Working as a part time librarian in a theological college carries certain advantages. One of these is the access I have to a variety of journals, both academic and non-academic, and the rich resources that can be found within their pages. Just yesterday I was reading in EMQ (Evangelical Missions Quarterly), when the following account grabbed my attention. It centres around an American interviewer who visited China to learn about the House Church Movement. The article* addresses the perception that miracles happen in the Chinese church, whereas in the Western church they tend not to. The words contained in the article contain a stiff rebuke to such thinking:
"The Chinese House Church movement is a story of the miraculous. Conservative estimates of believers in house churches in China begin at 100 million. The interviewer was astounded by the church growth observed in three church planting movements. In one location, over 150 house church leaders were being trained. Pastors sat on the ground in rows as other leaders passed among them. They seemed to be tearing pages out of books, distributing them to the people seated on the ground.
In horror, the interviewer suddenly realised these leaders were tearing copies of the Bible into page-sized pieces. He asked what could possibly cause such destruction of God's Word. The answer cut him to the heart. 'There are about 150 pastors here today,' he was told. 'Only five of us own a Bible. We are tearing our Bibles into its separate books and distributing them so that each leader can return home with at least one book to teach from the Bible.'
The interviewer watched as they passed books of the Bible back and forth. 'Have you taught Genesis? No? Here it is.' Rip. 'Have you taught Luke yet? Here is Luke.' Rip. The sound of tearing pages filled the air.
Then the house church leaders began to ask the interviewer questions. One asked, 'Has Jesus made it to other countries yet or has he come only to China?' The interviewer told them of millions of believers in other countries. The church leaders cried out in delight. They were amazed to hear of churches that were free to meet whenever they wished. They were astonished to hear of individuals who personally had several copies of the Bible, in addition to study books.
Suddenly, the house church leader began to cry, 'Why, God, don't you love us like you love the believers in America?' The interviewer could not believe his ears. He asked them to explain their anguish. Their experience rivalled the stories of the apostles. Miracles of healing were common. Thousands were coming to faith in Jesus. Almost half of their pastors had served multiple years in prison for sharing their faith - often starting churches in those prisons. How could they possibly compare those miracles to what the interviewer had told them about America?
They were surprised the interviewer did not understand. 'Which is more miraculous?' they asked. 'That we can divide our Bibles chapter by chapter, or that you can own dozens of them, along with music books and study materials? Which is more miraculous? That Chinese are being healed by the hundreds of thousands and that maybe a thousand of them can discern their healing had come from Jesus - or that you can access doctors and health care any time you choose? Which is more miraculous? That we move from house to house, meet on different days of the week and at different times during the day - or that you can go to church all day, every day, and that no one would ever think of arresting you or your pastor? Which is more miraculous? That we view prison as our theological training ground - or that you can study in special schools set aside for believers? Which is more miraculous?'
It was the interviewer's time to weep. He realised what he had called 'common' in his own country would be considered profoundly miraculous by most of the believing and persecuted world."
*Nik Ripken and Barry Stricker. 'Five Lies About Mission'. EMQ, January 2008.