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Flowers In the Sand

I am in the process of writing a book on the subject of revival in the last days. I believe that God is changing the world and His people for an end-time harvest. On the front cover we intend to put a photo I took hiking at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Western Colorado several years ago. It’s a picture of a beautiful flower growing out of a sand dune. It portrays what is happening today in places hostile to the Gospel. The beauty and persevering vitality of the Gospel brings revival in hostile settings.

After making my first trip to Pakistan in 2009 and interviewing Joel Rosenberg in that same year on his book, Inside the Revolution: How the Followers of Jihad, Jefferson & Jesus Are Battling to Dominate the Middle East and Transform the World, I came to realize that people are receiving new life in Christ all over the world.

Will Technology Destroy the Gospel In China?

The present government in China is hostile to all religions. Facial recognition technology and an invasive social credit system are onerous, and technology is making it impossible to evade, or so it would seem. Yet the underground church in China is sending out more missionaries to countries in the “10-40 window”—those countries from China westward, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the other Islamic “stan nations”—than any other nation. And this is being done in a country where “the walls have ears and the trees have eyes.”

The Chinese State Administration of Religious Affairs recently announced new restrictive measures that will go into effect March 1, 2022. Christian ministries must “not incite subversion or oppose the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership.” This is a mandate that virtually condemns anything and everything in the Bible. How is it possible that the illegal underground church is not only surviving but actually thriving in such a hostile situation? 

In his book, China and End-Time Prophecy: How God Is Using the Red Dragon to Fulfill His Ultimate Purposes, Eugene Bach (a pseudonym) writes: 

“Pastor Enoch (a pseudonym) … with four other leaders … runs an underground house church of more than four million believers … [he] … is completely off the grid. He doesn’t have email, a website, a Facebook or Twitter account, a private office, or a secretary, and yet he disciples hundreds of leaders every day, hosts daily illegal church services with thousands of believers all over China, and sends out an average of ten new missionaries per month to the most unreached areas of the world” (p. 7).

The Chrisian community is deeply indebted to Bach. He is an insider who brings first-hand testimony regarding God’s work in the unregistered church. That the underground church could make such amazing advances in a hi-tech modern nation of committed Maoists should be an inspiration to Christians living in 21st century America. 

There has been much suffering, and martyrdom in China, but Pastor Zhang Rongligang, probably one of the best-known house church pastors in China, said he believes that the church in China has benefited from the suffering it has experienced.

“Today, the underground house churches in China are not trying to survive. They are unified in the Back to Jerusalem vision, and churches are sending out missionaries into Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and atheist countries around the world. Our church now has missionaries serving in Pakistan, Dubai, India, and many other nations that are hostile to the Gospel. Additionally, our young people are moving into China’s cities in large numbers, but it is not for the purpose of making money. They are moving here to plant churches, to preach the gospel, to raise support for foreign missions, and to send new firebrand believers into the field. I can’t help but feel excited about the future of China and the Chinese church”(Bach, p. 166).

The Cross and the Red Flag

The Chinese Communist Party has a long-standing and brutal disrespect for Christianity. In December of 1950, in the city of Qingdao, in Shandong Province, a church was visited by government officials who demanded the use of the church building for a communist conference a few days before Christmas. Pastor David Wang had no choice, but gave three conditions: no politically-themed portraits or posters, no flags displayed in the church building, and absolutely no smoking on the premises.

The conference had barely begun when the conditions were violated. A portrait of Chairman Mao Tse-tung was hung behind the pulpit with flags on either side, while several people in the audience were smoking. A blue haze hung in the air. Pastor Wang, who had a gentle and non-confrontational life-style, asked his family to join him for prayer in the pastor’s study. Then he walked down the aisle of the crowded church, removed the portrait of Mao as well as the flags, and calmly walked out. He and his family quickly fled to Hong Kong. (Hattaway, Shandong: The Revival Province, p. 175).

In the 1950s, Communism became more controlling and demanding. The government ordered multitudes of Christians to register and to promise to abide by its rules. Some pastors sought to train their congregations how to handle an interrogation by Party officials. One elderly farmer told his pastor he would respond to the interrogators as the Holy Spirit led him.

The interrogator asked the man, “What has Christianity done for you?” “It made me a better person,” the farmer answered. The official looked at the assembled villagers and asked, “Is that true?” “Yes,” the villagers replied. “His farm used to be the dirtiest and worst in the village, but now it is the best.”

 When the farmer was pressed to explain how these changes had occurred, the farmer spoke with conviction and authority. “I was a drunkard and an opium smoker. Nothing could rid me of these two vices, and my farm had been brought to ruin.” The man raised his voice and said, “I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and He changed me. He enabled me to break with both opium and drink” (Hattaway, Shandong, p. 175).

A Century of Struggle

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, churches were being planted in China, souls saved and, in addition, hospitals and schools that were church-based were being built. The early years of the 20th century saw revival break out in Shandong Province, located on the Yellow Sea, across from the Korean Peninsula. It was a dramatic outpouring of God’s Spirit, exceeding every other revival in modern times. But in the late 1930s, the Japanese invasion of China brought great suffering. Japanese soldiers raped and pillaged China (“The Rape of Nanking”). Imperial soldiers tried to convince the Chinese Christians that the Godhead consisted of Father, Son, the Holy Spirit — AND the Japanese emperor. Refusal to accept this theological monstrosity brought torture and death.

Then came the Communist Revolution, the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek, his flight to what is now Taiwan, and the rise of Mao. The Japanese invasion and Communism forced the church to go “underground.” These were difficult years, but God was not done with China. Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympian, had his story told in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. Liddell was born in China of missionary parents and returned to his birthplace despite warnings of imminent danger. Shandong, China’s “Revival Province,” was being overrun by Japanese troops and in a state of chaos. Liddell ministered the Gospel and spent much of his energies helping the wounded, the sick, and the dying. In 1943, Liddell was imprisoned with more than 2,000 other foreigners, including 327 children. He died in 1945 doing what God had called him to do—share the love of Christ in a loveless, hate-filled environment.

After Mao’s death in 1976, there was somewhat of a liberalizing movement in the Chinese Communist Party. Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), who had been “purged” during the Cultural Revolution, re-emerged as a leader of the moderate pragmatists. In his book, Jesus in Beijing, David Aikman, former Beijing bureau chief, Time Magazine, writes, “It was already clear in the 1980s that Christians were beginning to show up, though almost never identified as such, within the Chinese Communist Party.” Aikman notes, “From the grassroots of the peasantry to high within China’s establishment, the country was being seeded with believing Christians” (p. 9). Since 2013, President Xi Jinping has returned China to the hardline Marxism of Mao. His father was a moderate, but he certainly is not.

A Look In the Past — A Hope for the Future

In the Shandong revival, God used many men and women, Chinese and foreign, as instruments of revival. Dr. C.L. Culpepper, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Fort Worth, Texas, and his wife, Ola, were appointed Southern Baptist missionaries to China in the 1920s. Ola had developed serious eye problems which caused her great pain. On the mission field the Culpeppers met Marie Monsen, a Norwegian evangelical Lutheran. Monsen asked the Culpeppers, “Have you been filled with the Holy Spirit? Have you prayed for the healing of your wife?”

In his book, The Shantung Revival (available online, Dr. Culpepper says he was not ready for Monsen’s questions. The next morning about 20 people were gathered in the Culpepper home for a prayer meeting. “We felt an electric excitement,” writes Culpepper, “a feeling that God was preparing us for something we had never known before. After praying for several hours we all seemed in a complete spirit of communion.”

They prayed for Ola’s eyesight and had many other petitions. God was evidently present. Two Chinese men who were cooks for the missionary residences were also present. Something wonderful was happening. It was common knowledge that these men had some issue, some grudge, and were never seen together, but during the prayer meeting they both accepted Christ and embraced. There was such joy in the group that they had forgotten all about Ola. What about Ola? She was so excited. Her vision had returned in that eye, and the pain was gone. Culpepper writes, the problem “never returned. We had never known such spiritual joy. The events surrounding those days in Chefoo were the prelude to the great Shantung Revival” (p. 6). 

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Larry Spargimino

Dr. Larry Spargimino is co-host of the SWRC broadcast and joined the ministry in 1998. Larry researches and writes books and articles for the ministry, assists on tours, and helps answer listeners' theological questions when they call the ministry. Larry holds a doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and pastors a local church.

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