CHINA-Project Pearl, Then and Now
11/02/05 - The impact of delivering one million Bibles to the Chinese Church
For accompanying pictures, please go to - http://www.opendoorsuk.org/media_photos/proj_pearl_pics/html/index.htm
Time magazine called Project Pearl “the largest operation of its kind in the history of China.” The article was titled, “Risky Rendezvous in Swatow” and a Time Beijing bureau chief later described it as one of the most unusual and successful smuggling operations of the 20th century.
June 18, 1981, was the delivery date for Open Doors’ Project Pearl: one million complete Chinese Bibles transported to Christians in China in one night. That load of Bibles weighed 232 tons.
Much controversy and disinformation immediately followed the delivery. Some ministries still claim -- like China’s official Three Self Patriotic Movement -- that the Bibles were all thrown overboard in bags by the crew who were forced by authorities to leave the scene. Nothing could be further from the truth, as many Open Doors workers will testify.
One hundred-foot-long tugboat Michael lumbered along at the sleepy speed of three knots an hour. It towed the semi-submersible barge, Gabriella, loaded with the million Chinese Bibles in 232 waterproof wrapped one-ton packages. By 9 p.m. on that historic night, Michael and its crew of 20 men weaved through a maze of anchored Chinese navy ships in the darkness near the port city of Shantou, southern China. Thousands of local Christians waited patiently in the darkness on the appointed beach.
The off-loaded floating packages were towed to shore by small rubber boats. Chinese believers came out in the water -- some up to their neck. They pulled the blocks up onto the beach and cut them open with shears, handing the 45-pound cardboard boxes of Bibles to one another up the sand to the tree-line.
Two hours later, Michael and Gabriella and the crew left the scene with one million Bibles in the care of Chinese believers. They promised to circulate them across the entire country. In some cases, that process took as many as five years and many Chinese Christians paid dearly for it.
Project Pearl Bibles Traveled Across China
Over the past 23 years, Open Doors has received documented story after story -- often from unusual places and situations -- of the impact of those Bibles on the fast growing church in China. Project Pearl Bibles have been seen in virtually every province of the country.
One colleague ministering in China relates how in the late 1990s, he met a large house church network of Christians in central China who still had no contact at all with foreigners from outside the country. They testified that it was the receiving of many Project Pearl Bibles that encouraged them and motivated them to share the gospel widely and thus grow to their current significant numbers.
One of those pocket-sized Bibles was received by a young Christian who had been praying for a Bible of his own for three years. After reading it through three times in three weeks, he felt God calling him to become one of the many itinerant evangelists preaching in China’s countryside. Now after 20 years of ministry, he pastors a network of house churches that has grown to over 400,000 members. His network of churches continues to need more than 20,000 Bibles a month just for new believers.
Interestingly, there are stories and reports of “wet” Bibles and “perfume” Bibles from Project Pearl that continue to be shared to this day. Four hours after the Open Doors team left the beach that night of delivery, a patrol of Chinese police came by and found some boxes of Bibles stashed under the trees. They had not yet been transferred to the storage areas. The police tried unsuccessfully to burn the Bibles and then in frustration threw them into the water. The next morning, fishermen plucked these floating volumes out of the sea and put them on the roofs of their homes to dry. Later they sold them to Christians in the area. Open Doors workers have met Chinese believers who have received and treasured these “wet” Bibles.
Chinese Sister Ling shares the poignant story of how she pleaded with God for a Bible as a young evangelist. She found believers without Bibles doing unusual things -- like carrying extra oil around so they’d be ready like the five wise virgins.
At the time of Project Pearl, she heard of a woman who had received “wet” Bibles and dried them. When Ling asked her for a Bible, the woman required her to quote the Lord’s Prayer without a single mistake to prove she was a believer. Ling memorized it from a handwritten copy of the Bible and passed the test. She received one “wet” Bible.
The woman apologized for being so overly careful but then explained, “After our brothers collected these Bibles from the shore, they began to distribute them about China. It was very dangerous and some paid with their lives. Remembering their sacrifice, I treasure these Books even more.” Ling went on to experience much suffering for her leadership role in the house church movement.
Then there are the stories about “perfume” Bibles. In 1977, Peter Xu became the leader of the Born-Again Movement -- a large house church network today in China. Two years ago he was visiting in the United States and shared a devotional at the Open Doors-USA office. When he saw a sample of a Project Pearl Bible on the shelf, he became very animated. Then a long story developed.
After Project Pearl Bibles were stored in depositories in southern China in the early 1980s, Peter Xu sent three men every month by train to the depository contacts to bring back about 1,000 Bibles per trip for his growing house church movement. One month the three men were discovered with their Bible load by the local police of the depository city. The police threw the 1,000 Project Pearl Bibles into the cesspool of the public latrine and the three men were interrogated and jailed for the weekend.
Monday they were released and commanded to return straight home and never return. Instead they waited inside the latrine until darkness fell. Then they climbed down into the filthy cesspool of human waste carefully retrieving each of the foul smelling books. They washed them off under the local water tap and carried them home. There they dried them out, sprayed them with perfume and circulated them through the network. Such was the hunger and importance of every copy of God’s Word.
Printing Bibles Today
Project Pearl certainly had an impact on the future printing of Bibles inside China which continues today. Shortly after the project was completed, China’s Three Self Patriotic Movement announced the first official printing of Bibles inside the country. Noted author and China watcher, David Aikman, wrote in his book, Jesus in Beijing, last year, “[Project] Pearl had a major long-term impact on the overall availability of Bibles in China.”
But more important are the personal evaluations from Chinese believers: “These gifts were more precious than gold!”
To find out more, call Open Doors on 01993-885400, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the UK web site at www.opendoorsuk.org.
Open Doors strengthens the persecuted Christians in 50 countries across the world by
1. training church leaders and Christian workers
2. supplying Bibles and other Christian literature
3. providing livelihood training and opportunities
4. visiting, comforting and encouraging those who are suffering
5. raising awareness of the difficulties facing persecuted Christians and mobilising prayer support throughout the western world
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