Most of China’s Buddhist ethnic groups live in the west and southwest of China, in remote, rural farming communities. When someone from one of these ethnic groups comes to faith in Jesus, they are considered traitors by their community, and they face persecution. Xiao Yun is an Open Doors worker who supports believers from Buddhist backgrounds. Here, she shares about her ministry. All names in this article have been changed to protect identities.
While there are many Han Chinese people who believe in Buddhism, there are also various ethnic minority groups in China who see Buddhism as an integral part of their identity and traditions. Each village has its own temple where the villagers burn joss sticks (incense) and pray to many different gods and idols.
When someone from one of these minority groups becomes a Christian, they are often completely rejected by their community. Xiao Yun remembers trying to visit one believing family from a Buddhist community who ran a fruit shop. “When the neighbours saw us enter the fruit shop, they ran in behind us yelling at the family and cursing us. They were very angry and determined to make us leave – in fact, they tried to stop anyone from buying from this family, not just us. They were so furious.”
Another family’s home was destroyed by their community and they were kicked out of their village. Xiao Yun says, “They had nowhere to go so they went to find the pastor for help. He took them in and gave them refuge for almost 12 months. They felt afraid and rejected by their own people.”
Since they couldn’t farm their land, they were completely reliant on their pastor for their survival. It was a difficult situation – and yet the father of the family said, “Since I know the true God, I cannot give up on my faith.” After some negotiations with the local authorities, the family were eventually able to return to their village.
Believers from Buddhist ethnic groups also face persecution from the government, which discourages the practice of any religious belief.
“They felt afraid and rejected by their own people.”Xiao Yun
Xiao Yun shares, “I know one pastor who used to go from village to village sharing the gospel. Government officials tried to stop him, however, he continued. Finally, he was arrested and sent to prison for several years. He is still in prison.”
Because believers from Buddhist ethnic groups are persecuted by both their own communities and the government, they are some of the most persecuted believers in China. Open Doors estimates that there are just 1,000 Christians from these Buddhist ethnic groups. And yet, many of these believers have chosen Jesus over money, houses, and even their own freedom.
When Sister Hua, a Christian from a Buddhist ethnic group, chose to follow Jesus, it came at a price – literally. She was entitled to government subsidies worth around £50,000, but the local village chief threatened to block the money if she didn’t give up her faith in Jesus. She refused – so the village chief stopped her from getting the money.
Sister Hua has two children, aged four and six; this money could have made a big difference to her family and her children’s futures. But Sister Hua has seen the power of God. When she was suffering from an illness, Christians had prayed for her, and she was completely healed.
Life isn’t easy for her and her family. They are able to survive through working their farm, but the subsidy would make their lives much easier. Despite this, she says, “I will follow Jesus Christ for the rest of my life, because He is the one and only true God."
Your support and prayers enable Open Doors workers like Xiao Yun to stand with our brothers and sisters from Buddhist communities in China as they face persecution. Xiao Yun focuses a lot of her work on raising up leaders to pastor new believers. “Because they have the same culture and they usually live in the same region, it is much easier for them to share the gospel and pastor the believers (from Buddhist ethnic groups),” she says.
She shares about one leader, Brother Xiu Jie, who really benefited from this support. When Open Doors first met him, he was leading two different groups of believers from Buddhist communities in two different areas. But after working with them for two years, most of the believers had fallen away from their new faith. “He was so tired and discouraged,” Xiao Yun says.
“We sent a trainer to walk with him and envision him to raise up co-workers to be leaders as well, so that he doesn't need to travel between these two places all the time. Nowadays, he has raised up a couple of his co-workers to become leaders. Just last year, one of his co-workers handled a summer camp by himself. Brother Xiu Jie was so proud and happy, saying, ‘I am no longer the only worker in my church. I raised up a leader and he is able to lead our church as well.’”
“I am no longer the only worker in my church. I raised up a leader and he is able to lead our church as well.”Brother Xiu Jie
For Open Doors workers to spend time with these believers means a lot to them. Brother Xiu Jie shared, “Thank you so much for coming into our lives, to help us, to encourage us, and to walk with us at such a perfect time. You pray for us and support us just as God sent you to do. Thank you so much.”
Your prayers and support are also enabling Open Doors to work on a project which will provide audio Bibles to illiterate believers from Buddhist ethnic groups in their own dialects! The audio Bible in one dialect is due to be completed shortly, and another should be completed later this year.
Xiao Yun explains, “They can download this app and hear the Bible in their local dialects through their smart phone. They can hear the Word of God any time, any place. Please pray that these audio Bibles can be completed smoothly.”
Brother Xiu Jie’s favourite verse is John 3:30: “He must become greater, I must become less.” When asked why he likes this verse so much, he said, “Serving is not to prove how successful we are. It is very true in the mission field. We want to see the church of believers from Buddhist backgrounds strengthened. In Him, our ministry will be remembered and we can be forgotten on this earth.”
You are helping believers from China’s Buddhist ethnic groups to stand strong in their faith in the midst of many challenges. Please continue to pray for them.
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