SARS Didn't Stop Our Mission to China
Connection Magazine's mission to China was attacked, up-ended and re-routed. However, God's hand made a way where there seemed to be no way and the mission was more successful than we imagined it could be.
by Editor, Jon Hanna
||In Communist China: Connection Magazine Editor, Jon Hanna shares a joyful moment with a very happy group of hotel staff after they prayed and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and received free bibles. This was an unprecedented event in which a worship service was conducted in a public place by Revival Fires World Missions without a government official or Chinese pastor present.
Many may think of China as a nation of Buddhism, when the reality is that the official religion is atheism and the practical religion is materialism. On our recent mission to China, I've personally observed a spiritually hungry people in a nation of 1.3 billion people, and given an unexpected, history-making opportunity to openly and freely (within limits) share the message of Jesus Christ.
Today, China is in a great transition, according to Chuck Todd of Revival Fires World Missions (RFWM), of Branson, Missouri, who has been a leader of China missions trips since 1999. "They're (China) trying to bring in an element of capitalism and freedom and make it work but they don't want to lose control in the process like Russia did when they quickly abandoned communism," said Todd.
While there are many reports of China obstructing freedom of religion and committing human rights violations in the process, there are recent attempts on China's part to correct this problem resulting in new opportunities for Christians to share the good news of Jesus.
In May, Connection Magazine helped to sponsor a special mission to China in cooperation with RFWM, and our goal was to conduct worship services and distribute Bibles at communist controlled churches in the Guangdong Province in Southern China. In addition to my wife Christine and I, there were fifteen other volunteer missionaries on this short-term mission trip. Most of us received mockery and/or admonition from friends and family for attempting to distribute Bibles in China at a time when SARS was getting an extraordinary amount of prime time press. Now that we're back in the U.S., even after ten days, many volunteers are still being shunned by friends and family members who fear SARS.
Lynn Bradley of Salem, Oregon received harassment from fellow workers when they learned he was going to China. "They thought I was stupid. They went to management because they were afraid. Now I get to stay home for 10 days. Six of those days I'll get paid for."
The mission had been planned since last summer, well before the SARS epidemic. We prayed diligently for God's direction. Some were led to cancel (approx. 13) which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, and my guess is that this allowed for a higher percentage of faith driven people to attend.
Our visit to China, in spite of SARS, was very impressive to the Chinese people. Nancy, one of our translators from China, said that it meant a lot to the Chinese people to know that we were there sharing God's love and message of Jesus, in spite of an appearance of danger to our lives. The key is that we all had faith in God's promises of protection. The specific verse that God planted in my heart just weeks before we departed for China is Proverbs 3:25 &26, which basically says 'do not fear sudden calamities or the trouble of the wicked but rather make the Lord your confidence and He will keep your foot from being snared'.
Initially our heavily challenged visit to China was with permission of the Chinese government and we were scheduled to visit approximately ten churches in an area hundreds of miles away from where we eventually stayed. When high ranking government officials had discovered that seventeen Americans were still scheduled to visit China in spite of the advance of SARS, they attempted to cancel our visit. When they discovered that we were already in flight they threatened the life of the Chinese leader who facilitated our mission, 'If any of those Americans gets SARS you will be put to death'.
Under the new circumstances, we now entered Communist China without express government approval for Christian missions work. Now unable to visit the churches on our original itinerary, new plans had to be made. In answer to prayer, God opened doors at five other communist controlled churches. Although the government had issued orders that many large public gatherings be cancelled and limited their churches to Sunday services only, we were still able to gain favor from area pastors to conduct worship services and to distribute Bibles at their churches. Although I expected these government appointed pastors to be nothing more than bureaucrats, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that some were born-again Christians. Describing her journey of faith, one Chinese pastor explained that, while she had grown up in a Christian home, she didn't accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior until she was fifteen.
Our group divided into three teams and conducted as many as three services at each of these churches. Large crowds attended many of these worship services and appeared to show no regard for SARS. Although, in the community we noticed as many as five percent of the general population in our area wearing protective masks. We also observed some who were walking with their hand in front of their nose and mouths in a vain attempt to stay germ free.
Many dozens of children and adults at the churches approached us for special prayer after the services had officially ended, and several of those we prayed for believed that they had SARS or the symptoms of SARS. We prayed with them according to the book of James, chapter 5, which tells us that we can lay hands on the sick and they will recover. Countenances were instantly changed. The power of God was so strong that some appeared to be transformed into new and different people right before our eyes.
Many of those who received a Bible from us gathered around us after the worship services in order for us to sign their Bibles.
The people of China were very intrigued by us Americans. Even in public, their fascination with us wasn't easily concealed. A simple smile or wave from an American evoked joyful reactions. Many would stop and stare and some even followed us in wonderment. They smiled so easily and many had a child-like innocence that warmed our hearts. It was very easy for us to love them.
Hundreds of Chinese accepted our invitation for them to pray and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Many others renewed their commitments to walk by faith in God's love and His free gift of salvation, the forgiveness of their sins through the shed blood of Jesus. Describing the spiritual impact of our work in China, short-term mission volunteer, Rhoda Mills of Seattle said, "It was so joyous! It was like childbirth."
Although we had been blessed by God with unexpected favor and opportunity to bless the Chinese people, some of our first days there were spent doing little more than prayer, shopping for souvenirs and spending time at an internet cafe for roughly thirty-five cents (American) per hour. While things didn't work out as planned and in spite of some adverse conditions, most of our team members continued to have faith and spoke faith concerning our mission. Seventy-one-year-old, veteran mission volunteer, Marie Coleman of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York was not shaken at all. " I expected plans to be changed because the (Chinese) culture is different." She added, "Everything went along nicely and we had the chance to (share with) people we didn't think we would."
Some of those we were unexpectedly able to share the good news with were staff members at the hotel we stayed at. Many of the staff at our hotel were so intrigued by our presence that hotel officials invited us to make a special presentation. Under the guise of sharing songs and answering their curiosity surrounding our visit, we had an unprecedented, history-making opportunity to share the gospel message. Cleveland's own Christian vocalist, Iran (Pete) Figueroa sang several songs to a very receptive crowd where only the Holy Spirit could have interpreted with such a powerful anointing. Others sang and shared words of encouragement. I was also granted opportunity to share the message of Jesus' power and love that transformed my life.
In an event that lawfully wasn't suppose to happen, twenty-four Chinese hotel staff members publicly stood and openly confessed their need for Jesus Christ, and prayerfully invited Him into their lives. We presented them all with free Bibles and by the end of this impromptu meeting the joy of the Lord was extremely evident upon all of them, as well as all of us.
Yes, the devil battled us in an attempt to keep us out of China, and even today we are still made aware of how angry he is that we shared God's truth and distributed over two-thousand Bibles in China. By taking Bibles to communist controlled churches we have even reached the underground church as reportedly many members of the underground church get their Bibles at government controlled churches. I'm confident that with the many prayers of Connection Magazine readers and God's help, we did major damage to the dragons domain and helped to set the captives free.
I believe that because there is new and unprecedented access to China, that the SARS epidemic is just satan's attempt to scare Christians away. Now is not the time to avoid China, but rather the perfect time to visit China with faith, God's love and His message of mercy, grace and healing. Right now there is an exponentially greater lack of sharing the gospel in China than in America.
One of our team members who wishes to remain anonymous has already visited China on six separate occasions and knows first-hand the current reality of reaching the Chinese with the good news in new and greater ways. "I shared the gospel with twenty-three young Chinese people at a cell phone company and twenty of them prayed with me to accept Jesus. I was able to give all of them Bibles," he said.
Other opportunities exist in China of which I am unable to write about because it's still outlawed for an American to distribute Christian tracts in China, although Chinese citizens are normally not prohibited from this practice. By working with a good Chinese translator and the Holy Spirit, the ministry opportunities in China are seemingly endless at this time.