Instead of Communism, Christ: How a Bookstore Is Opening Gospel Doors in China
When he thinks back to his youth, Timothy’s* mind is flooded with images and memories of growing up in a culture of Communism, one which included an ideology that adhered to persecution for those who rejected the tenants of the belief system. Many of his friends and family who boldly stood against the Communist regime or were considered anti-revolutionaries suffered political, physical, and other types of persecution. “I started to ask, ‘What is the right ideology?’” Timothy says. “This took me on a search for the purpose of life.”
When he went to college in 1978, Timothy began to investigate different religions—Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc. This did not include Christianity, since Bibles and Christian studies were not allowed in the country. With no answers to be found, he graduated and entered the secular workforce in a secured government job, where he worked hard but was prevented from advancing due to his unwillingness to join the Community party. A second job yielded the same results when he once again declined to join the Communist party. More employment opportunities were withheld when, in June 1989, Timothy came out to support the students advocating for democracy at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Finding the Answer
That year, however, Timothy’s entire worldview shifted when an American missionary friend began telling him about Jesus. For the next year, this missionary secretly taught Timothy and his wife, Claudia*, about scripture and God’s work through Jesus. “He led us to Christ in the bathroom because we had to do this in secret,” Claudia remembers, smiling.
“We knew we had new life and so I resigned from my government job and started working with a U.S. company,” Timothy recalls. The couple began a house fellowship, invited close friends and family, and began teaching the group about Jesus. “The Lord had called us and we believed that we now were also called to tell others,” Timothy says.
Discovering the Calling
Feeling a lack of training ability, Timothy responded affirmatively to a friend who suggested he get further Bible and mission training. Timothy and Claudia soon found God opening a door through the Billy Graham Center Scholarship Program, so the couple stepped out in faith to attend Wheaton College Graduate School in 1993. During his time at Wheaton, Timothy became deeply committed to his lifelong calling to evangelism. “When you say your life has changed and you will work for the Lord, it’s a personal commitment that isn’t a day, a month, or a year…it’s a lifetime.”
While in Wheaton, the couple began to sense God’s leading to open a bookstore in their hometown (pop. 20 million) which would serve as a networking platform for college-age students and young intellectuals. “At that time, the country was not open and the government really watched the Christian people, so we had to run this business-style,” Claudia explains.
Upon returning, the couple opened a licensed bookstore near a number of college/university campuses which catered to the young crowds. Seven years later, they opened an American-style coffeehouse inside the bookstore. Today, shelves are lined with a numerous types of books, including a space filled with Christian devotionals and materials translated from English but printed in Chinese published in China. “We can’t sell Bibles, so those aren’t on the shelf, but we try to get other things in there about the Christian faith,” Timothy says.
Engaging the Students
Once a week, many students also come to the bookstore for the “English Corner,” a place where the students can practice their English, learn foreign culture, and get to know other students, some of whom are already Christian. “This is a place where people can sit and talk and hopefully engage in faith conversations,” Claudia says. “Many friendships are formed and from there people come to faith.”
“We do have people who come back and tell us how the bookstore impacted them,” shares Timothy. “Three years ago one guy started coming to our shop. He came for a whole year and interacted with people. Just recently, he came back, thanked us for having this place, and told us he is now leading a house church. This is a space where people have an opportunity to share their faith and lead others to Jesus through the relationships they develop.”