“Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.” Psalm 96:12
This verse from the Bible truly reflects how I feel about my last Christmas celebration in the rural churches of Nanjing city, China. The experience gave me such great joy as I joined Christian brothers and sisters from the remote Luhe churches to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus.
In 1982, when the main church in Luhe district reopened, there were only 120 Christians. 30 years later, there are now 44 churches and an estimated 40,000 Christians in Luhe alone. What remarkable growth!
“Christians then had to rely on the few Bibles that were not destroyed during the Cultural Revolution; some of them even had to hand-copy their Bibles from the original,” said Rev Liu Xiaofan, a senior pastor in Luhe. Another challenge the present Luhe churches face is that there are currently only three trained pastors to shepherd the Luhe thousands, just like what was written in the Bible: “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
During the Christmas season, these three pastors have to travel from church to church to preach at the services. Luhe occupies a very large area of 1,484 sq km and travel between the churches takes up a lot of time and dedication.
A Christmas Celebration to Remember
As for me, it took me a two-and a-half hour drive on farm roads from Nanjing train station to a rural church in Luhe. In the midst of farmland and villages, I spotted a church with a large red cross — a reminder of the Emmanuel God in this remote rural area. As I entered the church, I saw about 1000 people: some were carrying bags of vegetables, others carried rice and chicken. I was fascinated and stopped one lady to ask what they were doing with these bags.
“We are bringing food to share with others. This is our offering to God. Thank you, Lord!” She replied bubbling with joy. They then carried all the bags into the kitchen and cooked a sumptuous meal for the thousand-odd believers who had come to worship the Lord that day. “They ate together with glad and sincere hearts”, not unlike the first Christians in Acts 2:46. I felt so blessed to be able to eat with them during my stay there.
During the Christmas Eve Service, at the main Luhe church in town, there were 3000-4000 people trying to get into the building. The main sanctuary and another hall could not accommodate the thousands. Many had to stand outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the main hall. People were so eager to get a seat in the sanctuary that some started coming as early as 1:30 pm, just to wait for the service which would start at 6:30 pm. At 5:15 pm, the main sanctuary could no longer accommodate any more people. Christmas is not designated as a public holiday in China, so the huge attendance in church was truly remarkable!
People sat everywhere: on the aisles, floors and any corner available in church. Firemen came to clear the aisles for safety reasons but shortly after they left, the aisles were quickly filled up again by enthusiastic worshippers!
The Christmas service started with prayers, the singing of hymns, a sermon and two hours of performances. Many Christians came with seekers who were in church for the first time. The sermon and performances would point them to Jesus as the Saviour of the world; the one who died on the cross for our sins and then rose again to give us abundant and eternal life. Based on the overwhelming attendance, the passion to bring non-believers to God is clearly evident in all the Chinese churches.
On my way back to the hotel after the service, I saw a Christian couple standing outside a sleazy nightclub. They greeted people coming out from there with “Peace on Christmas Day. Jesus loves you!” before handing out a Christian tract about God’s plan for salvation. As the act of handing out gospel tracts on the streets was forbidden in the country, I was concerned for the couple when I saw a police patrol car driving by and stopping where the couple was standing. But to my amazement, the police car drove off without stopping the couple. Uninterrupted, the couple continued to give out tracts and to spread the message of “Peace with God” on an evening the Chinese call the “Night of Peace”.
Said Vice-President of the United Bible Societies, Bishop John Chew “It is heartening to know that the Glory of God in the coming of His Son was deeply appreciated by the folks out there in the fields (i.e. the rural Luhe Christians)
Indeed, God’s fields in Luhe are jubilant that “Emmanuel has come and is with them!” I am deeply encouraged and inspired by the thousands of Christians in this farming community of Luhe who had gathered to celebrate the first coming of the Son of God with such enthusiasm. Truly, they have experienced the Presence and Glory of the Lord Jesus, particularly during this festive period!
Story and photos by Jimmy Lam
Edited by Pamela Choo
for United Bible Societies China Partnership