Luis Palau’s Visit to China Finds Change, Hope, and Opportunity

( [email protected] ) May 24, 2004 08:28 AM EDT

Evangelist Luis Palau returned this month after his trip to China with tennis star Michael Chang, recording artists Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore, his partner evangelist Jose Zayas, and a delegation of some 40 businesspeople. The group was officially invited to Beijing by the China Charity Federation to help promote the adoption of Chinese children.

“I came back to China to listen, learn, and share the Good News,” said Palau. “This visit impressed me with three words: change, change, change. There is rapid change everywhere, especially in the area of open discussion about the relevancy of Jesus Christ. Any generalizations you made about China yesterday are probably a long way off the mark today.”

The China Association for International Friendly Contact (CAIFC), who hosted Palau, invited him to meet with them at the Diayutai Government Guest House to discuss overseas culture exchanges. During his meeting with Shen Weiping, Vice President of CAIFC, Palau and Shen discussed a wide range of topics, ranging from the writing of Chairman Mao Zedong to the dramatic growth of Christianity in China. Palau, whose life-long dream is to one day hold an open-air festival in China’s capital city of Beijing, said that he believes the enormous changes in China these past four years are evidence that his dream will become a reality. From 1978, at the close of the Cultural Revolution up until today, the number of churches went from not one single official church to thousands of registered and unregistered meeting places. And by most estimates there are between 70-100 million followers of Jesus Christ in China.

During his trip Palau also met with Reverend Yu Xin Li, President of Beijing Christian Council. “I believe China will be a Christian country, but it will take all the Christians in China to give a good testimony and show all the good we do for society; we love people, we love China, and we want to protect the rights of the Chinese people,” Yu said. Yu then showed Palau the blueprints for the two Protestant churches that the government had agreed to be constructed earlier this year. The buildings, each costing $4.8 million, accommodate 1,500 worshippers each.

Palau was also welcomed at the US Embassy to China by Michael W. Marine, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Eric Richardson, Second Secretary and Human Rights Liaison. Marine, who has been named by President Bush to become the next ambassador to Vietnam, discussed with Palau the importance of China’s effort to liberalize its laws so as to make it easier for house churches to register. Marine said he believes the unregistered house churches and the registered Three Self Patriotic Movement Churches have far greater shared interests than differences. Marine also encouraged Palau to continue to dialogue with Chinese authorities to help them understand the positive role Christianity plays in society. Marine noted that Palau could be very influential in establishing mutual understanding with the Chinese government to recognize that Christianity is not a threat.

While meeting privately with some of the leading house church pastors in Beijing, Palau was told of the phenomenal growth of Christianity in urban centers since 2000. The house group leaders echoed what Palau had been told by the registered church leaders—that the greatest needs of the church are financial resources and mature, trained leaders with seminary degrees to handle the unprecedented growth.

Pastor John, who oversees eight house churches said, “Christians in America need to get over their insatiable hunger for persecution stories, and we in the house churches must get over our persecution complex. Yes, there has been persecution in this city’s past, but our greatest need is not eliminating persecution, but building up mature fellowship and developing unity among Christians”

The house church leaders also spoke of how the requirements necessary to register as churches were to restrictive, preventing churches that wanted to register from doing so. The restrictions have made it necessary for house churches to constantly spin off new fellowships to handle growth. According to the leaders, a liberalization of registration laws would cause more churches to register.

Also, while meeting with some of the country’s highest-regarded scholars, Palau was told how they are seeking to encourage continued progress in the area of religious registration. Palau said the scholars were very helpful in helping him better understand how Christianity fits the Chinese mindset. The scholars acknowledged that there is a growing fascination in the Chinese intellectual community in understanding the relevancy of Jesus Christ to modern society.

“Many of China’s intellectuals have either turned to Christianity or have a positive attitude toward Christianity,” the educators asserted. “They no longer see it as some dangerous superstition, but rather a positive force for social change.”

Michael Chang, who teamed up with Palau at a number of events and churches, commented, “I’ve visited China a number of times, but this trip just blew me away. There’s such a hunger to hear a message of hope, and we found an encouraging openness that let us all share our testimonies and the Good News of Jesus Christ. I’ve come away inspired by the heart and warmth of the Chinese people, and excited about what God has for us next.”

Chang, recognized in China for being one of the first international celebrities of Chinese descent, put on several tennis clinics for players and coaches, promoting not only tennis, but also his love for Jesus Christ which he said was the foundation of his life. Chang and Palau were both pleased at how freely they were permitted to share their love for Christ.

While in China, Palau’s group was provided a special briefing from Tony Lambert, former British diplomat and Director of China Research for OMF International. According to Lambert, Christianity was nearly stamped out during the Cultural Revolution and now China is witnessing one of the greatest revivals in world history. Lambert also agrees that the greatest need among the churches is for mature, trained leaders. According to Lambert, there are many parts of China where there are only one trained registered pastor for every 15,000 Christians. House church pastors, untrained and under-supported, are overwhelmed, with each one leading as many as five or more fellowships. Lambert shared stories of the staggering growth of the Christian Church in China at all levels of society.

The Palau tour concluded with two evangelistic Easter services at the Beijing International Christian Fellowship (BICF), between which Palau was rushed across the street to a hotel ballroom where he addressed the largest Korean Fellowship in Beijing.

Palau’s festival calendar for the rest of the year has him speaking in Reno, Nevada; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; and overseas in Stuttgart, Germany; Lima, Peru, and Fiji.