AMITY Press’ strong presence in China got its start in 1987 with three questions the United Bible Societies asked of the Chinese government: Would it permit the UBS to build a printing press? If so, would it permit the press to print Bibles? If so, would it permit distribution of the Bibles?
“The government answered ‘yes’ to all three. If you don’t ask questions, you don’t get answers,” says Rev. Greg Bailey, national director of the Canadian Bible Society, on his return last year from the celebration of the 20 millionth Bible to roll off Amity Press in Nanjing. Today, that figure is closer to 22 million.
Fr. Bailey sees Amity’s Bible production as a vital factor in the health of Christianity in China where new congregations are added daily.
Vigorous Chinese Christianity reflects the early Christian church, Fr. Bailey said. Following the Chinese revolution, Chinese Christians realized divided Christianity could not survive.
“Today, despite 50 years of hardship, they are light years ahead of us because infighting has been terminated with the elimination of all denominational structure other than Roman Catholic. The Protestant Church is utterly portable with Christians welcome to worship and minister in any Christian community as in the Book of Acts.”
Official churches of about 1,000 each hold regular services. The many “meeting points” of several hundred each coming together for less formal worship are not yet fully organized as churches, still do not have congregational names and so are not registered to be in line for an ordained pastor. Unregulated, fast growing, grassroots movement groups have a hard time in a nation of absolute regulation and fall under some suspicion, he said. The demand for Scriptures now exceeds supply.
“Canada has had an influx of Chinese since the repatriation of Hong Kong. We want to encourage Canadian Chinese Christians to support our work in China,” Fr. Bailey said.
“It’s our policy that we don’t smuggle Bibles across unfriendly borders,” he said. “Legitimate negotiation for permission with governments differing from the North American perspective gives us an edge because our Bibles go into those countries with virtual impunity. Our donors are assured that Bible distribution, in person or by mail, does and will happen.”
He saw crates of Bibles already spoken for, coming from Amity to a distribution point and shipped upon arrival. “Of the millions of Bibles produced in the last 11 years, only the ones from the latest shipment were ever in stock. This is not only cost efficient, it’s reaffirming. We believe we’re on the right track.”
China is open now to economic development, concerned about good will with other countries and seems en route to increasing spiritual freedom, he said. The Amity plant provides local employment, puts money into the economy, Scriptures into China and is “a monument to co-operation and the indomitable Chinese Christian spirit.”
The new climate fosters Christian freedom “although one can’t say to someone on the street, ‘Are you saved?’ nor hold an evangelistic campaign,” Fr. Bailey said. “But one-on-one witnessing in private homes is permissible and done all the time.”
Canadian Bible Society information holds that the open Christian is relatively safe these days in his or her position in Chinese society. Some agencies say that in the far reaches of the countryside, that freedom becomes more tenuous since there is less certainty that the government policy of official tolerance to religious practice will be carried out, Fr. Bailey said.
“Although what we saw last year was much more positive than we had expected, CBS continues to monitor the situation in China. Our responsibility is to do everything possible to ensure adequate numbers of Bibles can be produced for the Chinese population,” he said.
Although treated with courtesy wherever he went, Fr. Bailey found Chinese Christians warmer and more tolerant than non-Christian countrymen.
“Meeting other Christians brought the response, ‘Hey, here’s this Christian from somewhere else!’ It was like stepping into the Acts of the Apostles when Christians journeying to another community carried greetings from their community, a cause for celebration, the body coming together.”
Nan McKenzie Kosowan is a freelance writer in Kitchener, Ont.