Two eager women studying the Bible [Bibles pour la Chine]
Revival Fire Continues to Burn
Despite being persecuted and deprived of Bibles, the legal right to assemble, and the ability to train leaders, Shandong's house churches began the new millennia in revival, and the fire of the Holy Spirit continued to burn brightly throughout the province well into the decade.
Sister Ding, a regional leader of the Fangcheng house church network, summarized how the extremely rapid church growth throughout Shandong in the 1990s continued on into the 2000s:
"In 1992-93 we preached every day and saw hundreds of people come to the Lord. We were continually preaching and baptizing new believers. The hunger for the gospel was great! After one sermon in the morning we might have 500 new believers. Then after our afternoon meeting another 300 people might ask to be saved, followed by another 100 after the evening service. Therefore in a single day we would have 900 new believers to baptize! This was an amazing time. Churches sprung up everywhere.
By the end of the twentieth century in all of Shandong we had more than 4,000 churches. In Liaocheng City alone we have 500 churches. It all started when we sent just three coworkers from Fangcheng to Shandong! The new Christians were so innocent and hungry for the Lord that they considered every word we taught as if they were words from the Lord Himself. The ministry was marked with daily miracles. The blind saw and the lame walked. Generally speaking, the closer the area of Shandong was to Henan and Hebei, the stronger the house churches."1
Reports emerged from all over Shandong about how the gospel movement was spreading far too rapidly for anyone to control or even to count. Three female evangelists came to Shandong from Henan Province, and established 52 new house churches in just a ten week period. The smallest church had 500 people, and several had over 1,000. Almost everyone in the churches was a new believer, and it was rare to find anyone who had believed in Jesus Christ for more than a few years.
One visitor to Shandong in the summer of 2002 was asked to teach at a house church Bible school. He reported,
"These young students showed an unquenchable thirst for the Lord. They were so zealous for God's Word that they set out to memorize chapter after chapter of the Scriptures.... They were filled with the Spirit and began to weep. How soft and beautiful their spirits were. It is little wonder the Holy Spirit operated so powerfully there....
The training was held in a room packed with 150 people. The mid-summer heat permeated the room, making breathing a little difficult. Such conditions hardly affected the participants, however. During the worship time, they expressed their love for God. The atmosphere was filled with the presence of God like a fresh breeze ventilates a room. It was like wind in spring and rain in autumn."2
As the province fully opened to foreign investment and opportunities, many overseas Christians moved to Shandong. Whereas foreign believers had often treated with suspicion during the 1980s and '90s, the rapid changes to Chinese society meant that many barriers came down in the 2000s, with both positive and negative ramifications for the Body of Christ.
One of the least desirable influences was the impact of Western 'prosperity gospel' preaching which flooded into the province. While many of the older Christians saw the danger of a gospel that removes the need for self denial and sacrifice, the message found fertile soil in the hearts of thousands of young believers, who had grown up in an era when a tsunami of materialism swept across China.
God's Wrath Stokes the Flames
The spread of the gospel in some parts of Shandong at this time was assisted by manifestations of God's wrath. Government officials who reveled in persecuting Christians were suddenly struck down. Many people believed in Jesus as a result, for they knew the Living God had intervened on behalf of His children by punishing the officials for their evil deeds.
In August 2002, a small group of female evangelists traveled to a village to share the gospel with idol worshippers. As they began to proclaim the gospel, a 30-year-old man approached the women and ordered them to stop preaching. The man flew into a demonic rage, blaspheming the Name of Jesus and spewing forth filthy insults and curses against God's servants.
A crowd of onlookers gathered to observe the spectacle, and were amazed to see how calm the Christian women remained as they blessed and prayed for the man. After about 20 minutes he left the meeting, but a short time news came to the village that he had been knocked down and killed by a car. The villagers knew that God had poured out His wrath on the wicked man, and many repented of their sins and placed their trust in Jesus.
The Eastern Lightning Cult
Like many other provinces of China, the Church in Shandong was blighted by wave after wave of attacks by cults during the 2000s, as Satan furiously lashed out and tried to stop the mighty revival that was sweeping multitudes of sinners into the kingdom of God. These cults often don't bother trying to lure non-Christians to their sects, but they went straight to churches, hoping to deceive and convert new believers and those who are weak in their faith. A visitor to Shandong highlighted some of the challenges facing the house churches in the province:
"The churches in Shandong have grown very quickly in the past ten years. Many people have become believers after being healed of sicknesses through prayer, and many young people are getting involved in God's work. Due to a lack of meeting places, the Shandong believers often hold worship meetings in the countryside, or in secluded mountains or forests.... The government is not very effective in controlling the rural churches, which meet many times during the week without fear....
The need for systematic training of Shandong's house church leaders is widespread and urgent. Many of the pastors are uneducated women. They are very devout to the Lord and to the work of the ministry, even though they are also expected to do the housework and labor in the fields.
Most of them depend on gospel radio broadcasts for their biblical knowledge, but some are also trained by evangelists from neighboring Henan Province. Though illiterate and untrained in preaching, these leaders truly depend on the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit when ministering to the flock. It's not unusual for them to teach the congregation through spiritual songs, which are spontaneous melodies inspired by the Holy Spirit."3
Of the many active cults in Shandong in the past 30 years, the most widespread and dangerous is undoubtedly the Eastern Lightning. Thousands of Christians throughout China have been beaten, tortured, or poisoned by this Satanic group. A Shandong house church pastor recalled what happened when his churches were targeted by the cult:
"After the victims were tricked and brought somewhere else, the Eastern Lightning turned violent. Nearly all of their members carry a cudgel, which they use to hit the victim’s vital parts, such as their four limbs or head, until they become unconscious. Then the believers were taken to a prearranged place where the Eastern Lightning indoctrinated them with the teachings of the cult. If the subject refused to accept the teachings, they turned to more violent methods.
Friends told me of such cruel methods as cutting off victims' ears, breaking legs, and there was even one old sister who had her neck broken because she would not accept the teachings of the cult or their ‘lady Jesus.’ During this violent phase one of my father’s colleagues was deceived into going with them, and acid was thrown at him. My aunt’s neighbor was poisoned to death. These are accounts of which I am personally aware. The victims are always influential church members."4
Even secular newspapers in China have reported the crimes committed by the Eastern Lightning. One publication summarized the evil deeds of two cult members, Liu Shunting and Zhao Fating:
“They put people who opposed them or had any disagreement with them on a ‘black list,’ and took revenge on those people by attacking them one by one. For nearly two months the two of them, armed with daggers, steel bars, powdered lime and other equipment, lured their victims out of their villages on the pretext of praying for the relief of illness, and carried out eight separate ferocious criminal attacks, disfiguring their victims, breaking their legs, cutting off their ears, etc. They seriously injured nine people.... Five of their victims had both legs broken, one had one leg broken, and two had their right ears cut off.”5
Most people in Shandong paid little attention to the cult until a horrific incident occurred on May 28, 2014, at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan City, when six Eastern Lightning members attacked and murdered a woman by continually stomping on her head in full view of the public. The brazen incident caused a public outcry. Although the attackers were arrested and two of them executed, the punishments did little to slow down the aggressive advance of the Eastern Lightning throughout Shandong and the rest of China.
The destructive influence of the Eastern Lightning has continued to wreak havoc throughout the churches of Shandong to the present time. The Chinese authorities don't appear to know how to deal with the cult, and have only attempted to prosecute members after they are caught committing criminal acts. The Body of Christ has been required to wage intense spiritual warfare against the cult, in a bid to quell their demonic influence.
As the pervasive cult spread throughout Shandong, various mission organizations received letters from struggling believers in the province. The letters included these three messages from Shandong church leaders who detailed their experiences with the Eastern Lightning. The first reported:
"Our church is constantly disturbed by the Eastern Lightning cult. They pretend to be church members and persistently preach a different gospel. Nevertheless, our brothers and sisters are strong in the faith and know the deeds of this evil sect. They often enter our homes and pretend to be new converts thirsting for the truth, but when we advise them to talk to our faithful pastors they always make some excuse to leave. In reality, they are afraid of the truth."6
Another pastor's letter told of a new convert in his church who was lured into the cult and began to spread their false teaching to others:
"There was a sister in our church who accepted Christ last year. After that she came into contact with the Eastern Lightning cult. Her whole personality changed. She abandoned her elderly father at home and stopped taking care of him. All she can think of is how to bring people into the cult. She shared her false teachings with our church co-workers and brings cult members to our service so they can hide among believers."7
Finally, a senior church leader in Shandong shared some of his personal experiences in dealing with the insidious Eastern Lightning:
"About three years ago I was contacted by someone claiming to be from a fellowship in a neighboring province. They said they had heard I was an influential leader in Shandong and they wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible. I sensed the Holy Spirit restraining me; but felt that I must help these people if they were really as sincere as they claimed. I invited them to meet me in a neighboring village, and at first they used many smooth words to try to convince me to join their 'special fellowship.'
Finally, they opened a bag that was full of 100 Yuan bills. It was the equivalent of thousands of US dollars. I was shocked when I realized they were trying to buy my influence. I grabbed the bag of money and threw it at the main spokesman, declaring, 'I don't want your dirty money!' They were so dazed that they just let me go; but a few days later they returned and kidnapped me. Fortunately my sons and some brothers from the church found out where I was being held and successfully freed me. I believe the most important thing we can do to fight cults like the Eastern Lightning is to give people the Bible to help them realize what true Christianity is!"8
Fire and Blood
As the decade of the 2000s continued, the dual characteristics of revival and persecution continued to run alongside each other in Shandong. The authorities were powerless to stop the advance of Christianity, and the wind of the Holy Spirit blew wherever it pleased.
In December 2007, a large group of 270 Christians were detained during a mass arrest in Heidi District of Linyi City, as the believers met together for leadership training. An eyewitness said that between 40 to 50 officers were mobilized from 12 different towns to conduct the large-scale raid. The Christians were handcuffed together and taken to the local police station for questioning. Most were fined and released, but the authorities identified 21 leaders of the group and charged the 17 men and four women with holding an 'illegal religious gathering'. Each of the church leaders was sentenced to between 15 months and three years in prison.
A similar raid in December 2008 resulted in 50 more house church arrests in Xiji town, Zaozhuang City. The motive for this mass arrest appears to have been financial, as each person was ordered to pay 2,500 Yuan (about $375) to secure their freedom.
A Christian woman named Zhang Hongmei was a member of a house church in Dong Miaodong village, near Pingdu City. Zhang was arrested by the police on October 29, 2003, and taken to the local station for questioning. Zhang was charged with “illegally carrying out religious activities,” meaning she had been involved with an unregistered house fellowship that refused to come under the authority of the government-approved Three-Self Church.
That afternoon, Zhang's family received a call and were told to pay a bribe of 3,000 Yuan (US$ 380) to secure her release. Being poor farmers, the family was unable to raise the money so at about seven o'clock in the evening Zhang's husband, Xu Fenghai, and her brother went to the Public Security office to plead for her release. They were shocked to see her chained up and so seriously beaten that she was unable to speak. Despite their frantic protests, the two men were forced to return home.
On the following afternoon, October 30, the Zhang family was summoned to the police station. They were told that Hongmei had died earlier that day. An autopsy revealed "several wounds to her face, hands and legs, along with serious internal bleeding."9 News of Zhang's murder shocked and angered the whole community. The following day approximately 1,000 people marched on the city offices demanding an inquiry, but nothing was ever done.
The totally unnecessary nature of the 33-year-old Zhang Hongmei's death makes the incident even sadder. It seems the police did not really have any desire to persecute her, but had just wanted to extort money from the Christian community.
1. Personal interview with Sister Ding, March 2001.
2. The Challenge of China (Issue 1, 2002).
3. China Prayer Letter and Ministry Report (September-October 1993).
4. Chinese Christian Church of Saipan, “China’s Cult of Satan Lightning of the East,” (Saipan, Guam: September 2000).
5. China Study Journal (April 2001).
6. Far East Broadcasting, July 2002.
7. Lift Up Our Holy Hands, August 2002.
8. Letters from a Shandong house church leader to Asia Harvest, 2013.
9. “House-Church Christian Dies in Custody,” Christianity Today (February 2004).
© This article is an extract from Paul Hattaway's book 'Shandong: The Revival Province'. You can order this or any of The China Chronicles books and e-books from our online bookstore.