Paul Hattaway, the co-founder of ministry Asia Harvest and author of books including The Heavenly Man and Operation China, has embarked on a new series of books about the history of Christianity in China with the first two looking at the provinces of Shandong and Guizhou. He speaks about the books, what hardships Christians in China are facing today and his heart for Asia...

You’ve just published the second book in a series called The China Chronicles, which you rightly describe as an “ambitious” attempt to document the arrival and subsequent spread of Christianity in each of the more than 20 provinces in China. What led to you embarking on this mission?
"Thank you for the opportunity to share with you. The China Chronicles had its genesis almost 20 years ago, when church leaders in China told me of their desire that believers in their midst would have a readable, inspirational account of how God established His kingdom in each part of China and later caused it to flourish and grow to more than 100 million believers today. They provided access for me to interview many elderly saints and key leaders who shared for hours about some of the marvelous things the Lord has done in the world's most populated country. They didn’t want me to produce a dry history of facts and dates, but a living history that would encourage Chinese readers and give them a sense of what the Lord has done. This is crucial, as many Christians in China know little to nothing about their foundations. Because of security considerations I had to wait a number of years before many of these testimonies could be shared, but now many of those leaders have gone on to be with the Lord, and the time has come to start releasing the books."

I gather the focus is on the Protestant evangelical churches including house churches? Are you also looking at Catholicism?
"The focus is on the evangelical/Protestant movements in China, but there is also coverage of some of the more important Catholic work. In many provinces of China the Catholics were present up to 600 years before the first Protestant missionary stepped foot there, so it would be remiss to ignore their contributions, especially the courageous and faith-inspiring stories of the many Catholic martyrs who were called to lay down their lives for Christ. Today in China, however, about 80 per cent of all professing Christians are evangelicals, and the balance of the books reflect that reality."

Paul Hattaway books

The first two books in the series The China Chronicles. 

 

"The China Chronicles had its genesis almost 20 years ago, when church leaders in China told me of their desire that believers in their midst would have a readable, inspirational account of how God established His kingdom in each part of China and later caused it to flourish and grow to more than 100 million believers today."

How are you sourcing the information for the books and what’s the timeframe for the project’s completion?
"Many believers have heard of the extraordinary explosion of Christianity in China under communism. Few, however, know how it has occurred. Much of the material in the books has never been published before. The Chinese are determined that their testimonies will not be forgotten, and their prayer is that the Lord Jesus will be glorified and God's children strengthened in the faith as they learn about His works. For two decades I also meticulously gathered appropriate stories and accounts from books, magazines and any other source about how the kingdom of God has advanced in China. The goal is to release one book every six to nine months, so with an anticipated overall size of 20 or more books, the series will keep me busy for a while! I am working on the manuscript of the sixth book now."  

You recount many inspiring stories of Christian perseverance and miraculous moves of God amid great suffering in the first couple of books. Is there one particular story which really struck you?
"Yes, one comes to mind out of the hundreds of stories I have recorded. In the 1970s a number of house church leaders were imprisoned and forced to render hard labour 18 hours per day, seven days a week. They were totally exhausted and struggling to survive the intense spiritual, physical and mental pressure. To make things worse, the prison food was dire, and the men had not eaten any protein for weeks.
     "In one cell, three pastors cried out to the Lord and asked Him for mercy. One of the men prayed a simple prayer, 'Lord Jesus, please send us some protein so we can have strength to survive each day'. Moments later, a large rat that they had heard scurrying around inside the wall appeared through a hole at the end of the cell. Walking on its hind legs and using its front legs for direction, the rat rolled a chicken egg across the floor and left it right in front of the stunned men!
     "The next day the same thing occurred at the same time, and for some weeks the rat brought the Christians an egg each day. The protein made a huge difference and helped them endure the horrific conditions, while many of the other prisoners died from the cruel punishment they received. I like this simple story on several levels, as it displays the loving heart of the Heavenly Father toward His children, His matchless power and authority over nature, and the Lord's sovereignty to intervene even in the most difficult situation we may face."

How would you describe the state of the church in China today? Is the level of persecution of Christians in China decreasing or increasing and what forms does it take?
"Persecution against Christians was generally on the decrease over the last decade, until about 18 months ago, when the church in China entered a new stage of severe repression that leaders say is worse than at any time since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, many say that things are even worse now because of the advance of technology, which makes it almost impossible to conduct normal Christian activities in China undetected. With 400 million facial recognition cameras all over the country, feeding information into mega-computers 24 hours a day, the believers in China face new and insidous challenges as they continue to live out their faith. Almost all congregations that numbered hundreds, or even thousands of members have disbanded in the past year, and now believers meet together in small groups of four to five people, just as they did during Mao's day."

Can you explain what Three-Self Patriotic Movement is?
"The TSPM is the government-approved state Protestant church in China. Approximately one-third of evangelical believers attend TSPM churches, while two-thirds meet in unregistered (and therefore illegal) house church meetings. There are millions of genuine believers in the TSPM too, and indeed the Lord has brought powerful revival to countless Three-Self churches in the past decade or two. Until recently it was generally thought that if a believer was part of a registered church they would be safe from government persecution, but the current massive crackdown has shown this assumption to be false. Hundreds of registered churches have been shut down or demolished, and numerous pastors thrown into prison."

"Please pray the Holy Spirit would breath His life into the church in China once again, and what the enemy has intended for evil will result in another expansion of the kingdom of God."

You’re a New Zealander by birth - how did you come to know Jesus Christ and how did you come to called to serve Christians in China?
"Last year Monarch Books/Lion Hudson published my autobiography, An Asian Harvest, which goes into detail about how I met Christ and how He called me to service in Asia (not only China). Basically, I met the Lord in the 1980s at the age of 19, and was transformed by His love and grace. I never had any desire to go to Asia, but just six months later He thrust me there when I went on a Bible courier trip. I initially intended to go for just six weeks, but it has turned into a 30-plus year adventure!"

Why do you think God gave you such a heart for the people of China?
"Actually He placed His heart in me for all the peoples of Asia, not just the Chinese. I have spent a lot of time in other countries over the years, from India to Indonesia; Laos, Vietnam and many others. Wherever there are unreached people groups that need to hear the Gospel for the first time, we endeavour to work with local churches in those countries and serve them as they go and reach those who have never heard of Jesus. There are thousands (yes, thousands) of tribes and people groups remaining in Asia today that have yet to hear the Gospel."

You and your wife Joy founded Asia Harvest with the purpose of providing Bibles to house churches in China. Is there still a need for Bibles in China?
"Yes, absolutely! For decades there has been a deliberate deception promoted by many church and mission leaders, claiming there are plenty of Bibles available in China. That may have been true for registered Three-Self believers who live in major cities, but the 60 to 70 million house church Christians have been starved of all access to the Word of God, as the government seeks to strangle them by cutting off the flow of resources. Now, in the last several years, the official quota of Bibles the government permits the registered churches has also sharply diminished, so even they are struggling to access enough Bibles for their members. Don't believe what some Christian leaders or denominations claim regarding the availability of Bibles in China today. It was true only for government-registered believers, who are a minority in the body of Christ, while tens of millions of God's children have been spiritually starving without access to His Word. It is to those precious believers that our help has been focused over the years, and will continue to be focused as the Lord enables us."

What would you ask Christians around the world to be praying for with regard to China?
"Please pray the Holy Spirit would breath His life into the church in China once again, and what the enemy has intended for evil will result in another expansion of the kingdom of God. Pray that heavenly strategies and wisdom would be given to church leaders as they consider how to survive the current extreme difficulties, and that in the end, God's people will once again be purified and grow through suffering and hardship."

Shandong: The Revival Province and Guizhou: The Precious Province are available from SPCK Publishing.