He ignores his wife's entreaties to hurry. He slowly turns to the boat, reading as he walks, so engrossed that he misses his dinner boat cruise departure.
It's Chinese New Year and this man is spending it on vacation in Southeast Asia with thousands of other Chinese tourists. More than 50 mission volunteers from six states and two countries are spending this holiday distributing Mandarin Bibles through the Southern Cross Project, a Bible distribution ministry in Asia.
The volunteers hand out a Bible and a red packet filled with Christian literature and the "JESUS" film to Chinese on vacation. While Bibles are easier to obtain in China than in years past, Bibles still must be purchased through government-sanctioned bookstores. However, Chinese traveling abroad are allowed to bring a Bible back with them.
This is one of the best times of the year to pass out Bibles in vacation spots throughout Asia. The Chinese Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival as it's known in China, is the most important holiday for the Chinese. It marks the beginning of a New Year and falls on a different day every year based on the lunar and solar calendar. This year it will be celebrated on Feb. 3. The New Year is a time to put away and sweep out the old, and bring in the new. It is also a time for visiting family and ushering in wealth, happiness and prosperity.
Most Chinese give "hong bao," or red envelopes with money inside, during the New Year. The color red in Chinese culture symbolizes good luck to ward off evil spirits. The Chinese character for blessing is usually printed on these envelopes and on door fronts.
What the Chinese man who missed his boat found out is that "the blessing" he's searching for has already arrived. Volunteers like Mei Zhou*, who lives in Taipei, Taiwan, came to share this ultimate blessing.
"It's a joy for me," Zhou says about giving out Bibles. "God is love and God wants everyone, mainland Chinese or Taiwanese, to know God cares for everyone."
A volunteer behind Zhou proclaims as tourists walk past: "Free Chinese Bibles, a gift for you, that you can take back legally to China." The offer catches the attention of one tourist.
"It's free, and in Chinese?" the tourist asks, pausing to flip through the pages to make sure it's written in Mandarin.
Southern Cross volunteer Xia Hua Zhang*, also of Taipei, Taiwan, says people always ask in amazement if the Bibles are really free, believing that nothing in life is really free.
Bible availability in China in the last 15 years has increased, yet they remain difficult to obtain. Voices of the Martyrs estimates there's only one Bible for every 222 people, making them a rare commodity.
Bibles are not sold in bookstores, but are primarily distributed through government-sanctioned Three-Self Churches. House church pastors and believers who buy Bibles in China can be monitored. Chinese are allowed one personal copy of the Bible, so the returning Chinese tourists can take the Bibles they received from Southern Cross back with them.
A man holds his new Bible close to his heart and offers a "thank you."
"In Taiwan, people take things for granted, their Bibles sit on the shelf," Zhou says, noting that she's heard of many mainland Chinese staying up long nights to read the Bible in its entirety.
"They don't treasure it as the mainland Chinese do. They treasure Jesus at the expense of their life," Zhou says, referring to many Chinese Christians who are still persecuted in that country.
For many tourists, this is the first Bible they've ever owned. Others pick up the Bibles so they can give them to friends and family back home, like one Chinese woman from Singapore. She explains that she has a Bible, but her mother needs one. The Southern Cross volunteer hands a Bible and a red bag filled with Christian literature and the JESUS film to the mother and offers another Bible packet to her husband.
"No, no, don't waste it," the mother insists, waving off the extra Bible. "We can share."
Zhou smiles and quickly replies, "It's OK. We want you both to have one. Or you can share it with someone else."
Another volunteer from Taipei, Xia Hua Zhang*, says the next step after passing out the Bibles is prayer.
"Pray for them to open their hearts and minds, to come to Jesus," Zhang says.
She is praying for a woman she met while distributing Bibles. Zhang shared the entire Gospel message with the 30-year-old woman. Her grandmother and 13-year-old daughter also listened.
The woman comes from a Christian family -- her grandmother is a believer. The woman wasn't ready to accept the Gospel that evening but Zhang prays that she will read the Bible her grandmother took.
Zhang and Zhou pray this will be the year of blessing for the Chinese tourists who receive Bibles -- the year their old selves will be swept out the door and new life will be ushered in.
*Names changed. Carolyn Anderson lives and writes from Southeast Asia. For more up-to-the-minute stories like this, go to www.mreport.org. The live coverage of the Southern Cross Project's Bible distribution will continue through Feb. 8.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net