Very early every Sunday morning, Simei Tong sets out from her small house in the mountains. She walks for two hours, along narrow, winding pathways and village lanes, until she gets to the home of her blind friend, Zhou Maoying. Taking hold of her arm, she carefully guides her as they walk for another hour. (Watch the video below.)
When they reach Luo Shui village where their little church is located, they have one more hurdle to overcome: they have to cross a stream by wobbling across a series of stepping stones. Their friend Yang Jinying, who also takes two hours to get to church, recently slipped and broke her arm while crossing the stream.
Li Yue Ying, 47, makes her long journey to the church each week carrying her two-year-old niece, Li Si Ling, on her back. She says the journey is worth it because she is nourished in her faith through the Christian fellowship there. She became a Christian in 1998, through a friend, Wu Qiang Jin.
“When I became a Christian I started reading the Bible and attending this church,” she says. “But it’s two hours walk from my village, so, when some people invited me to attend a church closer to my home, I agreed. But then I realised they weren’t teaching the truth. They use the Bible but they have strange rules and beliefs, one of which is that Jesus has already returned.
“Because I read my Bible regularly I knew that what they were saying was wrong, so I left and came back to this church.”
Luo Shui church has around 70 members, many of whom came to faith through Wu Qiang Jin. They are all farmers who need to work the land, so only around 30 people – mostly women – are able to come to church each week.
Wu Qiang Jin is described by her fellow church members as a ‘born evangeliser’, but she shrugs off this praise and sighs.
“The sects around here are attracting many people,” she says. “I’ve been to meet some of their leaders to invite them to our church but they won’t come.”
Nevertheless, she and the other faithful church members continue to meet together each week to sing, pray and read their Bibles together, under the leadership of Tong Xin Jun, 40, a quiet man who serves his little congregation with kindness and concern.
“I went to church because I was looking for comfort,” says Wu Xiu Ying, 58, who became a Christian in 1983. “I was in great distress because I was ill and couldn’t afford treatment. In church, people prayed for me and I immediately felt peaceful and released by God’s love for me.
“Wu Qiang Jin took me to the church in town to buy a Bible soon afterwards. To my surprise, it was affordable! My favourite part of the Bible is Psalm 47. Unfortunately my eyes are failing but I can still read a little.”
Like Wu Xiu Ying, many members of the congregation bought their Bibles years ago and they are now well-used and, in some cases, falling apart. That is why they were delighted to receive new Bibles when members of United Bible Societies visited them in their church.
The Bibles were provided through the Bibles for China’s Millions project, which keeps Bibles affordable by funding the cost of Bible paper for the distribution of Bibles by the Church in China.