Decades passed, and as the political environment in China began to thaw in the late 1970s, the new freedoms triggered a growth in the Nosu Church. People no longer felt that becoming a Christian might cost them their lives, and the strong witness of the believers in their midst resulted in an ever-widening circle of Nosu Christians.
One of the centers of Nosu Christianity in Guizhou became Longyin Township in Pu'an County, where believers belonging to the Panxian Nosu group have met in three large house churches since 1980. One observer noted, "The Christians are held in high esteem by their neighbors because of their constant display of public spirit."
In 1986, a 72-year-old Chinese pastor, Wu Liwen, was invited to a remote area in Guizhou by a group of Nosu people. The only question his invitees asked when they met Wu was if he knew who Jesus was.
Wu, who had spent 23 years in prison because of his faith in Christ, prayerfully sought God's will and felt it was right for him to make the arduous journey, even though it involved a gruelling uphill trek and a long donkey ride over treacherous mountain trails—challenges that men of his advanced age don't usually undertake.
Wu's Nosu guides led him to a run-down shack in an isolated mountain range, which was to be their home for the night before his hosts took him to speak to their friends and relatives the next day. Wu expected to encounter a small gathering of perhaps 10 to 15 people.
After a rough night's sleep, the new day dawned and Wu was told they must climb over several more steep hills before they reached their destination. After straining for hours, the group finally cleared the last rise and suddenly heard voices....
"Hundreds and hundreds of them! Sloping away beneath them, the mountainside rippled in a sea of blue and white—the tribal dress of the Nosu people. Like a late blooming of wildflowers, they covered every open space....
Some had traveled for days. Others had left their home villages long before daylight. Since no one wanted to miss a word, they came early. Pastor Wu learned that they had been assembled, waiting and watching the trail, for over six hours.
Wu scanned the crowd with tears in his eyes. His mind flashed back to the 23 years he spent in a Communist prison camp. During his darkest moments God had often spoken, telling him to hold on, for the time would come when he would be needed to teach the Word again. That promise had seemed so impossible! But here before him stretched 1,500 believers who had never had a teacher—waiting for him!
The hours rolled by into the night and still the old pastor taught. They lit torches and gas lanterns. No one wanted to leave. At last, Pastor Wu's voice gave out and they allowed him to stop and sleep."
The exhausted pastor was finally taken to a nearby hut, where he was given a hot meal and a bed for the night. Before falling asleep, however, Wu insisted on hearing the story behind the multitude of hungry believers he had just ministered to. His hosts laughed and said, "Let Old Lee tell you.... He can tell you about the Book."
An aged blind man emerged from the back of the room and gently sat down on a low stool before Pastor Wu. Old Lee's battered face radiated an inner joy. In his arms he cradled a wooden box, holding it closely to his chest as if it contained a priceless treasure. "Teacher Wu," he began,
"'Thirteen years ago, no one in this village knew about God. My brothers and I spent most of our time drinking and gambling. We did not understand anything else. One day, I went down the mountain with my brother to beg and to steal. In the marketplace someone handed me this book.'
Carefully, Old Lee extracted his prized possession. A small sheaf of coarse, brittle pages, long since yellowed and cracked, trembled in his hands. The pages were crudely stitched together, bound between two squares of dirty cardboard. Old Lee gently placed the book in the teacher's hands. Smiling and nodding, the villagers murmured their approval.... 'It is part of something called Matthew,' Old Lee offered. 'Of course, we didn't know what it was when we got it. But we decided it must be some kind of special book, so we hid it.'"
The precious New Testament was concealed for years during the latter part of the Cultural Revolution, when men could be killed for owning such a book. They placed it in a secret hiding place, and wondered if they would ever have an opportunity to learn more about its mysterious message.
The breakthrough they needed came when Old Lee was forced to attend a government propaganda meeting with people from several villages in the area. A Communist official made a long speech in which he ranted against religion. At one point he said, "The Christians claim that a man named Jesus Christ came to save mankind. This foreign religion was brought here to deceive us."
Old Lee remembered nothing else from the man's ramblings that day, but he was desperate to learn more about this Jesus Christ. He instinctively knew that the old book in his possession was a Book of Truth, and he was determined to get help from someone able to read Chinese so they could explain its message. Old Lee continued:
"At first, it was just the three of us. We hid the book in an empty shed, concealed inside the wall. Later, we brought a few others to read it, one at a time. Soon, 10 of us were believers and we met in the forest at night to encourage one another and pray. We became 30, then 50 and 60....
As you can see, our numbers have grown.... There are 1,500 of us now! Previously, we worshipped demons. Now only one family in our valley is not Christian, but they no longer worship demons either. We have heard about baptism. Do you know how to baptize?"
The next morning, news quickly spread throughout the village, and people ran to the hillside to break the news to those working in the fields: "We're going to be baptized!"
That afternoon a multitude of excited Nosu believers made their way to a stream where Pastor Wu baptized almost 1,000 Nosu people. The next day he baptized hundreds more in a neighboring village. After two more days of teaching from morning till night, it was time for the venerable Bible teacher to return home.
Pastor Wu went to be with Jesus Christ a few years later, but the last phase of his life was spent testifying about the faithfulness of God, and how the Lord had kept His promise made during Wu's lowest point in prison many years earlier.
© This article is an extract from Paul Hattaway's book 'Guizhou: The Precious Province'. You can order this or any of The China Chronicles books and e-books from our online bookstore.