Paul Hattaway
Shandong: The Revival Province
SPCK, London, UK, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0281078882

Paul Hattaway
Guizhou: The Precious Province
SPCK, London, UK, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0281079896

Paul Hattaway books

 

"[It's the personal testimonies] that provide new insights into the sacrificial work that’s gone on to take the Word of God into China over the past couple of hundred years. They’re what makes this such a deeply moving account."

The first two books in a monumental undertaking to write a history of Christianity in China on a province-by-province basis, Shandong – The Revival Province and Guizhou – The Precious Province are redolent with stories of lives transformed through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, of hardships suffered in His cause, both by missionaries and those encountered on the mission field, and of breath-taking moments of faith and joy.

They are the work of Paul Hattaway, the author of The Heavenly Man and founder, with his wife Joy, of Asia Harvest, who has here drawn on his 30 years of experience of China and connections throughout the church there to create what is a compelling, inspiring – and, yes, challenging - read.

This is not, as Hattaway points out in the overview to the series, “a dry list of names and dates”. Rather, breaking the books into chapters each of which generally covers just a decade or two of the past 150 years or so, Hattaway endeavours to look beyond the data to the personal stories of those involved in God’s “great work” in China, whether it’s the missionaries who sacrificed so much to take the Word of God to those living there or those local believers who accepted Christ into their lives and then took it out among their fellow Chinese.

The series opens with a look at the eastern central coastal province of Shandong which, with almost 100 million people, is China’s second most populous province, the birthplace of Confucius and was once even ruled over by Marco Polo.

While the Catholic Church had established a presence in the province since the 17th century, the first evangelical Protestants arrived in the 1860s and initially found it hard going. But in the 20th century, the province saw numerous dramatic revivals despite ongoing repression and setbacks including the rise of communism and the subsequent Cultural Revolution, leading Hattaway to dub it China’s “Revival Province”.

Located in the country’s south, Guizhou Province, is by contrast, mountainous, wet and largely impoverished. Home to some 35 million people, it’s known for the many diverse ethnic groups which make up almost 40 per cent of the population (the majority being Han Chinese) and for the genocide and conflict that have scarred it for centuries.

The first evidence of Christianity’s presence there dates from the arrival of Catholic missionaries in 1765 and Hattaway recounts the stories of some of the earliest believers, many of whom were martyred for refusing to renounce their faith, as well as events following the arrival of the first evangelical Protestants – Englishman Charles Judd and his brother-in-law James Broumton - in 1876.

Of particular note in this second book is Hattaway’s descriptions of the various minority ethnic groups who live here, including various tribes broadly known under the Chinese designation of Miao, many of who are still waiting for the Bible to be translated into their own language.

There’s no doubt that the great strength of Hattaway’s books are the personal stories he brings to life, often accompanied by photographs or illustrations of the people involved.

Some of those whose stories are recorded in these pages – such as that of the British runner and missionary Eric Liddell (perhaps best known from the film Chariots of Fire), Norwegian missionary Marie Monsen, still remembered by many as the “Mother of House Churches”, or Bob Fu, who went on to become the founder of the US-based organisation China Aid - may already be known.

But the vast majority of those whose testimonies are recounted won’t be and it’s these that provide new insights into the sacrificial work that’s gone on to take the Word of God into China over the past couple of hundred years. They’re what makes this such a deeply moving account.

At the end of each of the two books, Hattaway includes fragments of numerous letters sent to various organisations in more recent years from Chinese believers. As much as this is a look back in history, the letters are a powerful reminder that the work to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the peoples of China is by no means complete.

For, with the church in China now facing what Hattaway described in a recent interview with Sight as a “new stage of severe repression", The China Chronicles serve, not only as a reminder for Christians around the world to give thanks for the foundations upon which the church in China is built, but also to remember to continue to pray for Chinese believers and the ongoing work to take the Gospel to as yet unreached people there.