At least one volunteer felt the people she met were unusually open to the Christian witness.
Sibil Tharp, member of First Baptist Church in Las Cruces, N.M., thought the distributions had a different feel this year. She started making the annual volunteer trip five years ago and, while she didn't see a rise in the number of Bibles given out, she did see a different reaction from the tourists this time.
"I don't know how to explain it except that God seems to be everywhere," the volunteer said, noting that three Chinese made decisions to follow Jesus this week. "The Chinese are looking us in the faces, making eye contact and smiling."
Volunteers from six different states and two countries partnered in the Southern Cross project, a Chinese Bible distribution ministry based in three countries in Asia that seeks to get as many Bibles as possible into the hands of Chinese tourists. Due to Chinese government regulations, Bibles are difficult to obtain in China. However, the Chinese are allowed to bring a Chinese Bible home with them from a trip abroad.
Tharp, who served on the project for six weeks, said more Chinese Christians have approached the Southern Cross volunteers to encourage the ministry than in any of her previous years. The volunteer adds that even those who are not Christian seem to be more receptive to the Bibles and open to talking about God.
"This is the most exciting Chinese New Year I've ever experienced," Tharp said. "I hope and pray this is a reflection of what's happening in their country."
ABANDONED FOR A REASON
While the Southern Cross volunteers sometimes find their literature packets and Bibles discarded, one volunteer felt especially disheartened to see two of them lying next to bawdy fliers advertising adult entertainment and cheap alcohol.
The volunteer stuffed the items in his backpack, thinking he'd take them back to the distribution site later. The group he was with continued on their way, prayer walking through an area where prostitutes sell their bodies at night.
A few steps down the street, a familiar language stood out among dozens melting together: "Do you speak English?"
Andy Parker of Victory Baptist Church in Henning, Tenn., heard the question but kept walking, thinking that they were close to the end of the street and surely the man would find someone else who spoke English.
"I felt convicted as I continued," Parker said. "I can speak English. I should talk to him."
Parker turned back and tried to start a conversation with the man.
A few yards away, a Chinese woman stopped Southern Cross worker Keith Kaye and asked for prayer. As Kaye led her to the volunteers for prayer, he passed Parker and the Chinese man trying to communicate in English. Kaye stopped when he heard the man say he was Chinese.
"Oh really? You're Chinese?" Kaye asked, motioning for the volunteer to get the discarded Bibles out of the backpack. "We have a present for you. We've got two Chinese Bibles."
The woman asking for prayer stopped in her tracks at the mention of a Bible. "You have Chinese Bibles?" she asked. "I have a friend who needs one." The woman disappeared into the crowd and returned with a Chinese man in tow.
The two men beamed as they received the Bibles. They promised to read the Bibles as they rushed to rejoin their departing tour group.
"Well, now we know why you've found these ," Kaye said to the volunteers. "They were left behind for a reason."
Four Chinese tourists stopped to ask if the Bibles offered by the two women from Church at Canyon Creek in Austin, Texas, really were free. The tourists' English was impeccable and an answer to prayer for the volunteers, who had prayed for one-on-one opportunities to share the Gospel. In response, God brought them four English students.
Angie Moore and Martina Hammond admitted they didn't have much experience in verbally sharing their faith with strangers. They soon found out over coffee, however, that it's just a matter of finding common bonds that can lead to a conversation about God.
In a Starbucks next to a strip club, the women found out just how much they had in common with the young Chinese women they had met. Hammond immediately connected with them as they talked about communism in China. Hammond grew up in the formerly communist Czech Republic.
"There aren't many choices in communism, you are told what you can and can't do, but here is a choice you need to make," Hammond told the young women, leading the conversation to the message she came to Southeast Asia to share. She told how Jesus became her personal Savior.
One of the young women exclaimed to the other: "That's just like your grandma!"
Jiu Shui's* grandmother is a Christian. The young teacher said Jesus is all her grandmother talks about. Her parents, however, aren't believers and neither is she. Shui said her grandmother read the Bible every day.
"That's what we do, too," Hammond told her. "It's food for us."
Shui replied that she had read some of the Bible but found it too hard to understand. The volunteer pointed out that the version she had read was in an antiquated Chinese dialect, but the Southern Cross Bibles were contemporary versions in simplified Chinese characters she could read and easily understand.
"I really believe someone has been praying for that girl," Hammond said. "God has been planting the seeds."
Moore bonded easily with An Feng* and Wei Deng.* All three women were teachers, and they chatted happily about the subjects they taught -- math and English -- and about students both naughty and nice.
The conversation turned to the spiritual when Feng asked Moore, "Are you born a Christian?"
Feng said that question continually nagged at her after she wrote a paper comparing the Bible to other works of literature. She didn't understand the relationship aspect of Christianity.
Moore shared that she grew up in a Christian home but made her own decision to follow Christ as a 10-year-old.
"It's a choice," Moore explained. "You are not born into it."
Before Hammond and Moore met the girls, they were discouraged about not giving out many boxes of Bibles during their shift at the distribution site. The meetings transformed their outlook.
"Boxes aren't success," Moore said. "It's being faithful and planting seeds."
*Names changed. Caroline Anderson, Ivy O'Neil and Susie Rain contributed to this article. All three are writers living in Southeast Asia. For more information about the Southern Cross Project, e-mail email@example.com or visit www. mreport.org, which followed more than 50 volunteers during one week of the traditional two-week Chinese New Year's celebrations.
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