The house church Pastor described China as a country with no law and no God. “You can have someone killed here for about 300Yuan ($37.50). Now is a good time to make money, but it’s not very safe…”
I was sent along with six others on a short-term mission to China to encourage and teach a thriving house church led by a former member of Hope Chapel. We also scouted out other ministry opportunities, as well as taking in a few sights to fulfill our obligations as “tourists.” The first order of business was to get by the customs officials at Beijing International Airport with our contraband of Chinese Christian literature; these are illegal in an atheistic, Communist country, so it was a bit of a risk.
The Lord was kind enough to give me a sign about halfway through our flight that we would pass through Chinese security unscathed: At LAX, I was about thirty pounds overweight with my “smuggler” suitcase and had to lighten my load by giving various items to team members including Mark Brisson, who volunteered to take my heavy toiletry bag as a carry-on. We passed through LAX scanners without incident, then later, San Francisco security. While in the air somewhere over Siberia, I remembered that I had placed my Swiss Army knife and all my razor sharp cutting instruments in the carry-on that Mark had brought aboard. I chose to tell him when we were safely on the ground.
We made it to our hotel rooms safely, including Mark the Mule.
Our first day treated us to the reality that smog in Beijing billows in great plumes of acrid cloud. Sinuses are slowly destroyed by the output of over three million cars in a city with a population expected to top fifteen million by the 2008 Olympics. Add to that the omnipresent cigarette smoke and a Sudafed addiction is an easy reality.
People push, shove and crowd each other with absence of malice. There are no angry stares at the near swipes, just-misses or “Whoa’s!” Car lanes are only a suggestion, crosswalks too. In fact, everything in this country shifts and swerves like changing shadows. Movies just released in U.S theatres are on DVD’s hawked by street vendors. Thousands of pedestrians and bicyclists vie for space with automobiles, buses and strange looking three-wheeled contraptions on crowded, dusty streets. And everyone moves with the assumption that they won’t be hit. Or maimed. Or killed. We were warned to keep our arms inside the bus.
On every corner stood a member of the Red Guard. A police officer. Security personnel. Maybe even members of the Public Security Bureau.
Our first tour was Tiananmen Square, which means “Heavenly Place.” This was of course, the site of the student-led uprising of 1989 where over 3000 died as a result of the suppression by armed soldiers. There was war in heaven… Our guide warned us not to take pictures of the guards. I asked team member Shawn Megill to take a picture of me framed between two guards standing in the distance. Then he took another one with a guard over my left shoulder. Vendors swarmed, plying $5.00 Rolexes and Mao watches featuring a dictatorial hand ticking off the minutes. Mao furry hats with ear-muffs were a popular item as well as Mao’s Little Red Book of quotations (“Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.”) I asked our tour guide, Tiger, a hip Chinese National with a great sense humor about how to say no to all the pushy hawkers.
“Say, ‘bu’!” he replied.
“Uh, how do I say ‘No, thank-you.’ ?”
“Don’t be so gentle!” he chided.
I was the only man in China wearing shorts. I asked Tiger the night before if the Chinese wear them and he assured me it was okay. All day long people stared and smiled at my legs. “Tiger,” I said. “The Chinese don’t wear shorts.”
“Well,” he hesitated. “It’s winter.”
I asked someone on the bus what he thought the Chinese were thinking when they saw an American wearing shorts. “Probably like wearing a kilt!” I packed them away.
The number eight is a huge lucky number in China. A clock on the front of the National Museum ticks away the hours until the Olympics arrive at 8am, on 8/8/08. I thought about how Hebrew numerology assigns the number eight to Jesus.
A huge line of people about half a mile long and six deep stood conspicuously outside a gray building. Tiger explained that they were waiting to see Chairman Mao Tse Tong, lying in state in what I presumed was a glass coffin. “A dead guy,” he explained with disgust. “Some believe he was a god. No. That’s B.S. Some believe it’s not really him but a duplicate. Others believe he is still alive. During National Day the line winds round and round.” I yearned to hand out some million dollar bills. I wanted to tell them about the true God who isn’t dead but alive.
At the entrance to “The Forbidden City” is another huge picture of Mao looking all wise and communistic. The inscription next to this “god” said that “…he will last 10,000 years at the gates of Heavenly Peace. I suspect he will endure for a lot longer than that in a lake of fire. Tiger explained that the picture had to be replaced because a magpie made a nest behind his head.
Two lions stand outside the gates of “The Forbidden City”. They tell the people to do what is right and tell them what they do wrong. And they want the emperor to come back on time. I was reminded of the Holy Spirit who teaches us all truth and how we eagerly await a soon-coming King.
The tour ended and as we rushed to our next destination I had a little time to reflect on our first day in a country without Jesus. It was plain to see the disorder and virtual chaos that permeated the social fabric of this culture. A country with no law and no God is left to its own devices, to its own standard of ethics and justice, a humanistic system that can lead only to utter hopelessness and despair. I could only see the shell though; I had not yet experienced the heart of the Chinese people and I looked forward to that.
Our team’s first taste of heaven came a few hours later in an apartment twenty two floors up in a gleaming high-rise in the middle of Beijing. Behind closed doors and drawn curtains a chorus of angels sang its praise and admiration to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. A remnant stood ready to wake a sleeping giant.
The giant was us.