Book Reviews

A Parable for the New Century

Witnesses to Power, Stories of God’s Quiet Work in a Changing China by Tetsunao Yamamori and Kim-Kwong Chan, Paternoster Press, 2000. ISBN 1-8422-7041-9, 109 pp.  Available from Gabriel Resources, PO Box 1047, Waynesboro, GA  30830; toll free:  1-8-MORE BOOKS or email:; cost $7.69 plus S/H.

A review by Joshua Snyder

Oftentimes the average Christian outside China has a simple view of the Chinese church. To him the church is a center of revival and an object of persecution. This is true, of course. Yet the church in China is so much more. It is a parable for the new century. It tells the tale of men and women who, in the face of severe consequences, stand for Christ. It tells the tale of evangelistic fervor that bears lasting fruit. It tells the tale of God’s power.

Witnesses to Power, Stories of God’s Quiet Work in a Changing China faithfully recounts this parable to us as it tells stories of unsung Chinese gospel heroes. The stories stir and instruct the heart, teaching the way of Christ by way of example. It is a balanced portrayal of the Chinese church, both now and in recent history. Most of all, it brings light to the mind darkened in its understanding of the Chinese church.  In so doing, Witnesses to Power explains the recent voluminous growth of the church as best as the authors, Tetsunao Yamamori and KimKwong Chan, themselves know how to. In short, this 109 page book is a quick but solid and well-rounded meal on the church in China and how it grew over the past century.

The introduction itself is worth the read because it does what it is supposed to do: it introduces the church in China—its growth, its relationship to the government, and its relationship to overseas believers. In humble fashion it presents factors that, in addition to the work of the Holy Spirit and spiritual vitality of believers, influenced the startling growth of the church in recent history. Among those reasons given are the Chinese perception of Christianity as an improvement on traditional Chinese beliefs, Christianity’s highly flexible and successful organizational form, the evangelistic nature of Protestantism, and the self-respect and enhanced personal identity it offers.

The stories themselves come from such remote regions as Xinjiang to rural, minority areas of the Southwest. Men and women, Han and minorities, intellectuals and rural pastors—the people presented encompass China’s entire spectrum. There are stories of evangelism and persecution, victory and suffering, courage and trials.  Several of these stories Dr. Chan was privileged to hear first-hand.

Women feature prominently in the book.  The first story takes place during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution and is about a young lady in Xinjiang who was left fatherless thanks to over-zealous Red Guards. Left alone since her mother had died when she was two, she faced the tribulations of the Christian life armed with a single, powerful word spoken to her by her imprisoned father: “In times of trial, learn to depend on Jesus.” This word preserved her life one cold, winter evening at the age of fifteen when she despaired of life and wanted to end it all. The word returned to her with greater strength than the wind that blew outside. That word also kept her strong in the face of expulsion from university because of her faith. She considered disgrace for the sake of the gospel of greater value than worldly attainments.

Another story is about Granny Jie, a woman used of God during her lifetime for the ministry of the gospel. When she was 95, Dr. Chan met her and interviewed her. In the early years of the Communist regime, she had received a vision from God telling her that persecution was soon to come. During the period of persecution that followed, many fell away from the faith, but Granny Jie stood strong. She led home meetings when the church doors closed.

In the early 80s, she and the other Christians read that the government would allow churches to reopen. However, for nearly ten years the government’s oversight proved ruinous to the church. Then in 1992, she and others argued their case with the government and won the right to select their own leadership. Even at the age of 95, she continued to wake at 5 am to begin her daily prayers. Her faith was simple. She believed that when she was ill, the Lord would heal her. And he did. Not only would he heal her, but he would also heal others through her prayers.

Witnesses to Power dedicates an entire chapter to signs and wonders. Wei Dongbei fell from a roof and was paralyzed.  After coming to faith in Christ, he started to walk again with the aid of a crutch. Two of Heng Xin’s oxen ate grass poisoned by pesticides.  Both fell to the ground. A local Christian came and prayed for the animals. The Lord healed them both. For 25 years Chen Jianguo was possessed by an evil spirit that caused him to disturb the entire village. Once he accepted Christ, the spirit left him. Now he worships God and his mind is free.

Stories worthy of note in this book are those detailing victories of the gospel. One in particular is the story of Pastor Yesu, a member of the Lisu minority, who journeyed to numerous Dulong villages in the northern part of the Dulong Valley in Southwest China. In some instances whole villages came to Christ through his team’s itinerant ministry.  Visible fruit, however, was not borne in every village. In one, not a person stood up to receive the gospel. Though dismayed, Pastor Yesu in his heart said, “I believed that the seed had been sown and that one day it would germinate and bear fruit.  Then we would be overjoyed.”

This book opens the eyes of Western Christians.  It says, “Many Western Christians have viewed China as a target field for missions. But most Chinese have been converted by other Chinese, not by Westerners. Typically, a handful becomes Christian during a period of contact with an overseas missionary. From then on, those few do the preaching and church planting.” This is not to minimize the role of Western Christians in China. Rather, it challenges any arrogance that might think the growth of China’s church and the evangelism of China’s unreached peoples lies solely upon the shoulders of the church in the West.

One unexpected gem mined from this book is an appendix on the Lisu. This chapter contains material laden with profound missiological import. It details how Christian teachings transformed life for Lisu Christians and even enhanced their economic situation. For instance, Christian morality claimed ground on the battlefield of Lisu marriage customs. If a man initiated a divorce, he would reclaim all he had paid to acquire his wife; if a woman initiated it, she would pay back twice the amount she received from her husband. Moreover, men could have concubines while teens slept together before marriage. Missionaries initiated a transformation of these norms, insisting that Christian marriage be monogamous, a couple never divorce and no one engage in premarital sex. This is one of many instances in which Christian teaching transformed Lisu society. This appendix provides a model for ministry among unreached people groups not only in China but worldwide.

There is little to nothing in this book with which one can take issue. It does not unfairly condemn either the registered church or the unregistered church. It does chronicle the quiet, oftentimes unseen work of God in China. For the average Christian in the pew, the book is an instruction manual on the Christian walk, in particular as far as evangelism and persecution are concerned. Thus, for anyone who wants a quick but substantial read on God’s work in the Chinese church, this is the book. Pick it up, devour it, and share it with whomever you meet—and don’t forget to learn from it. After all, it is a parable and a parable instructs anyone who will listen with an open heart.

Image credit: Church , Beijing, China by L via Flickr.
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Joshua Snyder

Joshua Snyder, M.A., is a China researcher and analyst.View Full Bio