Have you heard the saying, “Christianity is one generation away from extinction”? My business travels took me to China frequently in the ’90s, mostly to Hong Kong and Shanghai. I opened an office in Shanghai, and hired a Shanghai-born Chinese man as my manager. I’ll call him Mr. Li, but that wasn’t his real name.
Several years before, Mr. Li had moved his wife to the United States, and his son had been born here. They lived in a large metropolitan area in the southwest that had a large Chinese community. Mr. Li worked in Shanghai most of the time, coming home three or four times a year to see his family.
On one of my trips to Shanghai, Mr. Li and I were riding in a taxi to an appointment. He knew I had been a pastor, so he said to me, “My wife and son are getting baptized next Sunday.” Mr. Li then explained to me that his wife and son had been attending a Chinese-American church near their U.S. home, and that both had publicly professed faith in Christ recently. He seemed pleased that his family had become Christians.
Mr. Li was not a Christian, by his own admission. I asked him if he was interested in knowing more about Christianity. He reply was polite, but not really interested. Then he said to me, “My grandfather was a minister here in China.”
I was stunned. Mr. Li’s grandfather must have been a Christian pastor before World War II, and before Mao Zedong’s takeover of China. Mao’s communist forces had won a post-WWII civil war, and began a campaign to eradicate all westernism in China, including western religious influence. I could only imagine what had happened to Mr. Li’s grandfather.
“What denomination was your grandfather?” I asked Mr. Li.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Li replied. “Nobody remembers much about him now.”
I didn’t know what to say, but I could hear the pain in Mr. Li’s voice.
Later Mr. Li told me that when he was 15, at the height of the Red Guard’s purging of China, he was taken from his family. The government sent him to a rural area, where he lived in a barn with a poor Chinese peasant family. Li’s job was to feed pigs. Dividing families, and depriving young teens of family influence had been an effective technique of the Red Guard in erasing the memory of “the old ways.”
I wondered if Li and his family didn’t remember his grandfather because they had been forced to forget him, or if it was just easier not to think about him. In a generation, one Chinese family lost its memory and in the process almost lost its faith. Had it not been for the opportunity to come to the United States and freedom, Mr. Li’s wife and son would probably not have heard the Gospel. We are truly one generation away.