Open Doors is the mission organisation started by Brother Andrew when he began to smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union. When the iron curtain was opened, Open Doors began to look for other people groups who wouldn’t have Bibles unless they were smuggled into their country.
Paul Estabrooks was in charge of the Far East arena and had already helped to smuggle many Bibles into China but when the Chinese asked for 30,000 they wondered how it could even be possible? They’d never taken in 1,000 in one trip so how could they take 30,000?
The Chinese said, “You pray and we’ll pray and God will show you.” The Bible they printed for the job was the tiniest Bible in the world and called it the Rainbow Project. However, it affectionately became known as Project Hernia. Using a trade show as cover, thirty men each brought two suitcases weighing 92 pounds each, full of Bibles. That’s 184 pounds, in addition to whatever personal items they brought—a change of undies and a toothbrush was about all they had room for.
It was a success and it wasn’t long before the Chinese made a request that was totally impossible—one million Bibles. How? The Chinese said, “You pray and we’ll pray and God will show you.” The previous Bibles had been printed in the traditional Chinese script but these Bibles would be in Mao Tse Tung’s simplified Chinese.
There was a joke about this. With the traditional writing read from top to bottom, the Chinese joked with the Westerners that they were more spiritual because they nodded in agreement with the Bible as they read it, where as we, with our left-to-right reading has us shaking our heads side to side in disagreement. Well, the simplified Chinese has adopted the left-to-right method and so the Westerners could now tease back and say the Chinese were more spiritual any more.
The Bibles printed for Project Pearl (the Bible being the pear of great price that Jesus spoke about) were somewhat bigger than the 30,000 lot and would weigh 232 tons. How to bring that much into China without the officials knowing? The promise God gave them while they ironed out all the details was from Jeremiah 33:3 “I will show you remarkable things.”
The solution turned out to be a specially built tugboat that could accommodate all the men needed to do the job and a barge that, loaded, would have very little of it showing above water. This would make it easier to offload the Bibles that were packaged in one-ton, waterproof blocks.
The other part of the problem was this: Could the Chinese handle a million Bibles? Could they receive them and distribute them without getting caught? The Chinese replied that they were willing to die if a million people could each have a Bible.
The night on which the Bibles were delivered was clear with a bright, shining moon—not ideal conditions for smuggling. 20,000 believers were waiting on shore and it took only two hours to offload all the Bibles and leave.
It took five years for all the Bibles to be distributed throughout the country—every province except Tibet received some. As a result, revival broke out.
One of the million stories that emerged from Project Pearl is about a pastor who had no Bible. Once a week he would ride his bicycle twenty kilometres to another pastor who had a Bible. He took notes which he then took back home and used for his church. When he got his Bible, he read it cover-to-cover in one week. The next week he read it through again and again the week after. He went on to become an evangelist and in 15 years had a congregation of 400,000. Each month another 20,000 became believers. I can’t imagine!
Paul declares that you cannot be too young or too old to preach. One 14-year-old is in charge of 400 churches and an 89-year-old woman (must have heard Doug Nichols preach) went to Tibet, the darkest part of China, and started three house churches in Llasa.
There have been big changes in the church in China. For one, millions of Bibles are now distributed each year because things are more open. House churches have moved into the cities where they’re growing as fast as those in the rural areas and now there’s a movement to go beyond house churches and meet in warehouses.
In addition, there are a number of groups of churches who are committed to reaching the Muslim world. Back to Jerusalem is only one such group. Another group with a million pastors intends to send a tithe of their number as evangelists. There are about half a dozen such organisations with this goal. The advantage the Chinese have is that they are not mistrusted by the Muslims as Westerners are. When they see us, they think about the Crusades (and, I’m guessing, the “Great Satan,” the USA).
I admire the courage of the believers in China, especially of those who have risked imprisonment or loss of life to ensure that God’s Word will be read, preached and believed throughout China and those, like Paul Estabrooks, who facilitate the Chinese believers’ work from outside the country.
Lord, give us the same courage and passion for your Word and for those who will die without you unless we bring them the Good News.