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Chinese believers discover they are not the only Christians


December 01, 2003
- Marietta Sawatzky with Jeanette Hanson

Shi Chufen and her husband use their garage to host new believers for worship and teaching in the isolated village of Anren, China. Until recently, they thought they were the only Christian body in existence.
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ANREN, China — In Da County, on the northeastern edge of the Sichuan Basin, this town is nestled between two mountain ridges. In the 1980s, a migrant worker returned to Da County from Fujian Province bringing along a Bible. As a result, some family members became followers of Jesus Christ. They met together and copied portions from their one treasured Bible.

Shi Chufen became a Christian in 1992 and soon began serving as a leader among this growing group of believers, working as a tailor to support herself. With no further outside contact, they thought they were the only Christian body in existence.

Because the number of believers grew so large, local government officials were instrumental in connecting them with the church in nearby Dazhou City (a two-hour bus ride away). The pastor from Dazhou, Pastor Duan, went to visit Anren and discovered a large group of Christians. At the same time, the Anren believers discovered that they were not, as Christians, alone in the world. Communication was difficult, however, because the believers in Da speak their own local dialect. Pastor Duan encouraged Shi Chufen to pastor the new church full-time.

In obedience to this call, Shi and her Christian husband moved off their farm and into town, where they built a house and a garage for the husband’s business. The group of believers then began meeting in the house/garage.

From 1997 to 1999 Shi Chufen studied at Sichuan Theological Seminary in Chengdu, the provincial capital. It was here that she developed an awareness of other Christian groups around the world.

At present there are more than 300 baptized believers in Anren. They meet in Shi’s home/garage, with up to 1,000 people gathering for special occasions. Local officials now say this facility is inadequate and threatens public safety. The congregation is searching for a meeting place or it will be prohibited from meeting. Local officials will support the church building project once funds and land become available.

Unfortunately, the believers are desperately poor. Their dialect has no written form, so there is a high rate of illiteracy. To facilitate learning the Bible, Scripture verses have been put to music for easy memorization. They are now also using hymn tunes for their Scripture songs. Bibles and even hymnbooks are now readily available from the provincial distribution point.

China Educational Exchange (CEE) has advanced some funds to allow the believers to start their building project, and is looking for congregations and individuals in North America to give generously for the church building in Da County. Workers Todd and Jeanette Hanson live some hours away in Nan-Chong. Jeanette recently visited the Aren faith community. The Hansons are CEE workers supported by Mennonite Church Canada. With the help of this new connection, the believers in China’s countryside are a little less alone than they used to be.

China Educational Exchange is a partnership of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Mission Network, Eastern Mennonite Missions, and Mennonite Central Committee.