The irritated Chinese passport official frowned as he
pointed out an error on my entrance card. My shoulders tightened with the
pressure of the moment. I clumsily entered the right information and after
another scowl, was dismissed on my way.
“Help me not to blow this, God, because these Bibles need to
get to your suffering people here in China,”
I prayed, as if He needed to be reminded. I nervously recalled my instructions.
“After they inspect your passport, proceed. Ignore the “scan all bags here”
sign. Do not have eye-contact with any guards. Pretend to be fiddling with your
passport and if anyone calls to you, act like you don’t hear him. Unless a
guard physically restrains you, just keep walking.” “Just keep walking,” I
rehearsed to myself as my heart was pounding like drums at a rock concert.
“Just keep walking” I
repeated to myself over and over as I passed each uniformed guard and potential
stopping place, anxious about being stopped. How inane that I had to hide not
illegal drugs or laundered black market money, but copies of the Bible inside
my bags. I imagined groups of Chinese believers huddled in a secret house
gathering praying for the honor of someday touching, let alone possessing this
banned love letter from heaven. My thoughts drifted to those at that moment
enduring torture in prison cells for simply being caught with one. I wanted to
serve these true believers… so unlike the varied flavors of chocolate soldiers
I have known in my country, pampered and consumed with comfortable living,
melting with the slightest bit of adversity.
Twenty excruciatingly long and unhindered steps past the
last guard, an incredible rush of relief came with the realization that I had
completed a safe crossing. An adrenaline high better than a double espresso shot
at Starbucks kicked in. It only increased as I realized that one by one, each
courier from our team successfully repeated the same scene in this drama. Standing
at our meeting place together, a knowing look passed between us that implied
our mutual but hidden elation. Expressions of satisfaction like cats that had
just swallowed canaries emerged as we got further away from scrutiny.
Just thinking about how grateful the recipients of these
gifts would be gave me pause. Each Bible would impact at least ten people in
the underground church. Although they risk imprisonment and torture for
receiving them, they are not deterred. Stories of their bravery and sacrifice
to live out their faith no matter the cost flashed through my mind. Women
younger than me arrested and beaten for sharing Christ with children under 18;
or for hosting a church gathering in their humble home later bulldozed down as
a punishment, compelled me action.I
felt overwhelmed and honored to be able to be a small part in touching the
lives of these hidden heroes. We deposited our treasure in a secret place for a
future pick up by these true disciples. I was filled with a tangible warmth
inside, knowing that someday I would see their faces…somewhere beyond this earthly
life in a place where suffering and injustice will be no more.
* Approximately 30,000 people are born again a day in China.
The underground church is estimated to be close to 100 million. The need for
Bibles is urgent. Those of us who live in freedom have a debt to pay. The least
we can do is supply the bread of life…they already have the zeal and courage!
Several heavy bags of the forbidden Book were quickly shoved
under the lower bunks of our public sleeper sections of the train. We had
twenty-eight hours to fill trying not to draw attention to ourselves, a rowdy
group of clearly American passengers. We were instructed to speak in a strict
code, eliminating God, Jesus, Church, Bibles completely from our vocabulary.
That was easier said than done. Coming from the land of free speech and blabber
mouths, this was nothing we’d ever practiced before. God became “dad”, Bibles
“bread”, church was “club” and Jesus was called “Jose”.
Undercover policemen traveled in the very next open sleeper
section and planted themselves in chairs less than 3 feet from us, eves dropping
for long periods of time. Our contact alerted us to them, pointing out the nicer
clothes they wore that gave them away. Our loose lips continued to transgress
and we had to constantly police one another with disapproving looks. It was
amazing to realize how often our speech naturally wanted to center on the
presently taboo topics.
Outside the landscape became a safe and impressive
diversion. Terraced, jade-green mountains covered with manicured rice crops,
misty mountains and stone villages captured our imaginations. Herds of water
buffalo and limestone forests reminded us that we were indeed in a foreign, but
intriguing part of our world. The majesty of these views truly reflected the Chinese
master paintings I had studied in Art History college classes. The black,
blurry, brush strokes outlining fog covered mountains were accurate depictions
of the scenes before us.These reveries
were jarred by the rickety noodle and snack cart vendor yelling something in
Chinese as he shoved it through the tiny aisle of the train. We reticently sampled
the green tea beverages and the bright red, packaged ramen noodle cups, adding
hot water and spices to them. Mostly we lived off squished protein or candy
bars we had brought from home.
Bedtime was imposed by all lights turning off at 10pm.
Crammed in our triple layered bunks, the consistent banging rhythm of the
railroad tracks rocked most of us to sleep.
Pondering the illicit bundles beneath me kept me
semi-conscious like a new mother listening for her newborn’s call, until all
that remained were the sounds of snores and the railroad tracks and I could relax
and drift into a deep sleep.
Soft, Asian, flute music kindly teased us out of our dreams
at dawn. Louder and more lively, high-pitched tunes followed to announce that
sleep time was definitely over. Armed with our own toilet paper and
antibacterial hand wash, we all took the dreaded trip to the Chinese version of
a toilet: a hole in the ground in a freezing compartment between rail cars.
Another exciting day was before us.
“This is our exit station,” announced our guide, “get ready
to grab everything and go.”
Joy erupted at the thought of escaping our cramped quarters
and bringing our “bread” bags to their destination. Within minutes we were all
off the train and piling our bags on luggage trolleys headed through the crowded
station. A tall set of steps leading up to the exit loomed before us. We
rallied together some pulling the tops and others grabbing the bottom of the
trolleys to lift them up the long staircase and through the mob of people pressing
in around us.
Our contact eyed someone familiar, a woman standing with a
group of young men who beckoned us over and then led us through a tunnel to the
outside streets. Shy smiles and nods were exchanged. A perceptible glint of
gratitude flashed from their eyes. Quickly, bags were divided and within
moments disappeared into the crowds in different directions. We all felt the
incredible relief of once again safely delivering our sacred, banned goods to
these elusive champions of the underground church inChina.
I wanted to follow them, be with them, learn from them the secret of their
sacrificial lifestyle but stood silently, relishing that I had glimpsed their
radiant faces, if only for a few seconds. Any more than that would only further
Suffice it to say we felt incredibly small having been
crowned with the honor of being a part of the Father’s private Fed Ex network.
He, through the loving prayers and financial love gifts of so many, had sent us
over 10,000 miles from our secure homes to hand deliver His timeless words of
life to His beloved body there. Extravagant love, indeed.
“Ask of Me, and I
shall give you the heathen for your inheritance, even the remotest
parts of the earth as your possession. Psalm 2:8
Years ago I began to take God up on His offer in this
promise. I simply asked Him to use my life to reach the unreached men, women
and children who lived all around the world…even in the uttermost parts of it! More
recently, I have been sensing a stronger need to seriously apply myself to this
priority, having grown somewhat weary only telling the told, feeding the fat, and
comforting the comforted. Yes, I am not ashamed to admit that we are spoiled in
only ashamed if I don’t intentionally share what I’ve been so blessed to
receive. During thisChina
mission, our Lord fulfilled those desires in a spectacular way.
Our first priority in planning this venture was to be inconspicuous
couriers to deliver His desperately needed Word to the persecuted church inChina.
Accustomed to very public pulpit and performance arts ministry, (many on the
team are dancers, musicians, and teachers), we were content to simply be
“donkeys” laden with secret gifts, dropping them off, discreetly disappearing
and quietly returning home. Devotion to completing that noble task was more
than worth every dollar invested and 20,000 miles traveled. But our
Dream-Fulfiller Father had even more in store.
is the home to over 55 general nationalities with hundreds of minority, ethnic,
people groups, many of which have no witness for Christ. These are those
referred to when Jesus said, “This gospel shall be preached to every nation
(people group) and then the end shall come.”
I was stunned by the news that our group was being sent to join hands
with those in the southwest Yunnan
province (near the borders of Burma,
Laos and Vietnam)
who were, yes, working directly with these tribal people. Chills went up my
spine to learn that at least 25 or half of the minority ethnic groups of China
live in the very province we were sovereignly being sent to! This was truly the
“uttermost parts of the earth” I had prayed about. That profound sense that I was “walking in
the works He predestined for me before the foundation of the world” (Eph.) was exhilaratingly over the top.
Strolling through the first remote and very primitive
mountain village, gaudy Buddha statues and animist banyan tree altars, not
museum pieces, but present places of worship, reinforced the realization that
these dear people desperately needed the light of the gospel. Their futile
paper, fruit and good deed offerings strewn freshly to false gods were tokens
of their sincere cry for help. Barefoot, brown-eyed children snickered at us,
shyly wondering what we were doing in their dusty, village streets. They
giggled at our “nee-how’s” (Chinese hellos) and screamed with glee when we wanted
to play and take their pictures.
In the spacious, dirt courtyard outside their ancient temple
built to house a statue of Buddha; three tall poles were erected with ornate boxes
on the top. These were built to be houses for Satan to live in so as to not bother
the people. Long, brightly-colored ribbons streamed down from these three
“Satan houses”. It was in this place that we felt spontaneously inspired to
increase what was our silent prayer walk to an open worship service to the
living God, believing for an outpouring of His presence and light upon this stronghold of darkness and idolatry.
The dancers converged and began to worship using movement as
we singers sang songs filled with His Word and declaring His glory. Word spread
like fire to other villagers who quickly rushed out to watch and listen. Women
wearing woven, tribal headdresses, many with babies tied to their backs with
silk fabric, smiled with acceptance as we sang and danced for them.
Dark-skinned men, chain smoking and equally fascinated, gathered to watch our
unexpected performance. Little boys and girls, Asian-eyed beauties, flocked
around us and clapped as we finished and sought to teach them how to give high
The chief of the village then invited us all to walk to his
home. Our Chinese contact had met and prayed for the chief of the village on an
earlier visit. This explained the favor we were experiencing. It all seemed
surreal, like we had stepped into a page of a National Geographic issue where
the characters, smells and scenes came alive. Water buffaloes, fat hogs,
squawking chickens, barrels of onions and sugarcane and an antique, wooden loom
used for weaving beautiful tribal fabrics all shared a space in the malodorous
barn leading to the bungalow above. One of the wives complied shyly with our
request for a demonstration on the loom. We oohed and ahhed at the intricacy required
as she blended each thread mathematically to form a distinct pattern. She
reached for the hidden comb in her sweaty headdress to prepare for her first
photo ever. (All women are alike.)
The throng of eager children followed and surrounded us on
the chief’s wooden porch that I hoped would not collapse. Adam and Naomi
instantly began to entertain the children by teaching them English greetings,
body parts and nursery rhymes. Before we left this amazing step back in time
experience, all the children were doing the chicken dance and singing “Head and
shoulders, knees and toes” at the top of their lungs. As we exited the vibrant
village, they followed us out, adding shouts of “Hallelujah” and “Thank You,
Jesus” to their repertoire. As we drove
away through the sugarcane and mustard-flowered fields, we marveled at the
miracle of it all. May our prayers, the effulgence of His Spirit in us and the
love we openly shared be living seeds planted for a future harvest in this
precious Dai tribe. Images of their faces are etched forever in my heart.
Giving Gifts to Tribal Children
Every pinnacle experience was topped by the next. Our brilliant contacts had supplied recently the schools in these remote mountain regions with a generous gift of a mobile library shared by rotation.
The government welcomed such charitable help and we again were swept into amazing opportunities on the coat tails of favor our hosts had earned. This time, 1,000 pairs of shoes and outfits of clothes were purchased as Christmas gifts for
these poorer children, many which were orphans, and our job was to give them out.
Knowing we were visiting schools, we quickly choreographed a full presentation of music, dance and drama for them, conveying a clear message that each person is valuable, no matter their talent or ability.
The local government educational officials first invited us to dine with them on round tables covered with specialty dishes of savory vegetables, pork, soup with chicken heads and feet, and spicy tofu served over rice. They chuckled at our rather futile chop stick agility.
The children had heard of our dance program and had prepared several tribal dances for us as well. Dressed in their bright pink and red tribal costumes, they proudly danced their traditional dances for us. We were awed and gave them a standing ovation.
Our special performance reached across the language barrier and also brought cheers and claps. Then, as we dragged the huge rice-bags full of shoe boxes labeled with individual names on them on to the stage, a hush of anticipation swept through the 500 plus 4 to 16 year old students.
One by one, the Chinese teachers called out names on the microphone, inviting each patiently
waiting boy or girl to come forward to receive their shoes. Our team formed a line to take turns handing these custom-ordered presents to them. We would hold out our hands to shake theirs and they would bow low in respect and thanks. Seeing their sincere gratefulness while peering closely into their innocent eyes moved most of us to uncontrollable tears. The euphoric high that followed the delivering of these free gifts reminded me of the honor Jesus has given us to be His ambassadors who can freely hand out His gift of salvation to whosoever will receive. He has bought, paid for and wrapped it up with His love and we get to simply pass it out.
Afterwards, we were invited into their primitive classrooms to each teach small groups of students English for the afternoon. We used flash cards, motions, songs and games to convey word meanings. The kids wanted all our autographs after the classes. We asked for theirs, too! The head teachers told us they had never seen such effective and enjoyable teaching techniques in the classroom and would definitely keep using them from then on.
As we piled back on to our bus, throngs of our new, little friends surrounded us and waved screaming “Bye-Byes” until we were out of sight.