The Liberating Gospel in China, The Christian Faith among China’s Minority Peoples, by Ralph R. Covell, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1995. ISBN 0-8010-2595-8, $17.99
A review by Jim Ziervogel
In the preface to his book on China’s minority peoples, Dr. Ralph Covell writes, “Christian people remain fascinated with exotic China.” If you are one of those who is fascinated with the exotic China, read The Liberating Gospel in China, The Christian Faith among China’s Minority Peoples. Between the covers of this book, there are many thrilling stories of God’s great work establishing the Christian faith “among China’s minority peoples.”
The author, Dr. Ralph Covell, first went to China in 1946 as a pioneer missionary among the Nosu people who live in a remote area of southwestern China. Then, when China’s Bamboo Curtain fell in 1949, Dr. Covell and his family returned to the States. However, they did not stay in the U.S. for long before answering the call to work among the Sedig peoples—aborigine dwellers in the high mountains of northeastern Taiwan. Although now retired from Denver Seminary, where he served as professor of world missions, he still carries a burden for China’s minorities and continues to do research and writing about China’s minority nationalities.
The author’s primary purpose is to show how the Christian faith has been a message of liberation for some of China’s minority peoples. Groups of people who had been enslaved to demonic powers for centuries have been led out of their dark dungeons into God’s marvelous light. Dr. Covell very effectively reveals how the Lord Jesus became the Liberator of several different people groups.
The author’s second purpose is to confront the mystery of the resistance of some of these minority peoples to the gospel. As Dr. Covell notes, “some . . . groups resisted Christ even more vigorously than did the Han Chinese.” Why this “resistance rather than response” of peoples to follow the Lord Jesus? Throughout his book, Dr. Covell probes for and offers some answers to this mystery and sums them up in the last chapter.
As you read this book, you will find that it is well structured for the development of the author’s purposes. The first chapter introduces the reader to China’s minority peoples. In it, Dr. Covell takes the stance that culture, rather than race, is the criteria for exactly who is a minority. The next ten chapters each concentrate on one or two minority nationalities.
While the names of many of these minority peoples may be unfamiliar to most, one exception could be that of the Lisu people. Isobel Kuhn, with her husband John, labored among these people. In her books, she speaks of living among the Lisu as life in the “perpendicular.” Dr. Covell refers to this in the title of his sixth chapter called “Evangelism on the Perpendicular Among the Lisu of Yunnan,” in which he describes some of the wonders that God has performed among them.
In each of the other nine chapters, Dr. Covell recounts either the mighty wonders that God has performed among those groups responsive to the gospel or covers the unresponsive groups. The Tibetans, Turkish Muslims, Wild Nosu of Sichuan and Chinese Hui Muslims are all groups that have strongly resisted the gospel. The author looks carefully at their histories and suggests some reasons for their resistance.
Throughout this book, you will find threads of missiological strategy, observations and principles. These will prove to be excellent resources for those who are taking the “liberating gospel” to China. For those who teach missions, there is good material for interacting with students. Without a doubt, the author’s telling “stories that have never been told anywhere” comes from the wealth of research that he has obviously so diligently accomplished. Herein lies the greatest strength of his work.
Another strength is the presentation of the “big picture” of pioneer missionary work among the far away people hidden in China’s remote areas. It is very common for authors to research and report on the work of their mission, but Dr. Covell has researched many archives and files including those of the Roman-Catholic mission in China. Also, note his excellent footnotes and bibliography that are very useful resources.
Perhaps we should ask, “What is missing from such a superb work?” Those that are on the cutting edge of mission leadership will want to see and hear about the unofficial minority groups—some of which are hiding under the umbrella of official groups— which are now being discovered. While there is debate regarding the placement of these peoples, each with their own language and culture, they too need to hear the liberating gospel in their heart language.