Chinese Church Voices

Bringing the Gospel to Tibet

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

A recent article in mainland-based site, The Christian Times, highlights some of the unique challenges of doing mission work among the Tibetan people.

When we think about missions in China, we cannot help but think of one area where the soil remains hard: Tibet. A variety of factors, including the severe climate, relative inaccessibility, and the influence of Tibetan Buddhism have led to the slow spread of the gospel. And despite a published Tibetan Bible, gospel tracts, and a gospel radio program in Tibetan, the region still remains largely unreached.

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, once said: "To make converts in Tibet is similar to going into a cave and trying to rob a lioness of her cubs." Numerous other missionaries in the past have admitted that for a Tibetan to convert to Christianity is anything but easy. Tibetan Buddhism has deeply influenced local culture and customs, creating an intensely religious society.

Of he more than 7 million Tibetans, currently only several hundred are believers. The author recalls attending a service at Beijing Zion Church during which a Han missionary to Tibet tearfully related his experience in the region. Because he had felt called by God to preach the gospel in Tibet, he had married a Tibetan woman. However, although she claimed to follow Christ, her faith had not been firmly establishedshe lacked maturity and had remained influenced by the spiritual climate as well as local customs and practices.

In regard to Christianity, many Tibetans either see the Christian God as just another deity in the larger pantheon of gods, or they simply have no interest in the narrative of Christ's salvation. A young missionary who once distributed a large number of gospel tracts throughout Tibet left with this impression: "The Tibetans are completely uninterested in the gospel."

In fact, Tibet is a place where many Western missionaries have longed to serve. According to a report from Christianity Today (Taiwan), Robert Barnett, a Tibetan research scholar from Columbia University, estimates that among the nearly 400 foreigners living in Xining, Qinghai Province (a city with a large Tibetan population), 80-90 percent are missionaries whose mission focus lies primarily upon the younger Tibetan population. In addition to philanthropic, educational, medical and business ventures, the missionaries have distributed free Bibles, literature, and testimonial DVDs in the Tibetan language.

This kind of mission strategy has contributed to the local economy as well as education, philanthropy, and employment in the area. To a certain degree the mission work has also helped to weaken the power and influence of Tibetan Buddhism.

Original article: 宣教硬土西藏 亟需代祷与福音开拓

Image credit: Joann Pittman

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