get people into the Bible store I am sure. If we offer free tutoring that will be unique too. Upper class Chinese have private schools so these poor kids know they are not getting what others have. We think it will work
We also have a copy of the Mongolian Bible. One evening while we were at supper a man who spoke no English came into our dinner table area and asked about a book. Our fulltime interpreter said he was a Christian. We gave him a free Bible and now await hearing from him that he needs more. This is exactly what Paul and Company did – they arrived in town and things started happening.
China is a country which has many religions, there are Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, Christianism.
My tutor took a Bible this Sunday and was very thankful saying, "I have heard this is a very important book." He seemed to be interested in the O.T. too so maybe Nelson can find me a bilingual copy. With so much material out there something is bound to happen. Mr. Yong said he would put a cross in our break room.
According to statistics, there are 0.1 billion believers.
The most important religion is Buddhism, the history is longest than others, having history more than 2 thousand years, nowadays, there are all kind of temples over 13 thousand, there are 200 thousand monks and nuns.
Islam went around China 1300 years ago, this religion is believed by some minorities, such as Hui, Uigur nationalities etc, there are almost 18 million believers, now, there are 30 thousand mosques and 40 thousand imams.
The third most important are Confucianism and Daoism, they are local religions with 1700 years’ history, currently, there are 1500 palaces and 25 thousand clergies.
Christianism was transmitted into China in 19th century, prevailing very soon after entering, today, there are 10 million Christians, 18 thousand priests and missionaries, 1.2 thousand churches and 25 thousand simple cites for religious activities.
Catholicism entered into China in 7th century, prevailing after 1840, at present, there are 4 million Catholics, 4 thousand clergies, 4.6 thousand churches.