“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matt. 13:45-46).
#ProjectPearl is one of the largest and riskiest operations Open Doors has ever undertaken. The mission: to deliver 1 million Bibles to Chinese Christians. At the time of Project Pearl, Communist China was still reeling from Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which had tried to crush Christianity. The country was still closed to outsiders, who didn’t know if Christianity in China had survived.
Instead of just surviving, Christianity had thrived, as it typically does under persecution. And millions of Chinese Christians needed Bibles, which the Chinese Communist Party confiscated, burned and prohibited from being printed.
Financed and led by Open Doors, Project Pearl was staffed by an all-volunteer crew of 20 Christian men from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, The Netherlands, The Philippines, the UK and the United States. Today, June 18, marks the 38th anniversary of bringing the precious cargo to the church in China. Paul Estabrooks, one of the volunteers on Project Pearl, shares the story of the night of a million miracles.
One hundred-foot-long tugboat Michael lumbered along at the sleepy speed of three knots. It towed the semi-submersible barge, Gabriella, loaded with 1 million Chinese Bibles in 232 waterproof-wrapped one-ton packages.
By 9 p.m. on that historic night of June 18, 1981, Michael and its crew of 20 men weaved through a maze of anchored Chinese navy ships in the darkness near the port city of Shantou in southern China.
Thousands of local Christians waited patiently in the darkness on the appointed beach.
The off-loaded floating packages were towed to shore by small rubber boats. Chinese believers came out in the water—some up to their neck. They pulled the blocks up onto the beach and cut them open with shears, handing the 45-pound cardboard boxes of Bibles to one another up the sand to the tree line.
Two hours later, Michael and Gabriella and the crew left the scene with 1 million Bibles in the care of Chinese believers. These secret Christians promised to circulate them across the entire country. In some cases, that process took as much as five years; and many Chinese Christians paid dearly for it.
Over the past 38 years, Open Doors has received documented story after story—often from unusual places and situations—of the impact of those Bibles on the church in China—one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing churches. Project Pearl Bibles have been seen in virtually every province of the country.
A church leader in Singapore shared that in the 1990s he met a large house church network of Christians in central China who still had no contact at all with foreigners from outside the country. They testified that receiving the Project Pearl Bibles encouraged and motivated them to share the gospel widely and thus grow to their current significant numbers.
One of those pocket-sized Bibles wound up in the hands of a young Christian who had been praying for a Bible of his own for three years. After reading it through three times in three weeks, he felt God calling him to become one of the many itinerant evangelists preaching in China’s countryside.
After 15 years of ministry, he pastored a network of house churches that grew to over 400,000 members. His network of churches continues to need more than 20,000 Bibles a month just for new believers.
The Lord used Project Pearl not only to rain down 1 million Bibles to His children across China and add fuel to His harvest, but to also turn the Chinese government into His Chinese Bible printer. Having lost face after a Time Magazine article on Project Pearl highlighted the lack of Bibles in China, the Chinese Communist Party hurriedly ordered Bibles to be printed. Until the Nanjing Amity Printing presses came online, the first 3 million Chinese Bibles were printed on China’s Communist army printing presses.
Today, praise God for the Bible you have and the freedom to read it; and pray with Christians who are still waiting for their first copy of God’s Word.