Oct. 22, 2010
TIME Magazines former Asian Bureau Chief, David Aikman, addressed a packed lecture room at the U.S. Naval Academy this week. His topic: Jesus in Beijing. He led off with a remarkable story, one that would be unlikely to appear in TIME Magazine today. In TIME past, however, the national newsweeklys founder, Henry Luce, would have jumped on this story, since he was from a family of Christian missionaries to China.
Prof. Aikman described a group of eighteen tired U.S. tourists in China. They had spent long days re-tracing missionary routes. Finally, they were brought to Beijing for a lecture by a senior scholar of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Tired and not a little bored, they werent sure they were up for a long and tedious lecture. But, this one was different. The Chinese secular scholar said they had studied the West, seeking the source of its predominance. We did not find it in your guns, your wealth, even your natural resources. We find the secret in your religion: We believe Christianity is central to the rise of the West.
Dr. Aikman puckishly pointed out that you have to go to Beijing, halfway around the world, to hear a secular academic speaking for what is, officially at least, an atheist, Communist regime to get the truth. He did not think a reporter for the New York Times
would agree with that statement.
Aikman said that huge numbers of Chinese are converting to Christianity. One of his friends, ironically an editorial writer for the official party organ, The Peoples Daily,
Predicts that within 20 years, between 25 and 30% of all Chinese will be Christians.
But, warns Dr. Aikman, it may not happen. People have made careers out of being wrong about China. My friend Steve Mosher, who was kicked out of Stanford for his reporting on forced abortions in rural China, goes further. Steve says that if you are an engineer, and every bridge you design collapses with thousands of people killed, you lose your P.E., your Professional Engineers certificate. But if youre a China scholar, and you manage to overlook the deaths of millions of people, you get tenure.
Prof. Aikman shows the horrific consequences of Mao Zedongs communist revolution. Between 42 and 47 million Chinese died in the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s. Thats when Chairman Mao thought it would be swell for everyone to make steel in his own backyard.
During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, beginning in 1966, all houses of worship were closed. People were harassed, many even killed, for owning a Bible or a Koran. But the Cultural Revolution did something else: It destroyed the Chinese peoples belief in the legitimacy of the Communist Party.
Aikman says he searched and searched during his years in China and could find only five Chinese among the party cadres who actually believed in Marxism-Leninism. With China, though, as anywhere, a philosophical vacuum cannot exist. Something will take its place.
For millions, says Dr. Aikman, who is today a distinguished professor at Patrick Henry College, that vacuum is being filled by Christianity. He related an amazing story of young Chinese Christians, averaging 19 years old, being sent out, two by two, all over rural China. Shunned in some of the cities, they nonetheless found a receptive audience among the Chinese peasantry.
Has anything like this ever been witnessed in the Middle Kingdom before? Dr. Aikman knows his Chinese history well. Yes, he says. He cites the 16th Century Italian Catholic priest, Matteo Ricci. Fr. Ricci, a Jesuit, astonished his Chinese friends with his amazing intellectual gifts. He could hear a 20-line Tang Dynasty poem once and repeat it verbatim.
For Protestants, Robert Morrison an English missionary of the early 19th Century is a cherished memory. (He is no relation, although I wish he were.) Another revered missionary was Hudson Taylor. He went to China as a young man, determined to live and work among the Chinese people, not among the wealthy merchants and powerful military and diplomatic elites of the British Treaty Ports in China. Taylor founded China Inland Missions, one of the greatest tools for the spread of the Gospel. Taylor famously said:
China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women
Is that not equally true of America, Britain or France? Reading about Hudson Taylor, we are reminded of Patrick, the Evangelist of the Irish. Patrick risked his life daily, as do threatened missionaries throughout the world today.
Even today, there is danger and resistance in China. Some Communist Party cadres welcome Christians because they want sober, hard-working, obedient people in their regions. Other party chiefs are equally determined to enforce Chinas brutal forced abortion practices and put down all resistance to Beijings authority. They want to stamp out these Jesus Nests.
We can all take inspiration from the teaching of such a great writer and scholar as David Aikman. And we can resolve to make our homes, our schools, our workplaces Jesus Nests.