To many Christian leaders in China, Rev Bao Jiayuan is a household name. For nearly 30 years, he has laboured tirelessly in the China Christian Council/TSPM, advancing the work of Bible printing and distribution as well as enhancing the Chinese Church’s overseas relations. To United Bible Societies China Partnership, he has been a great friend and partner. Today, at 72, he is no less fervent in his passion for God’s work.
What keeps a man growing spiritually, despite challenging times? For Rev Bao, it is the invigorating power of God’s Word. His inspiration comes from Apostle Paul’s defence before King Agrippa recorded in Acts 26. At the end of Paul’s account of how Jesus himself had appeared and commissioned him to open the eyes of Jews and Gentiles, he makes this statement, “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19, ESV). This single verse would form the basis of Rev Bao’s call into Christian ministry in the 1980s.
Rev Bao comes from a long line of pastors and preachers. He was dedicated for Christian service by his parents. “When I was young, my mother would gather us for regular prayers and Scripture memory exercises. We learnt God’s Word through singing verses set to catchy tunes.” These verses were to stand him in good stead when the family fell on hard times during the years of political upheaval in the 1960s.
As if to prepare the young Rev Bao for rough, stormy days ahead, God put in him a great love for listening to sermons, attending revival meetings and reading Christian materials. During his teens, after-school hours were often spent at revival meetings or reading the many Christian books in his father’s personal library. Those good times gradually came to an end in the late 1950s with tightening restrictions on religious activities.
“Seminaries were closed after 1958, but the seminary in Nanjing was reopened in 1962, just as I was graduating from high school. To me, that was a sign that God wanted me to be trained theologically.” Rev Bao managed to spend four years at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, completing much of his training before the Cultural Revolution began in 1966. Then the seminary was made the headquarters of the Red Guards. Most of the books in the library were burnt. All students and staff were thrown out.
“Because my father was a senior pastor, we became a target for public criticism and denouncement. I was still young and so was not badly persecuted. But my grandfather and father suffered greatly.”
The Red Guards came to the vicar- age seven times, took the theological books in his father’s library and eventually evicted them from their home. “But they didn’t take my English King James Bible. They thought it was a dictionary. Having that Bible gave me a sense of security, that God and his Word were with me.”
For the next 13 years, religious activity went underground. Along with other youths, Rev Bao was sent to work on the farms.
When the 1980s arrived, winds of change adjusted the political climate and opened the country to the outside world. Churches were being reopened. Christian leaders began to look for pastors and theological students they had known in the past to lead the newly reopened churches. It was also at this time that the Chinese Church began her partnership with organisations like UBS. However, Rev Bao was not immediately available. Because he spoke good English, he was recruited by the national tour agency as a tour guide in 1980 and was later assigned to work in Kuwait as a Chinese engineer’s interpreter. These jobs paid well. “It was God’s way of helping me build a nancial base for my future Christian service.”
In 1986, Dr Han Wenzao invited him to join the CCC/TSPM Nanjing once. When he tendered his resignation, his employers were not pleased. “They asked me what I was unhappy about since they paid me a good salary and treated me so well!” But his mind was made up. Which Scripture verse was it that moved him to this radical decision? “Of course it’s that statement Paul made in Acts about obeying the heavenly vision.”
It was in this unprecedented period of China’s Church history that Rev Bao made his contributions to many aspects of the Chinese Church’s work. He played a major role in the reformatting of the Chinese Bible. The opening of Amity Printing Press in 1987 was an exciting time for Chinese believers and the beginning of a close working partnership between UBS and the CCC/TSPM.
God has used Rev Bao to accomplish several important projects because he chose to be obedient to the heavenly vision he had received. Now, one of his heart’s burdens is for the training of poor preachers in the provinces. Rev Bao’s lifetime spans the history of the Church in China over the past seven decades. His story is a testimony of God’s faithfulness and the power of his Word!