1 of 85 Million Bibles for China
At age 60, MiAO believer Lei Zhang received his first Bible
March 17, 2020Print this article
You are sitting under a brisk summer sky on a carved wooden stool. Next to you is a modest clay house with a thatched roof. At your feet, the ground rolls away down the hill and into tiered rice paddies and rivers. Bundles of sticks are piled to your right and left—the hope of heat for the fall and winter to come. Across from you sits a man in his 60s, wearing a worn blue jacket and carefully cradling a beige-covered book in his farm-calloused hands. His fingers, bruised from labor, pet the pages gently as he searches for something in the text. He grins and the wrinkles around his eyes go to their familiar places. And startling the calm majesty of the morning, he begins to read his favorite words from this book, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”
The man you’ve just met is Lei Zhang*, and you can’t fully fathom what a miracle it is for him to be sitting there reading that book, his Bible, to you. Lei is holding that new Bible so gently because he knows what a gift it is. You see, for the past 30 years of his Christian life, Lei has longed for God’s Word in his language. Up until now, he’s only had pieces of Scripture, only dreamt of what the whole story could be. Then, when he turned 60 years old, you stepped in and provided that Bible for Lei—the first in his life.
Lei’s 30-Year Wait
Everything in Lei’s early life worked against the moment you just experienced. For the first 30 years of his life, religion was banned in China. There were no church buildings. Pastors and Christian communities operated in whispers, threatened with imprisonment or worse if they dared to share their faith. No one evangelized in the streets; no one hosted worship nights; no one carried around a Bible. There seemed to be no way for Lei to ever hear about Jesus.
Complicating matters was Lei’s remote location. He was born in a small Miao farming village on the side of a mountain to a family with very little. “Our lives have always been modest,” Lei says. Growing up, Lei didn’t even have shoes to make the 31-mile trek to the nearest town, so instead of attending school, he stayed home to help farm corn and beans.
For nearly 30 years, Lei wondered if there was more to life than farming. He came of age, got married, and took over the family farm. Every morning he woke up to light a fire in his home’s open oven, thankful for what he had, yet feeling unsettled in his soul.
Lei’s Introduction to Faith
One day, strange visitors came to Lei’s village. They walked from house to house, inviting people to events to hear about someone named Jesus. Lei couldn’t shake the invitation. Reflecting, he says, “I was thirsty for the truth.”
At one of these events, Lei was introduced to the Way, the Truth, the Life he’d been missing. After nearly a lifetime of religious silence during the Cultural Revolution, the glorious Good News of Jesus was finally explained to Lei in ways he understood. At age 30, he became a follower of Jesus. He found the Living Water for which he’d been thirsting.
Suddenly Lei’s life was reoriented. As a farmer, he was accustomed to the physical rhythm of planting, waiting, harvesting. As a believer, his life took on a new spiritual significance. When he lost crops to frost and disease, he had a Provider God to trust. When he had surprise bumper crops and good weather, he had a Provider God to thank. He immersed himself in learning everything he could about this God who had given him life and new life.
Lei was eager to read God’s Word—this manual for living that the missionaries had talked about. But because he hadn’t been able to go to school as a boy, Lei had never learned to read. Through his local church, he started taking literacy courses. Lei learned to read and was eager to dive into God’s Word, but that still wasn’t a possibility for many reasons.
No one in Lei’s circle of believers could read the Bible—because no one had one. First, Bibles are hard to come by in rural areas. Second, during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), all religious Scriptures were confiscated and destroyed. In the aftermath, Christians faced a severe Bible shortage.
Amity Printing Company, a governmentally authorized Bible press started through Bible Society partnerships just after the Cultural Revolution in the ’80s, started printing Bibles in Chinese at an incredible rate, but it wasn’t close to enough for everyone in the country who wanted one.
Further complicating these issues was the fact that Lei lived in a remote area and spoke Miao, not Mandarin. A Miao speaker trying to read the Bible in Mandarin is like an English speaker trying to read the Bible in Latin—the script is familiar but incomprehensible.
Fortunately for Lei, although the Miao Christians around him lacked the Bible in their language, they did have some handwritten Bible passages and Christian hymns. These scraps of Scripture had been hidden during the Cultural Revolution, kept safe to preserve the faith. The group shared these precious words, each carefully copying them into their own journals. Lei is grateful for these Scripture snippets, because, as he says, “Through these we came to know God.”
Still, these pieces of the story weren’t enough; he longed to read all of God’s Word to him.
Lei’s First Bible
Over the past 30 years, Lei has grown a lot in his faith. He’s learned to trust God alongside his wife, in sickness and in health. He’s grieved bad crops with God and sung praises to God when He provided in abundance. And he’s faithfully prayed with his Miao community—God, bring us Your Word. Over the past 30 years, Lei spent many late nights asking God to reveal Himself. He’d wrestled with decisions, wishing he could turn to God’s Word for wisdom.
In 2018—thanks to partners like you—a miracle happened. Bibles in Miao were distributed in Lei’s community.
At age 60, Lei received his first Bible. Holding his answer to prayer in his hands, Lei choked back emotion. “This is spiritual food for me,” he said grinning.
All the practice Lei put into reading is paying off. “Now that I have my own Bible, I’m really going to read it,” he says. And he does. He reads it aloud every day, soaking in the words he’d missed for so long.
Now, Lei and his wife have a place to turn for guidance and comfort. They—like the other Christians in their community who finally received Bibles—are thankful for the translators and financial partners who made it all possible. “I am so happy and grateful for this Book,” says Lei, shaking his head. “I am so happy.”
Pray for Lei
You are sitting under a brisk summer sky on a carved wooden stool. A man named Lei Zhang is sitting across from you bowing his head, asking you to pray for the spiritual and physical health of his household.
You pray for Lei and his wife: God, we thank You for the blessing of Your Word that points us to ultimate truth. Thank You for opening the doors so the Zhang family could receive a Bible in their language. Please draw them closer to You. Help them be a blessing to other Miao believers as well as to those who do not yet know You. Amen.
Only 15 of over 200 minority language people groups in China have the New Testament or a full Bible in their language. Bring God’s Word to waiting Christians in China at give.bible/china
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