Using nationals to reach nationals, organization promotes evangelism and Bible distribution under stricter laws
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As the Chinese government clarifies its religious beliefs policy, Bibles For The World (BFTW) President John Pudaite says his organization will focus on the urgent need for effective Scripture distribution while helping believers understand their religious rights.
According to Pudaite, the new policy is under the guise of protecting the rights of believers and nonbelievers, but in reality, it is actually a way to regulate faith systems and their followers.
The changes announced by China’s Cabinet in April promise protections and guarantees for freedom of religious belief, but are “really an attempt by the government to make belief more ‘orderly.’” In fact, the policy states very clearly that “”every citizen enjoys the freedom to choose whether to believe in a religion…to change from a non-believer to a believer and vice versa.”
“It’s more a clarification or closing of loopholes,” Pudaite says. The push for uniformity derives from China’s professed desire to achieve harmony among the major five religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism – practiced there. All religions are expected to uphold and operate within the principles set forth by the Communist regime.
Fearing persecution, many believers are unaware of their ability to share their faith. BFTW workers distribute Bibles and Scripture portions to believers and encourage them to share them with others. Pudaite says many appear to ask, “Are we really allowed to do that? Can we actually give these out to other people who are not believers?”
The answer to these questions, though most don’t realize it, is a resounding “yes!”
Local believers are invited to attend BFTW’s intensive “Seed Sower” seminars where they are encouraged and trained in evangelism as well as equipped to “answer the difficult questions they’ll be faced with as they share God’s Word,” Pudaite says.
BFTW uses a model of nationals reaching nationals, an evangelism system that proves effective while more readily complying with Chinese law. The organization is in its second year of Bible distribution in China and is concentrating specifically on unreached regions along the southwest border with the gospel. The goal is to reach at least 2 million people within several ethnic minorities – people groups that have had little access to Scripture because of distribution or language barriers.
Bible distribution remains a challenge in China, where approved Bible translations can be printed and sold freely in bookstores. However, Pudaite says there are only 80 approved bookstores that sell Bibles in all China.
“That’s like one bookstore for every 20 million people,” he says. “And many Bibles are printed, but they’re not getting distributed. They’re just sitting in warehouses.”
Scripture distribution is such an issue, Pudaite says, that one village his team visited “was 100 percent Christian, but very few people had a copy of a Bible. Of course, they do now!” BFTW is looking at ways to distribute the Scriptures to strengthen the church and help its members fulfill the Great Commission, he says. “It’s a new country for us. We’re learning something new every day,” he says.
Pudaite understands the impact even one copy of Scripture can have on a community. It was a single copy of the Gospel of John that resulted in the salvation of his grandfather and the evangelization of his entire tribe within a single generation.
“One of the reasons we’re so passionate about sharing God’s Word is because of my own people [the Hmar tribe of Northeast India], who were a tribe of fierce headhunters before the Gospel transformed us into ‘heart-hunters’ for Christ. We want to be a channel of this life-transforming power,” he says.
He asked believers to lift up the Chinese church in prayer as it sorts through the implications of the new policy on religious freedom.
“We have to pray, even as this new policy on religion is being implemented, that those in the government would do it in such a way that it would not be oppressive or bring persecution to the Christians,” Pudaite says. “We can pray the Christians in China will continue to be strong in their faith for any persecution or hardships they might face.”
Since 1971, Bibles For The World (BFTW, (www.biblesfortheworld.org) has made God’s word available – free of charge – to millions of people in more than 120 countries. BFTW is committed to Christian education and compassionate care, having established a hospital and dozens of elementary and secondary schools, plus a college and seminary in Northeast India and Delhi.
PHOTO CUTLINE: Chinese Christians celebrate receiving a Bible from Bibles For The World–for many of them, the first time they have ever had their own copy of God’s Word.