The Untold Millions of West China

The following story, though fictitious, is based largely upon many conversations we have had with Western Chinese people.

A hint of anger rushed over his face. “I hate them!” he exclaimed. “Why can’t they just let us live our lives our way? We just want to live in peace!”

As Alimjam continued to vent his frustrations, two things immediately caught my attention. First, I couldn’t help but notice his fluency in Mandarin Chinese. Yes, he like many college-aged Uyghurs learned Mandarin in grade school. But his Mandarin was near perfect. He had already impressed me when we first met a couple of weeks previous as he had the best Mandarin of any Uyghur I had ever interacted with. But a person shows the depth of their second-language learning when they are angry. In their frustration, they often stumble over words they would otherwise be able to say when calm as their speech cannot keep up with how fast their emotions are raging. Me being impressed is an understatement.

The second thing that took me by surprise, albeit a few moments later, was the bright hazel shade of his eyes. Living in China the previous three years, I didn’t often interact with people of any eye color other than very dark brown. And yet, Alimjam’s eyes paired with his full beard and European-esque face all stood in stark contrast with the rest of my Chinese friends.

Yes, that’s right. Though Alimjam is Uyghur, he is Chinese. Though he detests his nationality, he is Chinese. Though he is of Turkic decent, he is Chinese. Though if he is to learn the Chinese language it must be as a second language since his parents speak very little Chinese, he is Chinese. Though he is Muslim, he is Chinese. Though he, his family, and his people feel totally other-than, he is Chinese. At least, that is what China says. China says he is Chinese.

“You and I,” Alimjam continued in his tirade, “have something in common that neither of us have in common with Chinese people.”

“What’s that?” I asked, curiosity piqued.

“Faith!”

I froze. I had never thought of that before. True enough, as far as he sees things, at least he and I each believe in something. Though the God of the Bible is vastly different from that of Islam, at least we each believe in the divine.

“These Chinese are godless pagans! Some may say they worship Buddha, but we know that is shallow at best. They are godless, living for nothing more than for themselves, their wallets, and their bellies! You know it’s true!”

In many ways, I saw where he was coming from. Being officially atheist for decades now, China has taught both atheism and evolution in its classrooms for just as long. On the whole, there is no thought of a Creator God, His Lordship, and an afterlife. Generally speaking, most Chinese are told to give their allegiance to the state, follow Confucian principles of devotion to family, and live entirely for the present world. What’s more, though the constitution technically guarantees “freedom of religion”, they are truly only “free” to choose from a short list of permissible religions. Moreover, choosing one of those religions, one must follow it as the government directs, not as the individual would so choose.

Islam has made that short list, though that is probably more because the nation at the time of the writing of the current constitution already had practicing Muslims, like Alimjam, within its borders than because the nation truly approves of Islam. Wanting to tide over such people, at least until they could be influenced otherwise, was almost certainly the idea. In modern times, both Alimjam’s testimony and news trickling out of the region would both indicate that the time to influence them otherwise is at hand.

As Alimjam continued, he spoke of how his girlfriend was forced to join the military against her and her family’s beliefs and was stationed along the South China coast — far away from her West China home. Alimjam himself was forced to come to his current university of study where the majority of his classmates were non-Uyghur Chinese. He said it was all because there was a push to “brainwash” them out of their Muslim faith and assimilate them into the greater non-religious society.


Though the terms “Muslim” and “Islam” certainly don’t immediately come to mind when thinking of Chinese people, China is home to some 20 million Muslims, and over half of those are ethnically Uyghur. Though they are vastly different by language, culture, religion, customs, and way of life from other Chinese people, they and other Chinese Muslims share one common denominator with the rest of China: they need to hear and believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, regardless of whether a person has black eyes or hazel eyes; lives in the majority or in the minority; believes in no God, believes in Buddha, or believes in Allah; they all need to hear the good news of salvation offered in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Atheism cannot save because God says that the fool has said in his heart that there is no God.

Buddhism and ancestor worship cannot save because Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one can get to the Father but through Him.

Islam, Allah, and praying toward Mecca cannot save because God commands the nations that pray to gods that cannot save to look unto Him and be saved because He is God and there is none else – there is none beside Him!

Friends, as you pray for China, pray not only for the Atheists and Buddhists, but also for the 20 million plus Muslims. Pray that God would continue to raise up more men to go to China bearing and preaching the name of the Lord Jesus Christ so that the people of China such as Alimjam, regardless of ethnicity, culture, and religion, could hear the name of Jesus, believe upon His name, call upon His name, and be saved.

A Tale of Two Tombs (2019)

The following story, though fictitious, is based largely upon events and situations we have witnessed while living in China.

“How much do you charge to go to SheXing mountain?”

“SheXing mountain?!” was the startled response. “If you’re wanting me to take you to SheXing mountain, I’ll need at least 30RMB. After all, I’ll have to eat a couple of red eggs when I get home tonight after going there.”

The motorcycle taxi driver spoke with a spooked look about him and continued, “And don’t expect me to take you all the way up either. I’ll get you to the temple just through the gate. You’ll have to walk the rest of way up.”

“Walk the rest of the way up? You expect me to do that?” retorted Lily. She looked down at her newly purchased bag of apples. The eight apples could still be seen through the red of the plastic bag in the sunlight.

“How am I supposed to make the hike up the rest of the trail with these plus this large bouquet in hand?” she thought.

“I’ll do it for 30RMB and take you all the way up!” came another voice just a distance away.

Looking over the driver’s shoulder, Lily spotted the source of the voice. A second motorcycle taxi driver figured he would capitalize on the first driver’s superstitions. He had them too, but he wasn’t as bothered by the prospect of having to make two red eggs that evening.

“Sold!” said Lily both relieved and in disbelief. Relieved that she could get to SheXing mountain and get this over with and in disbelief at the price of getting there. She would have taken her own motorbike, but driving up the mountain trail with the apples and bouquet was something she wasn’t interested in, particularly with the teeming crowds of people that were expected to make the same pilgrimage today.

She hopped on the back of the second driver’s motorcycle and sped off, leaving the first driver’s counter offer of 25RMB to fade in the distance.

Approaching the bottom of SheXing, the throngs of people awaiting her at the top became real as Lily noticed all the cars parked along the streets at the base. Swarms of other motorcycle taxis could be seen flowing in and out the gate near the temple. Those headed in carried people with hands full of supplies similar to Lily’s – fruit, incense, flowers, firecrackers, and hell money. Those headed out carried empty-handed people – some wiping away tears and some with solemn stares.

Once through the gate, it was slow moving for a good fifteen to twenty minutes as Lily’s driver had to squeeze her through the crowds of pedestrians, cars, and motorcycles.

Nearing the “top”, thoughts of similar scenes from the past few years flooded Lily’s mind. The color red mixed with the smell of firecrackers can bring back various memories for Chinese people – memories of Chinese New Year festivities, memories of weddings, and memories of other milestones. But when the sound of uncontrollable weeping is thrown into that mix, it can only mean one thing – QingMing Festival.

It never occured to Lily that naming such a day a “festival” was odd. There wasn’t much festive about it. It was a day of remembering. A day of bittersweet remembering, whether she particularly wanted to or not.

Finally reaching the top, Lily got off the motorcycle and, after paying her driver, made the final trek up a few rows of headstones and down to the one with her family name etched in the corner.

She paused, and lowered her head in quiet reflection. As quiet as she could be, at least, given the hysteria surrounding her. People were crying, praying, and lighting firecrackers all about.

After a few seconds, she laid the bouquet in place and began unpacking the apples, carefully setting them in a bowl and placing it before the tombstone.

Placing a stick of incense in the apples so as to stick straight up and out from between them, she lit the incense, knelt down with hands folded, and prayed.

“Dad…Mom…” she began. “It’s me…I miss you!”

There was a long pause as the tears began to flow and the sobbing commenced.

“Why were they taken from me so suddenly?” she thought. They died immediately along with the drunk that crashed into them that night those six years ago. “Why couldn’t it have been someone else?! Why did it have to be them?”

After regaining some of her composure, she continued.

“So much has happened since last year…”

After divulging a few of the year’s high points along with its many struggles, she bowed a couple of times. With the incense about burned to its end, she stood up, brushed off her knees, and began checking her purse to be sure she had another 30RMB for the ride home.

As she made her way through the lamenting crowds, she couldn’t help but think to herself – even over the sound of firecrackers and prayers.

“Is this it? Is this all that there is to life? Am I to be consigned to a similar fate one day myself with my prospect laid in the ground and only my future child to visit me once a year?

“Where’s the hope? Where’s the meaning in it all?” she wondered. “Is there not anything worth living for beyond the tomb?”

Just as her thoughts were getting more philosophical, the sound of a group of motorcycle taxis bidding for her ride home snapped her out of all the burning questions.

She had survived yet another personal inquisition, at least until next year…

**********

QingMing Festival, or better known as Tomb Sweeping Festival in English, is fast approaching in China. This year, it will be celebrated on Friday, April 5. The yearly holiday is a day for China’s billions to live out their Confucian beliefs concerning familial piety (devotion to family, particularly elders) by paying their respects to their deceased parents and grandparents.

This is traditionally done by bringing food – usually fruit – to the graves of the deceased so that they will have something good to eat in the afterlife. Incense is often burned while praying and worshipping, and firecrackers are often lit to scare off evil spirits that might otherwise haunt the deceased in the thereafter.

All of this is done year after year in the Spring and is a source of fear and hopelessness for many Chinese. Most of them have never heard of the other tomb. That tomb is the cause of much celebration and is also widely celebrated each Spring. Their tombs are hopeless and occupied, but that tomb is empty and points us to eternal life!

Many of them have never heard of the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into this world to die for sinners. To die so that everyone – even Chinese people – can have life and hope and joy.

While we Christians rejoice, preparing to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ in just a few short weeks, in just a few short days millions upon millions of Chinese will once again have to remember the hopelessness of life that ends in death. For them, death is all there is beyond the grave because they have never heard the glad tidings of the gospel!

This week, please pray for China’s billions. Pray that the Lord would raise up more laborers to take the message of the empty tomb to them! Pray that the believers in China would have boldness to preach the light of Christ and Him crucified and risen again amid the darkness around them so that many Chinese could be saved and find the hope of resurrection and eternal life in Him!”

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

Don’t Count Your Bibles Before They Hatch: Based on a True Story

The following story, though details have been altered, is based largely upon a true story we have heard about the younger years of a pastor of ours while we were in China. Please note that the setting for this story is 1960’s China, and keep in mind that though not unheard of, similar situations are generally few and far between in modern China.

“And just who are you here to see? That old man again?”

“I’m here to see Uncle Xu,” ZhangBo gulped.

“Uncle Xu?” barked the guard, throwing down a royal flush. “What have you come to see him for this time?” The guard was half conversing, half finishing his hand.

“Yeah, weren’t you here just a month ago?” scolded the second guard with a semi-disappointed look on his face, obviously realizing he lost this hand.

“I…I’ve brought him some eggs,” stammered ZhangBo, lifting the wicker basket in his hand slightly.

“Let me see!” The guard held out his hand, snatched the basket, and began looking it over, unwrapping the cloth that concealed its contents.

Sure enough, about a dozen eggs could be seen just on the top layer. There was probably at least another dozen beneath, unless…

The guard moved a few of the eggs on top around as though to see if any contraband was found underneath. After a brief inspection, ZhangBo seemed to be in the clear.

“Alright, follow after me. But don’t try any funny stuff!”

Thank You, Lord! ZhangBo prayed with a smirk. “Yes, guard,” he replied, following the Chinese custom of addressing others by using their position rather than a generic “sir” or “mam”.

Stepping through the threshold, the guard led him down a corridor past a long row of vertical metal bars which were punctuated every twenty bars or so by a lock. The prison had a smell about it that would keep even the cheeriest of crickets from singing. It was the largest prison in the province and had been utilized by the Japanese during the War to keep POWs. Now it was being used by the Communist Party to hold those that were believed to have previously been in contact with foreigners.

ZhangBo always had mixed feelings about coming. While he detested the vile environment, he loved Pastor Xu and knew Pastor Xu loved his visits. Pastor always seemed encouraged. It was also a good opportunity to see his condition and report back to the church. They liked ZhangBo’s preaching – Pastor Xu had trained him himself. But, it still wasn’t the same as having Pastor Xu himself with them. He was one of the few remaining preachers who had trained directly under Brother Welton, the foreign missionary that brought the gospel to their town. Ever since Brother Welton died during the Japanese occupation, Pastor Xu had taken up the mantle as pastor of the area. He was beloved by all the church as a spiritual father figure.

“Alright, carry on with it!” the guard pushed. “Give him what you need to give him so you can be on your way!”

They had navigated the corridors and finally arrived at Pastor Xu’s cell. From the corner of his eye, ZhangBo noticed other prisoners were coming to the front of their respective cells to see what was going on. None of them had provisions given them by the prison. It was rather the responsibility of the families and friends of inmates to bring meals. They probably were curious to see if someone had brought them sustenance.

Will they rat me out this time? ZhangBo thought. Have they already?

He had made multiple trips already, all for the same purpose, and had been successful on each so far. The trick was to bore the guard into looking away if only for a second.

“Uncle Xu,” ZhangBo started. “I’ve brought you some eggs.” He was always sure to never address Pastor Xu as “Pastor” while any unbelievers were listening, especially the guards. That would tip them off to the fact that he, too, was involved in the church.

“ZhangBo, have you eaten?” asked Pastor Xu. Part nicety, part genuine concern, this is the Chinese way of asking, How are you?

“Yes, uncle.” Typical I’m fine.

Slowly removing the cloth from covering the eggs, ZhangBo began carefully removing the eggs one by one from the basket and handing them one by one through the bars of the cell and into Pastor’s hands who would then clasp it in both hands and transfer it to his bowl on the floor in the corner.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. First egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Second egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Third egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Fourth egg.

ZhangBo and Pastor Xu were taking their time. They were slow, they were methodical, they were boring. Taking about ten seconds for each egg may not sound like a lot of time, but when you have so many, it becomes quite the process.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Fifth egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Sixth egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Seventh egg.

ZhangBo began peering out of the corner of his eye to see what the guard was up to. He still seemed to be watching on intently.

Eighth egg.

Ninth egg.

Tenth egg.

Glancing over a second time, he noticed the guard was still watching, albeit a bit impatiently.

Eleventh egg.

Twelfth egg.

Thirteenth egg.

Was he still watching? ZhangBo wondered. Why doesn’t he just turn away already? I’m going to run out of eggs soon! Judging by the look on Pastor’s face, he was getting a bit nervous, too.

Fourteenth egg.

Fifteenth egg.

Sixteenth egg.

Seventeenth egg.

Eighteenth egg.

There were only half a dozen left. Lord, intervene! prayed ZhangBo.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Nineteenth egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Twentieth egg.

Pick up, transfer throu –

“Hey, I heard you just won with a royal flush!” came a voice from the other side of the guard.

ZhangBo paused, mid-transfer, and turned his head in the direction of the voice to discover it came from a third guard coming from the other direction down the corridor. The first guard turned to gloat a moment.

It’s now or never! Thought ZhangBo.

Lifting up his arm carrying the basket ever so slightly, he reached into his coat with his egg-transfering hand, grabbed the package out of his hidden pocket with lightening speed, and thrust it through the bars at Pastor Xu who promptly turned and placed it on his bed, covering it with his pillow.

“What are you down this way for anyway?” asked the third guard.

“I’m escorting this visitor to that foreigner-sympathizer’s cell,” the first guard replied, turning back toward ZhangBo and Pastor Xu, realizing he was distracted.

The rhythm, thankfully, had already continued.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Twenty-first egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Twenty-second egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Twenty-third egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Final egg.

“That’s all I have for you today,” said ZhangBo.

“Thank you kindly, ZhangBo,” Pastor Xu replied with a gleam in his eye.

The guard began walking down the corridor back toward the entrance. ZhangBo followed with a sense of relief. Mission accomplishedAt least this time.

Pastor Xu, waiting until the coast was clear, returned to his bed, lifted up his pillow, and unwrapped a copy of Acts and Romans. As a tear began to roll down his cheek, he placed it with the other sections of the Scriptures he had collected so far since his imprisonment two years ago. He hid them under the excess, unused propaganda flyers he had been brought for “hygiene” purposes. The guards would never expect to find such contraband there. Laying down on his bed and praying, he was in anxious anticipation of the next hour between guard patrols when he would re-familiarize himself with tales of Paul’s boldness and faithfulness while in similar straights.