Luis Palau's China Visit Finds Change, Hope, Opportunity
- David L. Jones
- 2004 19 Apr
Luis Palau returned to China this month and continued the pursuit of his life-long dream to one day hold an open-air festival in China's capital city of Beijing. "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."
Joining Palau on the trip were tennis star Michael Chang, recording artists Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore, Palau's partner evangelist Jose Zayas, and a delegation of some 40 business people. The group was officially invited to Beijing by the China Charity Federation to help promote the adoption of Chinese children.
Chapman and Moore each have two adopted Chinese daughters and have been involved in a number of humanitarian efforts with Chinese officials. Palau and the team used the group's charitable events to also speak about the spiritual adoption that takes place when a person, by faith, opens his or her heart to Jesus Christ.
At several charitable functions, Palau told his international and Chinese guests, "Adoption is a powerful symbol of what God has done for us through His Son, Jesus. He loves us and welcomes us into His family through Jesus Christ."
Palau was hosted by the China Association for International Friendly Contact (CAIFC) to discuss enhancing overseas cultural exchanges. The CAIFC invited the evangelist to meet with them at the Diayutai Government Guest House, considered the "Camp David of China." The state dinner was held at the same location where President Nixon met with Chinese authorities on his first visit to Beijing.
Shen Weiping, Vice President of CAIFC, toasted Palau by insisting, "We'd like to see you more often in China and we would be delighted to be your hosts on your next visit."
Shen and Palau discussed a wide range of topics, ranging from the writings of Chairman Mao Zedong, (1893-1976) to the dramatic growth of Christianity in China. Palau expressed appreciation for being invited back to China. His hosts were intrigued by the evangelist's extensive knowledge of China's history, politics, and religious background. The unprecedented meeting for an evangelist took place during Easter Holy Week, which led to a lengthy discussion about the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The vice president jokingly told Palau, "Maybe it's very possible that the next time you come to China I'll have become a Christian." The meeting included a very amenable exchange on why they thought Christianity was spreading across China. By most estimates there are between 70-100 million followers of Jesus Christ in China.
As he did when he met with the government officials in Shanghai four years ago, Palau was very open about sharing his dream to one day hold one of his "Great Music, Good News" festivals in both Beijing and Shanghai.
Palau believes the enormous changes in China these past four years are evidence that his dream for an open-air festival will become a reality. The symbols of the new China are everywhere: massive skyscrapers, towering cranes, cement, shopping centers, millions of cell phones, automobiles replacing the once-prevalent bicycles, and a growing international business community. And, where at the close of the Cultural Revolution in 1978 there was not one single official church open, today there are thousands of registered and unregistered meeting places. The church in China is overwhelmingly biblical and evangelical Christian.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
One of the most emotional events of the Palau tour was a mid-week service at the Gang Wa Shi church, one of six officially sanctioned, registered churches in Beijing. An overflow crowd heard Palau give a message on spiritual freedom and spiritual liberty. Quoting the words of Jesus, Palau said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The crowd spilled out into the alleyway by the church where closed-circuit TV carried the evangelist's message. Palau was obviously moved by the event from the opening hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross," sung in Chinese.
Palau concluded his message with a public invitation for his audience to pray to open their hearts to Jesus Christ. He was later told it was the first time there had been a public invitation with a show of hands at a Beijing church to become a follower of Jesus. Throughout the 10-day tour Chinese listeners were challenged to consider the message of Jesus Christ.
Prior to the service at Gang Wa Shi, Palau met with Rev. Yu Xin Li, President of the Beijing Christian Council. Rev. Yu said, "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." Rev. Yu told Palau how just one month earlier the government agreed to allow the construction of two Protestant churches, costing $4.8 million each and each capable of handling well over 1,500 worshippers. The two new churches will be the largest in Beijing. Rev. Yu then showed Palau the blueprints for the two buildings.
Palau was also welcomed at the U.S. Embassy to China by Michael W. Marine, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Eric Richardson, Second Secretary and Human Rights Liaison. Marine has been named by President George W. Bush to become the next ambassador to Vietnam. Marine and Palau discussed the importance of China's efforts 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 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. Marine said it appears that millions of Chinese are looking for the anchor in life that Palau's message offers.
Chang’s Love for Christ
Michael Chang spoke at 30 different events promoting his love of tennis, China, and Jesus Christ. At age 17 Chang became the youngest male player to ever win a major tennis title when in 1989 he won the French Open. Chang is one of Asia's most beloved athletes. He is enormously popular in China for being one of the first international celebrities of Chinese descent. Chang's father is from Guangzhou and his mother from Taiwan. The 32 year-old teamed up with Palau at a number of events and churches. In addition, Chang spoke at high schools, public meetings, universities, the Chinese Tennis Association, Sports Institute of China, and Chinese Tennis Academy.
Chang also put on several tennis clinics for players and coaches. Chang said he was looking for ways to further develop tennis in China. The retired champion said, "In other sports like badminton and table tennis, China has some of the best players in the world, so there's no reason why China cannot have champions in tennis."
At each speaking engagement Chang not only promoted tennis, but also his love for Jesus Christ, which he said was the foundation for his life. Chang and Palau were both pleased at how freely they were permitted to share their love for Jesus.
"I've visited China a number of times, but this trip just blew me away," said Chang. "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."
Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore used the trip to raise money inside China to help orphaned children. Both artists, in event after event, affectionately and at times tearfully told of their love for the Chinese and how God is "a Father to the fatherless". Chapman's message in each meeting was that in the same way adopting a child gives that child hope, we can be adopted by God and given hope through faith in Jesus Christ. In one of the tour's more unusual events, the two award-winning artists gave a free concert to a standing-room-only packed crowd at the Beijing Hard Rock Café. Between songs during the 90-minute concert, the two singers shared family stories, their love for China, and their love for Jesus.
Chapman said, "Heaven has truly come down in China. Doors opened for us everywhere, and the doors that God opens no man can shut. The friendships we've built with our work with orphanages have blossomed. That we could share our music at the Beijing Institute of Technology one day and the Hard Rock Café the next showed us that the power of God is at work in this country."
Fan Baojun, President of the China Charity Federation, expressed his gratitude to the Americans for their concern for the orphan children of China and the underprivileged. At a fund-raising banquet the group helped elevate the charitable work of Care for the Children, The Philip Hayden Foundation, and the China Social Work Association.
Palau used the occasion to tell his Chinese audiences, which included many government officials from various social welfare agencies, that there are also spiritual orphans in the world who are lost, lonely, and desperate. The evangelist said he was excited to be in China and help so many spiritual orphans find peace with God. Both Chapman and Moore shared with their Chinese audiences songs they'd composed that spoke of the emotions in flying half-way around the world to adopt Chinese daughters. The experience has opened dialogue for the two musicians with high-ranking Chinese social welfare authorities.
One of the busiest people on the tour was Palau's partner evangelist Jose Zayas, who addressed numerous student groups about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Zayas is a member of Palau's Next Generation Alliance®, a coalition of evangelists the Portland-based Palau Association is encouraging with meaningful international speaking opportunities.
While in China, Palau also met with some of the country's highest-regarded scholars to hear 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."
Palau also held private meetings with some of the leading house church pastors in Beijing to get their reaction to the feasibility of one day holding a Christian festival in the capital of this country of 1.3 billion people. The house group leaders described for Palau 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 two 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."
These church leaders told Palau of how the requirements necessary to register as a church were too restrictive, preventing churches that wanted to register from doing so. The restrictions made it necessary for house churches to constantly spin off new fellowships to handle growth. According to the leaders Palau met with, a liberalization of registration laws would cause more churches to register.
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.
A Great Revival
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 is 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 business people traveling with Palau were also given the opportunity to address university students and Chinese business and professional people, as well as 30 rural pastors at a special conference led by partner evangelist Jose Zayas. The Chinese economy is expanding at a rapid pace and there is great interest in dialoging with international business leaders. Palau's business friends were also allowed to share why they feel Jesus Christ is very relevant to economic success.
China is attracting worldwide attention for its economic potential. China is ranked number two in the world for purchasing power. The country expects a huge boost to its economy from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. As China emerges as an economic power, there appears to be a new readiness to rethink economic and social policies.
The Palau tour concluded with Palau, Chapman and Chang participating in two evangelistic Easter services at the Beijing International Christian Fellowship (BICF). Between services at BICF, 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.