Trip Report from Ken Sande: The China Bubble (Report 1 of 5)
I flew into Beijing, China, on October 12 to personally experience developments in this important country. Home to nearly 10 million people, Beijing is bustling with traffic and energy. Signs reading “Gucci,” “Rolls Royce” and “BMW” line the streets, along with “McDonalds,” “Starbucks” and “KFC.”
The skyline is crowded with dozens of modern high-rise buildings. In some areas over 20 giant construction cranes stand shoulder to shoulder in a single massive construction project. Just a few blocks away, another 20 cranes are pulling more buildings to the sky.
All of this is part of what some are calling the “China Bubble,” a massive $6 trillion GDP economy that is growing at 9% per year, compared to less than 2% in most of the West. According to the lead article in the October 31st issue of Time, the Chinese economy contributed 19% to combined global economic growth this year, and that is expected to increase to 24% next year. Its economic strength is considered to be essential to the recoveries of both the U.S. and Europe … as illustrated by the fact that the Gap jeans company is closing 20% of its U.S. stores and tripling its stores in China.
Yet with all this growth, financial challenges loom. Although China has the second largest economy in the world (after the U.S.), it ranks 90th in GDP/person (millions still work in fields by hand). Inflation is growing, as is the gap between rich and poor. Real estate prices have tripled in many cities, and apartment flipping has been the rage. At the same time, in some areas entire apartment buildings stand vacant, too expensive for most Chinese citizens to rent.
According to Time, the government is seeking to stabilize the economy by reducing reliance on factory production and exports and increasing domestic consumer demand for goods and services. This will be a delicate transition, and should the bubble burst and growth drop below 7%, some experts believe it could be difficult to maintain social stability. So the whole world is watching this Asian tiger.
As fascinating as China’s financial growth is, the purpose of my China trip was to immerse myself in another sector of exciting growth—the church. Christianity was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), but since 1979 church life has resumed with a passion. There is no way to accurately measure the number of Chinese citizens who follow Jesus, but estimates range from 3 to 8% (40 to 100 million people). Some regions of the country may be 25% Christian, while others are largely unreached.
I traveled to China as part of a group associated with Overseas Council, a ministry dedicated to supporting exceptional seminaries around the world. Our party was led by Peacemaker Board member Manfred Kohl and his wife, Barbara, who have formed deep friendships with many Chinese Christian leaders. Our group included eight other people from Canada, South Africa, and the U.S.
During our time in Beijing we were privileged to climb the Great Wall of China and walk through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We visited the Olympic Stadium, Beijing University, and countless bustling business complexes, awed by the size and modern beauty of these structures.
But best of all, we spent many hours with people who love Jesus. We learned about their joys and struggles, their victories and setbacks, their opportunities and limitations. I was invited to teach a class at a seminary in Beijing and gave them a set of resources for their library. You can imagine my delight the next day when a prominent pastor told me that the Mandarin translation of my book, The Peacemaker, was used to teach Sunday school in their church.
More importantly, I heard consistent reports that churches are growing steadily and saw with my own eyes how enthusiastically their members are worshipping and talking about Jesus. Such growth presents many challenges, one of which is that seminaries are struggling to train enough pastors to care for new converts. And without good pastors, new believers may lack adequate teaching and shepherding.
Based on my brief experience, however, I was encouraged by the quality of the pastors with whom I talked. They had a clear understanding of the essential doctrines of our faith and a passion for the gospel. All of my conversations aligned with the following observation in the July/August 2011 issue of Books and Culture:
“The quality of biblical preaching and teaching in the patriotic (registered) churches and in the study groups and house churches typically seems much higher than in evangelical churches in America…. One may expect to find much higher levels of biblical literacy and theological clarity by three to five years post-conversion than amongst American counterparts after two or three decades in the church…. Their teaching is learned, yet marked by an evangelical urgency and commitment to obedient practice rather than simply intellectual assent.”
Although I still have a lot to learn when I return to China later this year, I am greatly encouraged by what I’ve seen God doing in the Chinese church. Unlike the financial bubble described in Time, the Chinese church seems to be going from strength to strength. May God help us in America to learn from their example and pray for their success in sharing the gospel in the most populous nation in the world.
Grace and peace,