Although the increased availability of Bibles is a step forward from China's strictly communist days, a closer inspection reveals the country continues to control how many Bibles are printed and who can get them, according to a WORLD News Service analysis.
Amity Printing started in 1988 as a joint effort of the British United Bible Societies (UBS) and Amity Foundation, the charity arm of the Three Self Church. Bible production increased from 500,000 the first year to 12 million last year. But many of the Bibles quit going to Chinese Christians after Amity Printing found it could turn a profit by exporting its goods. Bibles are printed in more than 90 different languages, and of the 88.9 million Bibles printed between 1988 and late 2011, 33.2 million were exported.
And the number of exported Bibles is increasing. In 2011, about two-thirds of the Bibles printed went out of the country, with only about 4 million copies remaining in China's borders, WNS reported in April.
Not only is the number of Bibles printed by Amity not keeping pace with the growth of Christianity in China, the estimated 50 million believers in unregistered house churches do not have direct access to them, said Paul Hattaway of Asia Harvest, a North Carolina-based interdenominational ministry focusing on China and other Asian nations.
Amity's Bibles are distributed to China's 55,000 registered churches, and anyone can purchase them there for an affordable 9.50 Yuan ($1.50). Christians who are found in possession of an Amity-printed Bible do not face punishment. But Christians in rural house churches far from registered congregations have a difficult time getting Bibles, and Christians who ask for more than a few Bibles at a time raise suspicion.
"There is a growing emergency in China because of the lack of God's Word among the rural house churches," Hattaway said in an Asia Harvest newsletter. "If this need is not rebalanced soon, I fear it will have dire consequences for the revival that has been burning so brightly in China for the last 30 years."
Hattaway said the government's claims that Bibles no longer are needed in China is propaganda, and through speaking with the leaders of house church networks, he found they still need some 35 million Bibles to give one to all their members. Asian Harvest, for its part, has printed and distributed more than 6 million Bibles to house churches.
"More than 60 years of atheistic communist teaching in China has resulted in a large spiritual void in the lives of a billion people, which creates a hunger for truth," Hattaway said. "When many people hear truth, they are eager to embrace and wholeheartedly live for God."
Reprinted from WORLD News Service, an affiliate of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com) based in Asheville, N.C.
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