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Friday Books: God Is Red

**I am going to try and re-start something I had begun previously: Friday Books. Each Friday I will bring to your attention a book worth reading.  Feel free to leave a comment on books you have read recently or are reading.**

It is easy to lose perspective these days. What with the 2012 campaign, the struggling economy, and the often miss-the-forest-for the-trees nature of social media and 24/7 news cycles. With that in mind, I have some advice:  If you feel sorry for yourself, read this book. If you find American politics depressing, read this book. If you need some inspiration for your faith, read this book. Or if you just need to see the world from a different perspective, read this book.

What book? you ask.  God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China

This rather simple book blew me away with stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and persevering through the most brutal of circumstances. It is a story of faith and determination in the midst of poverty and persecution that makes my complaints and troubles seem laughingly small.

Here is the publisher’s description:

When journalist Liao Yiwu first stumbled upon a vibrant Christian community in the officially secular China, he knew little about Christianity. In fact, he’d been taught that religion was evil, and that those who believed in it were deluded, cultists, or imperialist spies. But as a writer whose work has been banned in China and has even landed him in jail, Liao felt a kinship with Chinese Christians in their unwavering commitment to the freedom of expression and to finding meaning in a tumultuous society.

Unwilling to let his nation lose memory of its past or deny its present, Liao set out to document the untold stories of brave believers whose totalitarian government could not break their faith in God, including:

  • The over-100-year-old nun who persevered in spite of beatings, famine, and decades of physical labor, and still fights for the rightful return of church land seized by the government
  • The surgeon who gave up a lucrative Communist hospital administrator position to treat villagers for free in the remote, mountainous regions of southwestern China
  • The Protestant minister, now memorialized in London’s Westminster Abbey, who was executed during the Cultural Revolution as “an incorrigible counterrevolutionary”

This ultimately triumphant tale of a vibrant church thriving against all odds serves as both a powerful conversation about politics and spirituality and a moving tribute to China’s valiant shepherds of faith, who prove that a totalitarian government cannot control what is in people’s hearts.

Liao Yiwu mostly lets the people he interviews speak for themselves (but offering some rather poetic introductions and descriptions along the way) in this fascinating look at the people who gave everything they had to help grow the Christian church in China.  As a result, the book reads more like a journal or series of vignettes than a stand alone book – it really is a collection of interviews – but because the underlying stories are so powerful this style and structure is easily overcome.  And it’s simplicity and straightforward witness adds to its power.

Yiwu focuses mostly on rural areas and the villages that embraced the Christian faith in the early part of the Twentieth Century only to have the horrors of communism and the Cultural Revolution bring suffering and persecution in ways that are almost impossible for Westerners to imagine.

These amazing people held on to their faith despite decades of hardship and persecution. The state took everything they had – their homes, their churches, their freedom, their health – and yet they persevered to see the faith grow and flourish. The tragic irony is that they were punished as foreign spies and imperialist lackeys even as they sought to provide care and meaning to the poorest of poor in the rural areas.

Imagine being forced to kneel on tile and broken pottery in the freezing rain for days without food; dragged to public condemnations and beaten whenever you pray or refuse to renounce your faith; thrown in prison for thirty years for nothing more than preaching the gospel and bringing aid to the poor and helpless; having everything you have worked for taken away by capricious bureaucrats and your own neighbors.

And then as the political winds change you are forced to choose between state run churches, with at least the appearance of peace and the ability to worship freely, or continuing to fight for true freedom of religion and the ability to worship as you choose.

What a challenge to people of faith today!

Of course, even if you are just interested in the history of Christianity or human rights or China you will find this book (written by a non-Christian) fascinating – a glimpse of history from the participants.

There is no denying that we live in troubling times, and American politics doesn’t exactly seem to be rising to the occasion, but a book like this will open your eyes to the amazing freedom and blessings we enjoy in this country. It should bring into focus what really matters; at least it did for me.

Christianity Today sums it up well

If you want to read one book that sums up the glory of the Christian witness under persecution and the tragic 20th-century story of China’s Christians, read God Is Red. Brilliant and immensely moving, it will, if anything can, inject new backbone into your own Christian life.

 

Originally posted at Collected Miscellany.

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