After my line was successfully inserted on Wednesday, I was well enough yesterday to attend our first church home group meeting in several months. Three of the groups have been supporting a missionary family from Lansdowne who are working in China but home on furlough at present and they put on a presentation of their work for us all (30-40 of us).
They work in Chengdu in southwest China, the capital of Sichuan province. It is a city with a population of 11 million. Like many parts of China it has undergone rapid industrialization with a move from the country into the city. There is much heavy industry but also electronics and financial services to give employment, but smog (as we saw at the Olympics) is a great problem. Forty miles to the north is the Tibetan plain, but usually the mountains are hidden in the smog.
Although, still a communist country, China has undergone great liberalization and in most parts Christians who obey the civil law are in no danger. The recent bloody fighting between Han people and at least 1,000 Muslim Uyghurs in Ürümqi, the city of the Xinjiang Uyghur in northwestern China in which 197 people died with 1,721 others injured and many vehicles and buildings destroyed was quite atypical. It is to be hoped that there is not a backlash against all religions as a result of violence from the mad Mullahs.
The Church in China is either registered or unregistered. The Registered church, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement was an attempt to free China from foreign domination - Western Christianity was tainted by the Opium trade and the Boxer revolution. Today it is made up of mainly older women. But the real growth has been in the unregistered House Church movement with perhaps 50-100 million members nationwide. In Chendu there are many such house churches with congregations of up to 200. Western missionaries generally attend Western Churches that are permitted to exist by the state, but indigenous Christians tend to go to the House Churches. The twain do not mix much to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Keeping them from any flagrant demonstration or triumphalism is key to gaining acceptance from the secular state. Ostentatious displays are likely to draw the attention of the religious police.
What has been noticeable is the acceptance of the good works of the unregistered house churches by Communist Party members. In the earthquakes of 2008, the epicenter was only 48 miles from Chendu, but because of the quality of building construction in the city there was no more damage than was caused by a force 4 earthquake in Folkestone in Kent a couple of years ago. To the north of Chendu the damage was devastating, killing more than 80,000 people, including thousands of children who were crushed to death when their schools collapsed on them. More than 374,000 people were injured and millions left homeless when the 8.0 magnitude quake struck southwestern Sichuan province. Its epicentre was in the mountainous county of Wenchuan, where nearly 24,000 died or were counted as missing - about a fifth of the population.
China launched a massive aid operation immediately after the quake, sending in troops to rescue people trapped in rubble, organise evacuations and deliver aid. Scores of aircraft were also deployed. The quake marked the first time that China had asked for outside assistance to deal with a major disaster. But U.N. agencies and international groups played a relatively minor role - partly because China has significant resources and long experience in dealing with large crises.
My friend and many of the local Christians were prominent among those taking aid to the distressed and local officials did not fail to observe this. I am told that there were suddenly new words in Mandarin for 'donation' and 'volunteer'.
Being salt and light in the world is far better than bombs and bullets in influencing people. In the last year my friends have seen CP members trying to get their children into the free Kindergarten run by house churches for pre-school children. They want some of what they have for their children.