Preaching in the People’s Republic of China

By John Maddocks

One of the most frightening experiences of my life was standing in line in the Shanghai airport, waiting to pass through customs. It was March 1997, and I can still remember the feeling of panic that swept over me as I made my way to the uniformed soldier in the little glass cubicle. He sat there in his little booth, with the power to deny entrance to the People’s Republic of China to any he deemed a security risk. This was my first time entering China, and I had absolutely no idea what would happen when it was my turn to face him. I just stood there, silently praying that God would help me.

It’s not that I haven’t crossed a few borders in my life. I am presently preaching in St. Cloud, Florida, and have been for over six years. But my nationality is Canadian, and I grew up in Jordan Station, Ontario, just a few miles from the New York State line. I have crossed the US/Canada border hundreds of times. I have had a few bad experiences with border guards who were a little power crazy; once I was even turned back from the border in Detroit, Michigan, and denied entrance to the USA. But all that meant was trying another crossing area where entrance was allowed. 

But now I was in Shanghai. If I was turned back here, that was it; there would be no second chance, no other border to try! To make matters worse, my bags and the bags of my traveling companion, David Spiece, were loaded with Bibles and an abundance of printed religious material, forbidden in this Communist country.

The People’s Republic of China is an incredible country. It covers an area of 3.7 million square miles, and is populated by approximately 1.3 billion people. Its neighbors are Russia and Mongolia to the north; North Korea in the northeast; the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan in the northwest; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan to the west and southwest; and Burma, Laos, and Vietnam to the south. Having read that list of neighbors, can’t you just feel the tension that must reign on China’s borders? There are nearly 400 ethnic groups in China, with the majority, approximately 92%, being the Han people. There are numerous dialects spoken. In fact many cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, have their own peculiar dialect, but most Chinese also speak Mandarin, the national language of the People’s Republic. 

China is a country on the move. Gone are the closed doors to the Western world. Foreign investment and tourism are now not only allowed, but encouraged. In cities like Shanghai and Beijing there is a continual state of rapid growth. The skylines show evidence of new structures being erected everywhere you look. Many of the brethren in China work for what are called joint-ventures companies. These are partnerships between Chinese and foreign companies. I have friends in China who work for joint ventures between China and Finland, China and France, and China and Australia, just to name a few. Though there is still a huge part of the population that live as peasants, there is also a growth in what we would call the middle class. Televisions, video players, stereos, cellular phones, and computers are now in the hands of many Chinese. China is rapidly becoming a very affluent and materialistic society. On a darker note, abortion is the number one form of birth control, and premarital sex is common. Because of the “one child” policy in place since the late seventies, most young families have only one child, and that has led to a generation of spoiled children. Since it is generally true that both husband and wife work, it is often the case that grandparents take on the role of parent as they are left to raise the children. I know of a situation in Shanghai where the father and mother only see their child on the weekend. This is a case, not of choice, but rather of necessity.

My desire to travel to China was flamed into existence in my high school years. My school had many students from Hong Kong, and I befriended many of them. As they told me about their home, a great desire filled my heart to see it with my own eyes one day. Years later, hearing about the work in China from men like David Spiece and Mike Rosser, an even greater desire filled my heart to be among those who take the Word of God to the people there.

I have now made two trips to China. In 1997, as stated earlier, I made my first trip in with brother David Spiece. We spent the entire trip teaching in Shanghai. In the Spring of 2000, along with Bob Buchanon of Bowling Green, Kentucky, I visited Beijing, Dalian, and Shanghai. Both trips have been life changing experiences. Above all other things, what stands out in my mind is the desire of the people there to hear God’s Word. Whether receptive or skeptical, there has always been demonstrated respect on the part of the hearer. The Chinese are a very warm and caring people. On a number of occasions they demonstrated great generosity. There have been studies where there was no way that anything but the evolutionary theory would be accepted. Two girls David and I studied with in Shanghai illustrate this point. They based their belief on a picture they had seen of a person with a small tail. They were convinced that evolution was verified by this one snap shot of a person with an odd deformity. Nothing we said would convince them otherwise. They are the exception, not the rule, however. It is hard to put into words the look of amazement that comes into the eyes of a Chinese student as they come to see the logic of a heavenly creator. The Chinese with whom we study are often students and very well educated. They are not simple minded people. They have simply been denied access to the truth of God’s word, and have been force-fed a diet of evolutionary theories since early childhood. When they are shown a logical proof of our intelligent design they are quick to realize and accept that there must be an intelligent designer, and that he is God.

Having come to this understanding, the question often asked is, “Why did God forget about us in China?” It is then that a study of their own written language, Kanji, is so very helpful. There is no time in this short article to go into detail about this. (I would encourage you to get and read, The Discovery of Genesis, by C. H. Kang and Ethel R. Nelson. It is a fascinating read.) From their own pictographic written language the story of Genesis is taught. For example, their kanji for “west” is represented by one man in a garden. Eden, of course, would have been west of China. Their kanji for “flood” is represented by the symbols for eight people in a boat. These are just a few of many such examples that when shared with the Chinese student, as often as not, causes his eyes to open wide, and them to respond, “We did know God!” That revelation opens the door to a study of his word.

It is not unusual to have a hotel room filled with eager students. Those who have been taught bring more friends, family, or classmates for us to study with. It has been my observation that very little need be done to be constantly busy teaching in China. In Dalian, where Bob and I spent about ten days, we literally had people in our rooms from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m. every single day! What was most impressive about this was it was a national holiday, and many spent most of their days off with us. One young man, Erik, came everyday we were there, and spent the entire day with us. He became a Christian that week, and he and I are in continual touch with each other. If you want to get your batteries charged as a Christian, China is a great place to do it. The only down side is you won’t want to come home. How often do you have people here beating down your door to study God’s will with them!

One thing to keep in mind if you travel to China is that it is still a Communist country! That means that what we do in China is illegal, and there is always the chance that you might be discovered by the authorities. It has happened in the past. The greatest risk is taken by the Chinese. Penalties can be severe for ones involved in what is viewed by the government as a subversive religion. I have a friend in Dalian who has had his home invaded, all his Bibles and religious books seized, and his job taken away. Fortunately he was not arrested, but his life will never be the same, and suspicion will follow him in the future. We must take great care to do our best and ensure that such incidents are not due to our negligence. The brethren there are courageous though, and look with longing to the time, Lord willing, when China will open its doors to God’s word.

In my heart there is a fervent love for my Chinese brethren. Leaving Dalian, I saw tears freely flowing from eyes that I had first looked into only ten days earlier. I had made friends that mean the world to me, and who I hope to see again in this life, but if not, I long to be with in the great eternal home our Father has prepared for us. I regularly receive e-mail asking when I am coming back. The truth is the Chinese brethren are hungering and thirsting for God’s word. All efforts to share that word with them, by any who come, are so deeply appreciated by these noble people.

When it was finally my turn to face the glass booth on my first trip to Shanghai, the soldier just said, “Passport!” He looked at it, stamped it, handed it back to me, and that was it! I walked to the conveyor, grabbed my bags, and along with my good friend, David, was whisked off into a cold Shanghai night, to one of the greatest adventures of my life — preaching the Word in the People’s Republic of China. Want to go? Drop me a line!

3320 Cypress Point Cr., St. Cloud, Florida 34772-8882

Truth Magazine Vol. XLV: 4  p8  February 15, 2001