BY RYAN MORGAN
One of the tens of thousands of Chines- language Bibles smuggled into and distributed across China last year.
A Very Heavy Suitcase
No one seemed to be paying attention to me. Looking around the train casually, I kept expecting to catch one of the dozens of Chinese locals on their way to work staring back at me with a piercing glare. Could they tell I was a smuggler? Was there something in my body language or mannerisms or even the way I carried my over-stuffed, Bible-loaded suitcase that gave me away as something more than your average Western tourist? I would find out soon enough.
Two large x-ray machines loomed in front of me as dozens of travelers swirled past on their way into China. Some automatically placed their baggage on the machines while others, seeing the lines, walked right on past. I decided I would be one of those “others” and, acting as if I didn’t even see the x-ray machines, I casually glided by, trying with everything in me not to look like I was dragging along 80 pounds of God’s Word or, as the border officials would have called it, “contraband.”
I emerged in China without a hitch and found myself smiling as I realized I was successfully smuggling Bibles into China for the first time. The Mandarin scriptures in my suitcase would soon be distributed across the country to be handed out to illegal house church members and other Christians who, for one reason or another, could not obtain a copy. I soon discovered, though, that many see smuggling Bibles into China as outdated and unnecessary. My answer to them is: Yeah, right.
High Risk, Low Profit, Great Benefits
Ask any average American what the first thing that comes to mind is when they hear the word smuggling, and they will probably say drugs. After all, you can buy just about anything in the U.S.A. legally, right? So why bother smuggling something across the border unless the potential profit was worth the risk of being arrested, deported, or shot by the competition?
It’s no wonder, then, that the idea of smuggling a book that millions of Americans have sitting on their coffee table or resting on a nearby bookshelf sounds, well, foreign. But, every day around the world, Christians risk their lives to do just that, and China is no exception. Last year alone, ICC helped those smuggling Bibles into China move thousands of Bibles into the hands of the estimated 130 million Chinese Christians. Yes, you read that correctly— 130 million. The vast majority of those Christians worship in unregistered and, therefore, illegal “house” churches. It’s believed that more Chinese Christians attend service every Sunday than all of the Christians in Europe combined.
So, why do dozens of men and women risk their livelihood smuggling Bibles into China? Because getting the Word of God into the hands of China’s believers is a cause they passionately believe in. The job is stressful and there are no profits to be made. But, at the end of the day, the benefit of knowing that you have eternally changed the life of a brother or sister living on the inside, and maybe even the face of China itself, is well worth it.
But I’ve heard that you can buy Bibles in China, right?
Technically, yes, this is true. Christians can legally purchase a Bible from a government-sanctioned Three-Self Church or even the occasional Christian bookstore (though these are very few and far between). There are, however, three major issues with this.
First and foremost, it can still be risky for a house church Christian in China to visit a government-sanctioned church and purchase a Bible. Back in 1988, when China first started printing Bibles through Amity Printing (the only legal printer of Bibles in China), house church believers were forced to show identification when buying a Bible. They were then followed until their church was discovered and subsequently raided by police. This created a lot of distrust that still exists today.
Secondly, the most widely available version for purchase, the Chinese Union Version, is a very inaccurate translation written in archaic Chinese vocabulary.
Thirdly, even if a house church Christian wants to risk buying a copy, there are many who could not afford one. Even with China’s booming economy, an estimated 300 million Chinese citizens still live below the international poverty line, making less than $1.25 per day. This makes purchasing a Bible that may only cost $1.50 an expensive purchase for hundreds of millions. When they have to travel to another city to make the purchase, the cost becomes virtually impossible.
The need is still great
Just last week, a missions organization dedicated to providing Bibles to the Chinese people estimated that approximately 200 million Chinese Christians do not have a copy of God’s Word. This estimate is exorbitantly higher than even the total number of estimated Christians made just a few years ago and may be hard to believe, but there is little doubt that the need for Bibles is still tremendous.
The Communist Party wants Western governments to believe that it is printing more than enough Bibles through Amity Press. But, Amity Press actually sells a huge proportion of the Bibles it prints overseas, using paper paid for by concerned Christian organizations and making a huge profit for the communist government. As long as this remains the status quo, smuggling Bibles into China will remain absolutely necessary.
Grateful Chinese believers come out in the snow to pick up copies of the Bible smuggled across the border by ICC.