Stories and testimonies of the “water Bibles” that were delivered to China 40 years ago are still being told today.
On June 18, 1981, a million Bibles were delivered to China by Open Doors – an organisation serving persecuted Christians throughout the world – in a covet mission dubbed Project Pearl.
Chinese believers refer to these Bibles as “water Bibles” because they came by boat and from the water.
Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia, believes this is the boldest initiative that Open Doors has ever undertaken.
“The thought of delivering one million Bibles in one night was unheard of,” he told Hope 103.2.
“For us, it’s something we celebrate not necessarily for the sake of Open Doors but for the sake of the Chinese church.
“It was something that was transformative and catalytic for the gospel in that nation.”
Toasting Chairman Mao
A story he is particularly fond of comes from underground, or house church, older Chinese believers.
Every year, on the anniversary of Mao Zedong’s death, these believers will have a toast in his honour.
Many Christians, particularly Chinese Christians, couldn’t understand this “backward logic” because Chairman Mao was a “despot leader” in many ways, Mr Gore said.
“The reality was, they said, that Mao taught the Chinese people to worship, he told them that he was god,” he said.
“So, in many ways they were conditioned to worship him as though he were a god, but when Mao died they realised that he wasn’t god.
“So, what it did was it sent them on a search for God, so they toast Mao for teaching them how to worship.”
“It was something that was transformative and catalytic for the gospel in that nation.” – Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia
Revival of the Chinese church
This year, on the 40th anniversary of Project Pearl, Open Doors is asking people to take part in the next delivery of Bibles to China by helping to raise funds.
The aim is to deliver 5000 Bibles in one day with $20 needed to deliver one Bible.
“It is more and more important today, as monitoring and regulation increases of Chinese Christians, that as a ministry we don’t just move on from China,” Mr Gore said.
“We must realise that the church there, the underground church in particular, it still desperately needs our help, our love and our support.”
“We must realise that the church there, the underground church in particular, it still desperately needs our help, our love and our support, ” – Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia
Mr Gore believes the delivery of Bibles in 1981 helped fuel the revival of the Chinese church.
“Four years after [Chairman Mao’s death], the delivery of a million Bibles was like adding petrol to an already burning fire,” he said.
However, the Bibles may not have been delivered if Andrew van der Bijl, the founder of Open Doors, had realised the scale of the project.
“When he saw how many Bibles it was, it took up a whole barge, Brother Andrew said ‘once I saw them, had I known how many a million were, I would’ve never said ‘yes”,” Mr Gore said.
“But it was kind of the impulsive ‘yeah, of course we can do that’ and it wasn’t until he realised just the scale of it that he said ‘had I not committed to it and said yes, I would’ve never done it’.”
“It is more and more important today… that as a ministry we don’t just move on from China.” – Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia
Challenges of delivering Bibles to China
Today, government restrictions in China are not as harsh as they were in 1981, however, printed Bibles are only available in bookstores and the government sanctions certain versions of the Bible.
“For Chinese Christians, particularly for the underground church, there is still desperate need for Bibles to be delivered simply because the control of Bibles is so heavily regulated,” Mr Gore said.
“We do believe that delivering Bibles and giving people practical support, training and discipleship, they’re the real keys to ensuring the ongoing survival of the church living under persecution.”
Mr Gore has been encouraged by Christians supporting the persecuted church.
“Like Project Pearl in 1981, it was never about Open Doors, it’s about serving the Chinese church,” he said.
“Now, in 2021, it’s not about Open Doors. Open Doors is not the hero, the persecuted church are the hero, the gospel of Jesus must be the hero.”
“Like Project Pearl in 1981, it was never about Open Doors, it’s about serving the Chinese church,” – Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia
If you would like to find out more about the work of Open Doors or join their mission to deliver more Bibles to persecuted Christians in China, head to opendoors.org.au.