Occasionally you have an experience you know you will always remember.
One of my most profound occurred at the theological seminary in Nanjing, China. Earlier my group had toured Amity Press in that city and had watched as jubilant Chinese workers pulled pages of the Bible from large printing presses. They would clutch the press sheets close to their chests and break into huge grins, so proud to have copies of the Bible in their language. It was 1988, so the idea was still very new and precious to them.
As we toured the seminary’s grounds and facilities later, I was particularly struck by how meager and sparse everything seemed, inadequate by American standards. Yet the seminary faculty and students were proud of everything: their buildings, books and classrooms, and especially their ability to study and learn.
As we continued our tour, we entered the lobby of the chapel, and our tour guide motioned for us to be quiet. Of all the days we could have visited, he declared, none would be better than today.
It was graduation day!
We stood quietly and observed, not understanding anything that was said because it was in Chinese, yet realizing the significance of the occasion.
After a few minutes, we heard soft singing from a distance. It grew louder, and soon we recognized the tune, although the words were in Chinese. It came from the procession of graduates who walked up the dirt path and entered the chapel smiling broadly and singing boldly.
“I have decided to follow Jesus,” they sang. “No turning back. No turning back.”
Dedication. Determination. Commitment. Courage. I knew I would never see a better example than this. All of the graduates’ families had been touched by the devastation the Red Guard had inflicted years before when churches and Bibles were destroyed and Christians were widely persecuted. Their opportunity for theological education had come at a great price.
The Christian church in China had been silenced, the government officials thought. But they were wrong.
When Christians in that country were once again allowed to worship publicly, they numbered in the millions. The relative Christian minority who had been forced underground had not died. Instead, their numbers multiplied exponentially. Even though the world could not see it, God was doing amazing things during those dark, silent years.
“That’s the end of that,” many people thought when Jesus died. We won’t hear any more out of him or his followers, they reasoned. They, too, were wrong.
Out of the darkness and silence of the tomb, God did the most amazing thing. God brought Jesus back to life.
A handful of grieving women, followers of Jesus who thought they were going to his tomb to anoint his body, were the first to learn the news.
Neither the threat of persecution from the Romans nor their own fear and perplexity at what they found at the empty tomb could stop them from witnessing boldly to the truth they had experienced. Even in the face of widespread disbelief, they persisted.
They told a few, who told a few more, and the story rapidly spread. It wasn’t necessarily the smartest thing to do, considering what the Romans had done to Jesus. But they couldn’t keep quiet. The truth empowered them with courage to witness.
Jesus was really alive, and that made all the difference.
That’s the nature of the Christian gospel and the result of its witness. It cannot be silenced.
Even in darkness, it works miracles.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.