A Dong family and their pig in southeast Guizhou. [Grigovan/Shutterstock]
The Dong ethnic minority group, who today numbers more than 1.6 million people throughout Guizhou Province, have long been considered difficult to reach with the gospel. Although they have lived alongside the Hmu for many centuries, the Dong are a totally different people and they generally look down at the Hmu and other Miao tribes.
The Dong are concentrated in east and southeast Guizhou. Significant populations of Dong people are also found in the neighboring provinces of Hunan (840,000), Guangxi (300,000) and Hubei (70,000).
The Dong are renowned for their unique and skilful architecture and their elaborate festivals, which in recent decades have attracted hordes of tourists, both foreign and domestic, to their villages. The famous Dong drum towers and 'wind and rain' bridges have fascinated international architects, who have come to study the fascinating designs.
Little interest in the Gospel
The unique architecture of a Dong village in southern Guizhou. [IMB]
Evangelical work among the Dong began when CIM missionaries visited the area in the 1880s. Being unable to speak their language, the handful of workers made little or no headway. Although the Dong were friendly, few showed any interest in the message of eternal life.
Despite being such a large and influential group, little outreach was conducted among the Dong for many years. Finally, in the 1930s a new strategy was implemented to reach them. Missionaries based at Liuzhou in Guangxi Province traveled north and won 80 Dong people to faith in Christ at Fulu, on the Guangxi-Guizhou border.
After all foreign missionaries were expelled from China in the early 1950s, nothing more was heard about the Dong believers, and it was assumed that most or all of them had fallen away from the faith during the harsh persecutions. Years later, however, news emerged that many Dong people had turned to Christ in neighboring Guangxi.
In the summer of 1957, a surprise appeal was received by a church in the city of Nanning for workers to go to the Dong. A three-day journey brought the Chinese believers to a remote mountainous area where "a total of 433 persons from 16 villages were baptized and a church was set up. Some of these people had been waiting for 12 years for baptism. One of the first believers was a woman in her 50s and among those baptized were several white-haired old men."
A Holy Spirit-inspired Dream
A traditional Dong 'wind and rain bridge' in southern Guizhou. [IMB]
The overwhelming majority of Dong people in Guizhou were still completely unevangelized during the 1990s, with most people never having heard the Name of Jesus Christ. Things began to change after a pastor in the United States had a strange dream in 1997.
In the dream, Ron Johnson of the Bethel Temple in Hampton, Virginia, saw himself sitting in a Land Rover driving down a dirt road toward a river. As they drew closer to the river he saw a large wooden bridge with tall towers spaced evenly from one end to the other. In the dream he stopped and spoke with a local man, who said to Johnson, "Pastor, you are to lead an outreach to this place."
The dream was so vivid that Johnson couldn't get it out of his mind. He had never been to Asia before, but in his heart he felt the bridge was somewhere in China. Johnson assigned his mission director to try to discover where such a bridge was located.
Unknown to the pastor and mission leader, a man named Gary Klein had just returned from China a few months earlier and had started attending the church. He arranged a meeting with Johnson, as he intended to challenge the church to consider working among the unreached minority groups of China. Johnson interrupted Klein and told him about the strange bridge he had seen in his dream. Klein raced out to his car and retrieved a video on China's unreached people groups, and played it to the pastor. The first scene in the video was of a traditional Dong bridge with large towers. "That's the bridge in my dream!" the pastor excitedly exclaimed.
The Virginia church connected with some foreign missionaries, and teams of intercessors and evangelists began visiting the Dong region. God worked quickly, and in 1998 several Dong people were led to Jesus Christ during a short visit. The new believers returned to their village and established a house fellowship which quickly grew to 40 people.
By 2002, more than 20 evangelists had been trained and sent to share the gospel among unreached Dong communities. Relief work also commenced, with medical clinics providing free treatment to many afflicted people. All of these outreaches demonstrated the love of God, opening the hearts of many Dong people to the claims of the gospel.
Christianity among the Dong Today
An elderly Dong man taking a rest. [IMB]
Since 1997, when the American pastor Ron Johnson received a dream from God, the kingdom of God has continued to advance among the Dong people of Guizhou. Since that time, Christians both from overseas and from Chinese house church networks have lovingly labored among the Dong. The Jesus film was produced, followed by the New Testament which was translated into Southern Dong in 2006.
A mission group visited the Dong at regular intervals, following up on the seed that was sown. In 2009, one of the workers reported, "We are seeing growth in all areas of our work. Among the Dong, 14 churches have now been planted, and more leadership training is going on."
By 2013 the mission seemed satisfied that their work among the Dong was now advancing under its own steam, and they began to refocus their efforts to other unreached people groups in China. A ministry leader wrote:
"Our April trip was a success. We were able to send out 15 Dong evangelists to new areas, and they have already sent word that there is a great openness in these new outreach areas, with people coming to Christ.
One of our Dong churches is growing so fast that they dug out a basement in their home and it filled with people the first Sunday they met. Pray this Dong church will multiply and affect everyone around them with the love of Christ. To God be the glory!"
The gospel has continued to slowly expand, and today an estimated 3,000 Dong people profess Jesus Christ as Lord, although this number represents only a tiny portion of the large and widespread Dong population.
Finally, after God had patiently waited more than a century as generations of Dong people died without any knowledge of His beloved Son, a powerful work was underway among the Dong. It is hoped that many more thousands of Dong people will soon experience God's life-changing gift of salvation, and that the gospel may also spread to the many other unreached people groups in eastern Guizhou.
© 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.