TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A Tulsa man whose family has been involved in missions in the Far East for a century is quietly providing Bibles to Christians in rural areas of China.
He's doing it legally, but without fanfare.
Jonathan Brooks is president of the Voice of China and Asia, a missionary organization that was formed in the pre-communist era in China by Robert and Helen Hammond, the children of U.S. missionaries who went to China in the early 20th century.
The Hammonds, Brooks' aunt and uncle, were captured by the Japanese during World War II when Japan invaded China and were released in a prisoner swap during the war.
They returned to the United States, where Robert Hammond created the Voice of China and Asia radio program, a popular program in the 1960s and 1970s, when few Christian programs were on secular radio stations.
Hammond died in 2001. The organization's board asked Brooks to take over in 2005. He is an Oral Roberts University graduate who had worked in business for 21 years.
After the communist takeover of China, the organization focused on Korea, where it created an orphanage for handicapped children, planted 125 churches and built a seminary that has graduated 1,200 students now serving in 60 denominations in the Far East.
In 2008, the organization again turned its attention to China.
"We were visiting our Korean work, and the Koreans told us that China was open, and we should be there," Brooks told the Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/SMrUk0).
"We were challenged to distribute Bibles openly and legally in China. Our response was that we didn't believe it could be done."
Brooks began to visit Christians in China and learned that their greatest need was not money, but Bibles in the rural areas.
He learned that Bibles are printed in China and are distributed to 70 distribution points, where they go to the 55,000 "Three Self Patriotic Movement" churches, the Protestant churches registered with the government. From there, the Bibles are available for sale to the public.
But the distribution points are all in major population centers ??? China has 160 cities with populations over 1 million ?? and half the population lives in rural areas, some 700 million people.
For the last several years, he said, he has taken teams of Americans, including many Tulsans, to China to purchase, transport and hand out Bibles in rural areas, verifying personally that they are getting to the people.
"We're overwhelmed by the opportunity and need to distribute the Bible to rural believers," Brooks said.
They also distribute a comprehensive study Bible to pastors and conduct daylong seminars on how to use the Bible. Many Chinese pastors in rural areas have little training, he said.
"They're so blown away. They cry, they weep, most of them didn't know such a book existed." Brooks said.
And they are beginning to buy motorcycles for rural pastors to expand their reach.
Brooks said his organization works quietly and diverts credit for the Bibles to the Chinese people, recognizing that Chinese authorities do not want outside influence in their nation.
In an effort to stay low-key, the organization does not publicize the numbers of Bibles it distributes, he said, but it is in the multiplied thousands.
"We quietly do our work and get out," he said. "We don't want to cause disharmony. This is how we feel we can best touch China."
He said China had about 100,000 Christians when the communists took over in 1949, and now has more than 100 million, about 7 percent of its population of 1.5 billion.
The church is growing at about 10 percent a year, and at that growth rate China will be the largest Christian nation in the world in 12 years, he said.