Priceless artifacts testifying to the Christian faith in China are making their first ever showcase outside Chinese borders beginning this month.
The Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Church in China will debut in three U.S. cities, presenting a rare opportunity for the rest of the world to see centuries of Scripture history in a country where religious persecution is ranked high.
"It's a very unique opportunity to learn about Bibles in China and a lot of the history ... and what the churches are facing now in China," said William Jefferson, director of Global Ministries for the American Bible Society. "There's never been anything like it."
Sponsored by the China Christian Council, the debut exhibition in the United States has drawn praise from Christian leaders.
"I'm thankful for the news of the Exhibition of the Bible that will be brought to the United States," said the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham in a released statement. "We certainly are delighted that it is going to take place and we will be praying for its success."
Former president Jimmy Carter also expressed his support, saying it will be a "good learning experience for Americans" too see what is going on in China.
Following a successful showing in Hong Kong in 2004, the display, entitled "A Lamp to My Feet, A Light to My Path," will first head to Los Angeles on Apr. 27 for a weeklong public viewing. Its next two destinations are Atlanta on May 19 and New York on June 5.
Jefferson highlighted two reasons for the historical event.
"I suppose it's a great opportunity for them [the China Christian Council] to show their willingness to see the Bible distributed in China and the extent of that Bible distribution."
According to Jefferson, China has 72 Bible distribution centers.
Second, "they're building bridges to the West all the time," he added, also mentioning the commercial relationship between China and the U.S.
The American Bible Society, one of the sponsoring organizations along with the Council of Churches of the City of New York and the Episcopal Diocese of New York for the New York exhibit, has been involved in Bible distribution in China for about 100 years.
Although China bears reports of high Christian persecution, ABS works with the registered church to see Scripture available. China was ranked tenth in Open Doors' latest World Watch List of the top religious persecutors in the world.
"I imagine there are some people who want to see more [religious] freedom in China. We're trying to work with the freedom that we have," said Jefferson, noting that as the best approach as freedom generally continually grows.
The first Chinese version of the complete Bible was translated jointly by a foreign missionary and his Chinese assistant in the early nineteenth century. From 1980 to early 2006, over 40 million copies of the Bible in various versions, sizes and packing have been published. Now, an average of 2.5 million Bibles is distributed each year.