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Miracle on Nanchong’s downtown stage
December 15, 2006
A Christmas Eve spectacle breaks all the rules
Nanchong, China – Christmas has always been a season of surprises, and last Christmas was especially surprising for me and a thousand or so other Nanchong residents.
Early on the afternoon of Christmas Eve last year I was surprised when passing by one of Nanchong’s biggest department stores. These department stores often hold customer-attracting events on their front steps, and sometimes even erect temporary stages for extra-special extravaganzas. These take place most often around holidays, including Christmas.
(Last year I drifted too close to the front of one crowd and found myself dancing with Snow White and the seven dwarves while Santa played the accordion.)
This year, traffic around Nanchong’s central traffic circle was brought to a standstill by the street-filling crowd attracted by a rock band from Beijing.
On my way to the church I had been surprised by the stage set up in front of one of the other department stores. The huge backdrop featured a picture of the new Nanchong Church, along with its address and the words, “Celebrate the Birthday of Jesus: Singing and Poetry Meeting.”
It was advertising this department store’s Christmas spectacle: a Christian Christmas Eve celebration, right there on the department store stage.
Everyone knows that Christian activities in China are supposed to take place only within the confines of a church. Christians are free to worship in church, but public religious activities, such as Christmas Eve celebrations, are not usually allowed.
This should not be happening.
We arrived about half an hour early for the 6:00 start, but the steps facing the stage were already crowded with people: teachers from our university with their children, [our daughter] Claire’s classmates, my students, a few middle school students that Jeanette tutors on weekends, many, many familiar faces from the church, a Muslim couple with their one-year-old baby I had chatted with earlier in the day.
The choir sang. Pastor Wang preached.
“Who cares about the problems in your home, in your family, in your job?” he asked the audience. “The God who created the world is a God of love who cares about you.”
A group of university students acted out the Nativity, a kids’ choir sang, people danced, a group of teachers from Mennonite Partners in China (formerly China Educational Exchange) sang a carol, I sang a song, and I led some kids in an exciting game of “pin-the-star-on-the-Christmas-tree.”
The audience went wild when Pastor Wang dragged a box to the front of the stage and started throwing prizes into the crowd. He was throwing bilingual Gospels of Mark.
The gospel hasn’t been preached publicly like this in Nanchong for more than fifty years – not with spotlights and loudspeakers in the middle of the city. Hundreds of people heard the gospel in Nanchong last Christmas, and many of them have a copy of Mark’s gospel.
I had never actually heard Pastor Wang use the word miracle. He had told me stories of healings, changed lives, and restored relationships but he chose the word miracle for his description of the events of this last year in the Nanchong church.
He started with talking about the Christmas extravaganza in the city plaza. I asked about the results of that, “Are there actually people who have come to the church following that event saying that it was that event that made them realize there was a church in Nanchong?”
He laughed out loud. Some? No, many!
Since then, several have begun attending regularly and some are even in the baptism class. The Saturday youth services at the church, in the past having a handful of young workers, now is usually attended by more than 40 students.
Pastor Wang calls this a miracle.
Todd and Jeannette Hanson serve with Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network, and Mennonite Partners in China (formerly China Educational Exchange) in Nanchong, China. The Hansons have lived and worked in Nanchong since 1994.