In one night on one beach, 1 million Bibles arrived—but for many years they traveled widely throughout China’s provinces.
“That one group [of Christians] we gave them to shared them with other groups all over the country,” Etsabrook says. “They were able to share them, but it took five years. It took us two hours to offload them and five years to distribute all 1 million because of security issues and having to hide them.”
Charlie, a Christian who lived in China, was part of this distribution: “I recognized that God had called three groups of us to cooperate and make this project happen,” he says. “First, He called the church in the city to coordinate Project Pearl with overseas brothers and sisters. Second, He called those in the villages around the beach to pick up Bibles from the ship. Third, He called us who lived in the town to distribute Bibles to different regions in China.
“Of course, we never forget the tremendous efforts made by overseas brothers and sisters. Without their prayers, it would have been too hard to walk through those difficult years, and we would not have witnessed the revival and freedom today.”
Project Pearl yielded an astonishing impact in China. God’s timing was perfect—the million Bibles came just as the house church movement in China was multiplying exponentially across the country. Estabrook now owns one of the Bibles of a young pastor and evangelist—using that one Bible, he grew a network of 400,000 believers.
“It’s just incredible. The [Chinese] Christians said it was what really fueled the revival and the growth of house churches,” says Estabrook. “We didn’t know that would happen—it was because of God’s timing. We met the request that came to us, but the side effect was absolutely miraculous. It was just the right time to have all of these Bibles available for believers in China.”
The persecution squeeze in China today
Since Project Pearl in 1981, China has seen periods of relative freedom for Christians. Today, Christians in the country are under increasing pressure as the Chinese Communist Party works to instill nationalism and suffocate the church. Believers, especially church leaders, are subjected to raids, surveillance and even prison. China is No. 17 on Open Doors’ World Watch List—in just three years, the country has risen 26 places on the list.
Today in China, printed Bibles are only available in bookstores of government-sanctioned churches. Bibles can be read online, but the government has banned the sale of printed Bibles online.
“I am very aware that persecution is getting worse,” say Zhang Ming*, a young Christian in China. “I won’t be surprised if bulk purchase of Bibles becomes more and more difficult. But I’m not anxious. In fact, I’m full of hope, because the Bible’s prophecies and promises have prepared us for what is to come. We can’t possibly withstand persecution and hardship by ourselves, but by trusting the Lord we will be victorious.
“When I think about Project Pearl, and the way Christians around the world came together to raise money so it could happen, I praise God. This is one of the biggest miracles of the story! If it were not for the Holy Spirit’s work, this would be impossible. Praise God!”