Monday, January 02, 2012

Bibles in China

I thought I had posted this last February. Apparently not. I think it is worth considering.

In Hong Kong, we experienced what it’s like to be in the most crowded place on earth. While there, we met with a man who works to send Bibles into China. Sarita and I were not sure why his work was necessary. After all, the government is cooperating with the International Bible Societies in its Amity Press Bible printing effort. Our contact’s response was most enlightening.

In keeping with the “cosmetic culture” idea to which we had been introduced by a mission leader in Bangkok two weeks earlier (“Cosmetic culture”: the most important thing is how things look on the outside; not how they are on the inside), he noted several things:
  • Amity Press boasts of printing and distributing inside China between 40 and 50 million Bibles in its first 20 years of production (through 2006). (You can see and hear these numbers on an Amity YouTube video posted by the Bible Society of New South Wales, Australia, who are heavily involved in sponsoring the Press.)
  • If you look at the Amity page I referenced above, you'll see even higher numbers.
  • Beyond production, as Peter Dean, Assistant to the General Manager of Amity notes in the YouTube video (beginning at about 4:54), there are 70 main distribution points for these Bibles, and vans take the Bibles out from there.
All of these numbers and figures are real. Our contact would not quibble with them. HOWEVER, he said,
  • You've got to recognize that there are between 100 and 150 million Chinese believers in China! Even with all the production since 1986, there may have been one Bible printed for every two believers.
  • Notice that the numbers Amity quotes are from the beginning of production. How many well-used Bibles still exist twenty years after they were printed? Especially when they are used and stored in rough conditions—without air conditioning and surrounded by the dirt, insects and rodents common to rural environments in China?
  • China’s land mass is equivalent to the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) minus Minnesota. Imagine that you could acquire a Bible only by traveling from wherever you are—and you probably don't own a car and don't own a motorcycle!—and you have to go to the distribution point closest to you—a hundred, and possibly several hundred miles away from where you live. Moreover, when you get there, you discover that the store happens to be out of stock at the moment, or, while your friends and you all decided to go in together to buy a bunch of Bibles at one time, the distribution point will permit you to pick up only 10 Bibles. –Can we call it what it is? It’s a major inconvenience at least, and a major expense in time and money.
In sum, he said, as wonderful as the Amity Press efforts are, they are inadequate to meet the needs of the church in China.
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